Caravaggio set for Deauville Group One In August

Aidan O’Brien seals Group Two Curragh double with Spirit of Valor and Elizabeth Browning

Spirit of Valor ridden by Ryan Moore wins the Qatar Airways Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh. Photograph: PA

Aidan O’Brien bounced back from the loss of Caravaggio’s unbeaten record in Saturday’s July Cup with a Group Two double at the Curragh on Sunday.

Spirit Of Valor and Ryan Moore dominated the Qatar Airways Minstrel Stakes from the front and Seamus Heffernan adopted entirely opposite tactics aboard the surprise 12-1 Kilboy Stakes heroine Elizabeth Browning.

However Ballydoyle’s focus is invariably on Group One matters and a day later racing’s most powerful operation were still mulling over the failure of their odds-on sprinter superstar Caravaggio to even make the frame at Newmarket.

Instead their Godolphin rivals comprehensively reversed Royal Ascot form as Harry Angel won under jockey Adam Kirby.


“I thought he [Caravaggio] ran very well,” O’Brien gamely maintained on Sunday before arguing: “We should be praising the winner as well as Clive [Cox] Adam and Sheikh Mohammed. It was one of those days. They are only flesh and blood and we’ll look forward to the next day.”

That name-check for Sheikh Mohammed may be parsed for significance in the context of an apparent growing rapprochement between Dubai's ruler and the Coolmore surpremo John Magnier; their Royal Ascot handshake has been portrayed as almost summit-like after all.

However O'Brien revealed that Magnier was in more 'hands-on' mode on Sunday morning, specifically nominating Deauville's Prix Maurice De Gheest over six and a half furlongs on August 4th as an opportunity for Caravaggio to redeem his reputation .

“John was just saying that we might have a look at the Maurice de Gheest. But we’ll see how he is after a week or ten days. I think the Everest [in Australia] is still on the table. If he went to France that could be very much on still,” O’Brien said.

The Deauville race is a Group One and despite the weekend hiccup, Ireland’s champion trainer is still 6-4 to train 26 or more top-flight winners this year in what has become a near-annual narrative that sees him in pursuit of Bobby Frankel’s world record 25 Group/Grade victories.

O’Brien regularly dismisses its relevance but even with Caravaggio’s defeat he is still ahead of many people’s schedule on 11 Group Ones for 2017 so far.

In time maybe Rain Goddess and Venice Beach making the frame rather than winning in the Irish Oaks and Grand Prix de Paris respectively will prove significant. But the trainer is already formulating plans for an upcoming glut of top events.

“Winter is in the ten furlong [Nassau Stakes] at Goodwood. Churchill is in the mile [Sussex Stakes] and we’re thinking of US Army Ranger for the two mile race [Goodwood Cup]” he said.

Record talk

With the brothers Highland Reel and Idaho on course for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday week, and Friday's Falmouth winner Roly Poly a contender for Deauville's Prix Rothschild a day later, O'Brien might have to contend with a lot more record talk before long.

After keeping Churchill company in both Guineas, Spirit Of Valor appears to have found his metier over seven furlongs which means his own Group One ambitions could have to wait until October’s Prix la Foret.

However he built on his Jersey Stakes second at 66-1 with an impressive display in the Minstrel Stakes. Moore waited in front and the War Front colt was well on top of So Beloved at the line.

"Over six or seven furlongs on fast ground he's obviously really good," said O'Brien who nominated Goodwood's Lennox Stakes as an immediate option.

Afterwards O’Brien was fined €500 for mistakenly putting Spirit Of Valor’s saddle on his other runner Peace Envoy, and vice versa. The error was picked up on by stewards in the parade ring beforehand.

A Group Two success felt like ‘job done’ for Elizabeth Browning’s future stud career as the hitherto disappointing filly pounced from last in the Kilboy Estate Stakes.

“She’s a filly we’ve always thought had a lot of ability and she missed a lot of lines,” O’Brien said. “She’s starting to get it together. And she’ll stay a little further. “

Colin Keane maintained his lead of three over Kevin Manning at the top of the jockeys' championship when the topweight Golden Spell landed the first nursery of the season.

Earlier Manning had scored an odds-on success when Dawn Delivers proved half a length too good for Rhododendron’s sister, Magical.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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