Stone Age is a general 5-2 second-favourite to secure a first Group One success, and add some late lustre to Aidan O’Brien’s 2022 crop of three-year-old colts when he lines up in Hong Kong on Sunday.
Ballydoyle’s usually prolific team of classic colts underperformed significantly throughout the year with only Luxembourg among them securing top-flight honours in September’s Irish Champion Stakes.
A vintage crop of juveniles, topped by Little Big Bear and Auguste Rodin, indicate a potential upswing for Ballydoyle in the 2023 classics.
However, there is a final chance for Group One glory in 2022 at Sha Tin’s international carnival on Sunday morning.
Order Of Australia is due to line up in the 10-furlong Cup event while another veteran, Broome, will take his chance in the mile and a half Vase, a €2.4 million contest that O’Brien has won three times in the past.
His number one Vase hope though is Stone Age who was Ballydoyle’s major Derby fancy at Epsom in June but failed to fire behind Desert Crown and hasn’t won in five subsequent starts either.
The Irish colt did produce a career-best when runner-up in last month’s Breeders’ Cup Turf and O’Brien is hopeful ahead of a clash with the Japanese star Glory Vase, winner of the race last year and in 2019.
“We were delighted with him in the Breeders’ Cup, he ran a very good race and had progressed from his previous run at Ascot,” O’Brien said on Thursday.
“We’ve been happy with everything we’ve seen from him since then. It had been on my mind to go to Hong Kong since after the Breeders’ Cup. We thought the track, trip and ground should all suit him fine.
“We think and hope he will [stay in training], obviously we think he’s progressing, and he definitely could progress again from three to four,” he added.
Broome was unplaced in that Breeders’ Cup contest at Keeneland but already has a career Group One under his belt from the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud all of two years ago.
“We had it in our heads that we might go to the Japan Cup [but] it just came maybe a week or two too early and that’s why we waited.
“We were delighted to have the opportunity to come to Hong Kong with him. He’s in good form and is a very good natured, very sound horse,” O’Brien said.
Despite top-class form at a mile, including against Baaeed, Order Of Australia will be among the outsiders when he steps up in trip for the cup contest which is worth over €4 million.
“He’s been running all the time over a mile but we always thought stepping up over a mile and a quarter would improve him more. He’s obviously by Australia and we’re very happy with him.
“He has won over seven furlongs twice as well, so we kept him at a mile after the Breeders’ Cup win [in 2020], but we’d think there’s a pretty good chance that [10 furlongs] will be fine,” O’Brien commented.
Despite his classic colts underperforming this year, Ireland’s champion trainer has won 14 Group One races so far, half of them by two-year-olds.
The biggest contributor was the champion stayer Kyprios who secured a fourth top-flight success in the Prix Du Cadran in October.
O’Brien holds the world record for Group/Grade One victories having saddled 28 of them in 2017. They included Highland Reel’s Hong Kong Vase victory in 2017, the second time the horse won the race.