Little Big Bear still O’Brien’s Guineas ace despite Blackbeard success

Ballydoyle trainer wins a record seventh Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket

Blackbeard plundered yet another Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes for Aidan O’Brien, but the lingering feeling is that sidelined stablemate Little Big Bear remains top of the charts in the juvenile rankings at Ballydoyle.

Scoring at the highest level for the second time this season, and having his eighth outing, Blackbeard arguably put up his most impressive display to date.

In beating Richard Hannon’s Persian Force by three and a quarter lengths – almost three lengths further than he had in the Prix Morny at Deauville – it is clear for all to see that the No Nay Never colt is still improving.

However, while delighted with Blackbeard’s progress, O’Brien also gave mention to Little Big Bear, who slammed Persian Force by seven lengths in the Phoenix Stakes in August, but was recently ruled out for the remainder of the season after returning from his exceptional Curragh display “a little bit sore”.


“Little Big Bear is great and he’s a horse to really look forward to for next year,” said O’Brien.

“He’s by No Nay Never as well, but there’s plenty of stamina in his pedigree on the dam’s side, whereas this horse today is fast on the dam’s side.

“Ryan [Moore] said after the Phoenix that Little Big Bear would get seven furlongs standing on his head, so he’s the horse we’re thinking about for the Guineas next year and he’s got a great chance. His season finished early and that’s always a big help to a horse.”

It was more what O’Brien did not say than what he did. Unfortunately Little Big Bear will not be running again in 2022, but he currently heads the betting for next year’s 2,000 Guineas at around 5-1.

Blackbeard was up to his usual antics down at the start at Newmarket, stamping his feet and leaving nobody in any doubt who was in charge, but O’Brien insists there is no malice in his actions.

The 100-30 chance bounded up the hill, followed home by stablemate The Antarctic, with Persian Force back in third. The favourite Marshman was only fourth.

It was a record seventh victory in the race for O’Brien, who added: “He’s very genuine and like everybody, he’s just not keen on waiting and likes to get on with it. If you start curtailing him he’ll slam his foot into the ground and start goose stepping, which is unusual for a colt but he’s always done it. He can do whatever he wants, really!

“I’m not sure if he’ll run again this season, he’s very valuable to us. He’s so precocious, fast and strong and he has been very busy. I’ll see what everybody wants to do.”

O’Brien views Blackbeard as a sprinter, and concluded: “In all fairness he has run a lot of times. I’m not sure [as regards to targets next year]. I’d say he is fast and I wouldn’t be sure he would stay. He looks a five- or six-furlong horse, but you never know.”

Despite O’Brien’s impressive record in the Middle Park, it was the first time Moore had won it.

“He is a straightforward horse to ride and he has never run a bad race all year. He was still a bit green when he ran in the Coventry and we were still learning about him,” said the jockey

“He has won two Group Ones, but he is a character. The horse is never going to cause any harm and he is a pleasure to ride as you know what he is going to do.

“He has just got his own personality but he has got ability and he has won two Group Ones now and a Group Two and that was his eighth run. He is a hardy individual and tough. He just keeps turning up and performing.

“I think he just does what he has to at the moment. He has got plenty of pace but at the same time he has seen out that stiff six well today.”