Australia’s workout after racing is sure to create a Classic buzz
Aidan O’Brien gives some of his big guns an early trip away from Ballydoyle at the Curragh on Sunday
Australia is regarded by Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien to be one of the best horses he’s ever trained.
Aidan O’Brien gives a nod to the National Hunt game by running Shield in a maiden hurdle at Gowran today but his focus will resolutely be on the 2014 flat season proper kicking off tomorrow at the Curragh where the champion trainer’s biggest Classic hope, Australia, will work after racing.
It has become a tradition for O’Brien to give his biggest names an early trip away from Ballydoyle on the day that turf racing takes over from Dundalk’s all-weather campaign but even more than the usual focus will centre on Australia’s presumably gentle canter up the straight at HQ.
Already the impeccably-bred son of Galileo and Ouija Board is favourite for the Guineas and the Derby and Australia has also been handed the intriguing label of being perhaps the best prospect his trainer has ever had through his hands – a compliment handed out by no less than O’Brien himself.
For a colt beaten on his debut, and unseen since winning a ‘mere’ Group Three in September, there is no mistaking the buzz around him, with O’Brien effusively describing him last year as “something very different” and “very special” and apparently having no problem whatsoever hyping the horse to the skies.
Sceptics might point to the commercial realities that sometimes lie behind such hype but the weight of expectation around Australia is already such that the proven Dewhurst and Royal Ascot winner War Command, not to mention Tapestry, who is second favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, will very much play second fiddle to their stable companion when they also work tomorrow. And they aren’t alone.
The 2013 Classic winners, Ruler Of The World and Magician, are amongst a strong Ballydoyle team being geared up for next Saturday’s Dubai World Cup card at Meydan. The Epsom Derby hero Ruler Of The World is already a 5/1 favourite to give John Magnier and the rest of the Coolmore syndicate a hugely symbolic first success in Sheikh Mohammed’s desert creation.
Even allowing for all that depth of talent though, the early-season vibes from Ballydoyle indicate that much of 2014 will revolve around Australia for the world’s most powerful racing team.
However, it’s not just at Ballydoyle that significant Classic aspirations will be held this year. The start of the new turf season sees a number of Ireland’s top yards holding out Group One ambitions.
Backed up by the addition of the Aga Khan to his owner roster, Dermot Weld maintains absolute faith in the Classic ambitions of Free Eagle who did after all start favourite to beat Australia in that Leopardstown Group Three last September. John Oxx has My Titania, a general 12/1 shot for the 1,000 Guineas, and significantly Oxx more Derby entries than usual, while David Wachman has the Phoenix Stakes victor, Sudirman.
Oxx is a notable absentee from tomorrow’s racing action but all the other big operations are represented with the training-ranks now exclusively including Johnny Murtagh whose famous riding career will be marked tomorrow with the naming of the Madrid Handicap in his honour.
The legendary former rider has two runners on his home track, the ex-Jim Bolger-trained We’ll Go Walking in the €100,000 Lincolnshire, and Calorie in the race named after him.
However, Bolger is often quick out of the blocks at HQ and could have the Lincolnshire answer in Einsteins Folly, runner-up to Francis Of Assisi in the Madrid on this card last year, and a horse that thrives in soft going.
A pair of cross-channel raiders, Trail Blaze and Lord Aeryn, line up also and the Ballydoyle hope Afonso De Sousa has shown glimpses through his career that suggest even topweight may not be a hindrance.
Bolger has landed the opening two-year-old race for the last three years, including with Dawn Approach in 2012, and runs a pair of fillies this time. Kevin Manning’s presence on Alertness, a daughter of Teofilo, looks a tip in itself, while Sun On The Run was an early-season winner last year and is back to six furlongs tomorrow for a handicap.
Tomorrow’s Group Three highlight sees a dozen lining up for the Park Express Stakes, including a trio of three-year-olds bidding to emulate Rehn’s Nest’s win in 2013. Prior to her, however, the older brigade dominated the mile event and Wannabe Better could resume that dominance. She would certainly prove a popular winner for Tommy Stack and his team.
“This race has been the plan for a while so she should be ready enough,” Stack’s son and assistant, Fozzy, said yesterday. “The ground isn’t going to be very nice but she seems to handle it alright.”