Aidan O’Brien’s Classic preparations kick into gear
Gustav Klimt appears to be stable first string in Guineas Trial
Gustav Klimt will be partnered by Ryan Moore in the 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.
Aidan O’Brien has a link to the Aintree Grand National through his nephew JJ Slevin who is set to have a first ride in the great race on Thunder And Roses.
Slevin goes into it on the back of a memorable Irish National victory on Easter Monday and while the sport’s principal focus is on Liverpool O’Brien’s classic preparations pick up a gear this weekend.
O’Brien has already identified a prime classic contender this Spring in the Kentucky Derby favourite Mendelssohn. However if the ‘Run for the Roses’ in Louisville is a relatively novel target then it’s very much business as usual in terms of European options.
On Sunday the Ballydoyle team send a trio of hopefuls – Rostropovich, Magical and Flag Of Honour – to the new Paris-Longchamp track for three Group Three races.
But on Saturday, and with all eyes on the lead up to the National, there will still be real significance to Leopardstown’s first flat fixture of 2018 and a glut of potential O’Brien superstars.
It’s not often Europe’s champion two year old emerges at the start of his classic campaign as a stable No. 2. But that’s US Navy Flag’s fate in the Listed Ballylinch Stud 2,000 Guineas Trial.
Their unbeaten stable companion Saxon Warrior is favourite for both the Guineas and the Derby but is likely to go straight to Newmarket where O’Brien is chasing a ninth win in the colts classic.
It is another Ballydoyle inmate, The Pentagon, who is second favourite for Epsom and he does line up on Saturday in the Group Three PW McGrath Ballysax Stakes.
This historic trial had lost a little lustre until the subsequent dual-Derby hero Harzand won it in 2016. The Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling hardly let the side down either last year.
The Pentagon is one of three O’Brien hopes in the five runner Ballysax while the champion trainer has three of the four in the 2,000 Trial.
Only Dermot Weld’s Imaging takes Ballydoyle on in the seven-furlong event and he at least has the benefit of a run on testing ground already this season when successful at Cork.
Gustav Klimt is the most intriguing contender though. He is rated 11lbs behind US Navy Flag and only just scraped home in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last summer.
His failure to run again as a juvenile means connections are keen to get more experience into a colt who is clearly highly rated.
The Pentagon finished only third to Saxon Warrior in last year’s Racing Post Trophy but considering an interrupted preparation on the run up to that race O’Brien was delighted with the effort.
The finish of last year’s 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown was a vintage one as Hydrangea edged out her stable companion Winter. The 2016 result was hardly shabby either with the subsequent Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Jet Setting coming out on top.
O’Brien runs four in it this time with Moore on I Can Fly and this one is a general 20-1 shot for the Newmarket fillies classic. Jessica Harrington’s Alpha Centauri is the same price for Newmarket and the giant grey could be more at home on the heavy conditions.
It’s unlikely to remove Ballydoyle’s dominance at the top of the 1,000 Guineas betting however courtesy of the Group One pair, Clemmie and Happily.
Moore moves to Paris on Sunday when he kicks off on the Futurity winner , Rostropovich, in the Prix De Fontainebleau over a mile.
O’Brien has used this race as a warm up for the French 2,000 Guineas in the past and heavy ground shouldn’t trouble the son of Frankel.
O’Brien also has a line to the highly rated local colt Olmedo who was runner up to the Ballydoyle filly, Happily, in the Prix Jean Luc Lagadere last year.
Magical mixed it with Happily as a two year old and she tests her classic credentials in the Prix la Grotte in a field which also contains the highly-rated Coolmore owned Wind Chimes.
The Eyrefield Stakes winner Flag Of Honour goes in the Prix Noailles, a traditional French Derby trial, over an extended mile and a quarter. His opposition includes Godolphin’s Gyllen, twice a Saint-Cloud winner last month.