Aidan O’Brien bidding for Group One double on Saturday

Trainer aiming to land July Cup at Newmarket followed by Longchamp success

The chance of a prestigious international Group One double is open to Aidan O’Brien within just five hours on Saturday.

With France's national holiday, 'Bastille Day, ' falling on Saturday, the O'Brien team face a dash from Newmarket's Darley July Cup to get to Longchamp in time for the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris.

The €600,000 mile and a half contest is due off at 7.0pm (Irish time) and will have a very Irish feel to it.

O’Brien’s Kew Gardens (Ryan Moore) and Nelson (Donnacha O’Brien) are joined among the half-dozen runners by his son Joseph’s hope, Downdraft.


Top local rider Christophe Soumillon will team up with Downdraft although the major threat to Ballydoyle is likely to come from Mark Johnston's Epsom Derby runner up Dee Ex Bee.

He could subsequently finish only seventh to Latrobe in the Irish Derby but will be ridden for the first time by William Buick and shades favouritism in some betting lists from O'Brien's Queen's Vase winner, Kew Gardens.

"Obviously after just two weeks this race comes fairly soon but once we saw the race starting to cut up it looked too good an opportunity to miss," said Johnston's son and assistant, Charlie Johnston on Friday.

“If he runs to the level of his Epsom run, he should win. Kew Gardens looks to be the obvious danger on the back of his Ascot run. But he was a long way behind us at Epsom,” he added.

O’Brien has won the Grand Prix de Paris twice before with Scorpion (2005) and Imperial Monarch (2012.)

The Irishman has hit the Group One mark five times already in 2018 with wins in Ireland, England and the US - although he has yet to score in France.

O’Brien can boast three previous July Cup victories in his luminous career and will be represented by four runners in what is perhaps Europe’s most prestigious sprint of the season.

Moore has opted for US Navy Flag on his return to sprinting rather than Sioux Nation while Wayne Lordan is on Fleet Review and Donnacha O'Brien sticks with the outsider Spirit Of Valor.

O’Brien junior failed to make it from Dundalk to Leopardstown in time for a race on Thursday - and was fined €200 by the stewards - but both he and Moore will ride in the race after the July Cup before heading to Paris.

Godolphin’s King’s Stand winner Blue Point looks the major obstacle to Ballydoyle in the July Cup on what is a notably busy Saturday in Britain which no doubt has seen jockeys agents there pushed to the limit filling engagements across seven cards.

Dermot Weld has stayed local though and opted for last season's champion apprentice Oisin Orr to ride his hope Tandem in York's hugely lucrative handicap prize, the John Smith's Cup.

Weld has a single runner at Navan's flat programme on Saturday and two for the opening day of Killarney's July festival on Sunday including Bella Estralla in the featured Cairn Rouge Stakes.

There are National Hunt cards at Limerick and Sligo as well over this weekend. Champion trainer Willie Mullins has three runners at each and more outlandish weekend accumulator bets are likely to be made than all six coming in.

On the flat though Colin Keane’s struggle to try and retain his championship title in the face of Donnacha O’Brien’s challenge is turning into one of the main narratives of the season.

O’Brien remains odds-on to win out but his commitments in Newmarket and Paris on Saturday allows Keane the home pitch to himself.

That could pay off in the first two races at Navan where Ger Lyons pitches in a pair of two year olds, Rita Levi and Sakura, who look to hold obvious claims.

The title rivals will both be in Killarney and O'Brien is likely to fancy his chances in the opener aboard Anthony Van Dyck.

He has opted for his brother’s hope Ship Of Dreams in the Cairn Rouge which looks significant considering his father runs three in the race.

Ship Of Dreams was ahead of Hence at Royal Ascot although the latter could be a value option now considering she was carried off a straight line on that occasion. Alice Springs’ sister should also appreciate a step back up to a mile.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column