Can Aidan O'Brien train a record 26 Group One winners this year? Andy Stephens looks at the horses and races that may hold the key
Four down, 22 to go. Could this finally be the year Aidan O’Brien raises the bar even higher and achieves 26 Group One/Grade One wins in a year?
O’Brien has previously come close to overhauling the record 25 wins at the highest level that Bobby Frankel secured in 2003 and after Churchill and Winter pulled off Guineas doubles in impressive style at the Curragh over the weekend the foundations are firmly in place for another serious assault.
William Hill offered 10-1 about O’Brien pulling off the feat after the Guineas meeting at Newmarket this month. They now offer a more cautious 4-1 but that could still offer value.
Here are the horses and races that could hold the key for O’Brien over the months ahead. All pictures except Churchill provided by Racingfotos.com.
“Every time we ask him a question, he comes up with the answer,” Ryan Moore said of the dual Guineas winner on Sunday. The prolific colt is no bigger than Evens to win next month’s St James’s Palace Stakes and if he comes through that with flying colours you would imagine his next step would be the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. After that, it will be a case of sticking to a mile or going up in the trip - the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes could be options - before a final flourish, perhaps, at Ascot on Champions Day.
The grey filly was a scintillating winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas on Sunday and she looks set to mop up against her own sex - either over a mile or ten furlongs. “It was very easy and rode like a piece of work. I could not have been more impressed,” Ryan Moore said. “She was relentless.” The Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot looks at her mercy and then there will be plenty of options - the Falmouth, the Pretty Polly, Nassau, Matron Stakes and then either the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes or QIPCO Champion Stakes. Wherever she turns up, she is going to take a deal of beating and she might even top the five Group One wins that Minding (who suffered two defeats last year) managed in 2016.
This year’s champion sprinter? The unbeaten two-year-old again looked a bit special when winning over 6f on his return at Naas this month and is no bigger than 11-10 to land the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot next month. He faces smart opposition in Blue Point and Harry Angel but, if he’s as fast as Aidan O’Brien says he is, then he might just be on a different plane. The July Cup, Nunthorpe, Sprint Cup and Champions Day could also feature on his agenda. Traditionally, the sprint division has been O’Brien’s weakest link but not this year.
ORDER OF ST GEORGE
Won smoothly at Leopardstown on Friday night and is a top-priced 7-4 for the Gold Cup. It will be a surprise if he does not then contest the Goodwod Cup (elevated to Group One this year) with the Irish St Leger another obvious aim. There are also two Group One staying events at France in October which could have his name on.
THE BALLYDOYLE TWO-YEAR-OLDS
Last season five two-year-olds combined to give O’Brien six Group One victories. There seems no reason why the next battalion of Coolmore juveniles by by super sire Galileo will not thrive and it would be no surprise if they achieve a similar haul. The best of them last year, Churchill, did not win his first race until Royal Ascot.
If Churchill, Winter, Caravaggio, Order Of St George and the Ballydoyle two-year-olds do the business then it might not leave many more from the rest of the team to reach 26. Rhododendron (Oaks), Cliffs Of Moher (Derby), Highland Reel (Coronation Cup), Idaho (Coronation Cup) are all leading contenders for the showpiece races at Epsom next week.
Minding, pictured above, and Seventh Heaven are expected to return from setbacks before the year is out and then there are such as Alice Springs and Acapulco, not to mention numerous others who might be found opportunities at home or abroad.