Churchill will try for 2,000 Guineas double at the Curragh

Caravaggio’s return to action makes 5-4 quotes for Commonwealth Cup understandable

Aidan O’Brien uttered a couple of sentences at Naas on Sunday that dictates much of the upcoming classic picture and underlined the unparalleled strength in depth at the champion trainer’s disposal.

Having all but ruled Churchill out of the Derby picture, O’Brien then proceeded to nominate seven horses as definite Epsom contenders. They include the Dee Stakes winner Cliffs Of Moher, now a general 4-1 favourite to give his trainer a sixth Derby to equal his legendary Ballydoyle predecessor Vincent O’Brien.

Instead of stretching his stamina at Epsom, Churchill will stay at a mile and try to complete the 2,000 Guineas double at the Curragh this Saturday, for which he is a long odds-on favourite. Winter will aim to do the 1,000 Guineas double a day later.

With Rhododendron a warm favourite to atone for her unlucky 1,000 Guineas second to Winter in the Oaks, O’Brien’s dominance of the classic picture is such that perhaps his most visually eye-catching three-year-old will go to Royal Ascot with the sprint division apparently at his mercy.


If Churchill is famously ill-disposed to flamboyance there was a style to Caravaggio’s return to action in the Group 3 EMS Lacken Stakes that made even 5-4 quotes for next month’s Commonwealth Cup seem understandable.

So far this season Ryan Moore’s Naas visits have yielded more frustration than success, but his job on Caravaggio consisted of little more than pointing the colt. The 8-15 favourite had almost five lengths in hand at the line, and O’Brien’s verdict was almost purring.

Quicker horse

“I’ve never seen a quicker horse and that’s why we went this way with him,” said O’Brien, who confirmed the Commonwealth Cup will be next for a colt who in almost any other yard in Europe would have been aimed at the Guineas.

“He’s showed nothing to say he wouldn’t get a mile. We worked him over seven furlongs and the petrol gauge never shifted. But I was afraid he was so quick it would be the wrong thing to do. We could have trained him for a mile and go back but we didn’t want to lose the brilliance.

“He was carrying plenty [condition] today and was a good bit above what he was last year, a long way above. You couldn’t be happier,” he said.

O’Brien’s immediate focus will be on the first Irish classics of 2017 this coming weekend, and he confirmed that the 2016 Horse of the Year, Minding, will line up in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. It is Churchill, however, that he referred to as “the big horse”.

“”It looks like the big horse will go there [the Curragh]. I think that’s what’s going to happen. The lads [Coolmore owners] haven’t said anything but I would say that’s where he’ll go,” O’Brien said.


Moore and O’Brien had earlier suffered reverses when the 8-13 favourite Whitecliffsofdover could finish only third to the 16-1 shot Texas Rock in the Owenstown Stakes, while Dali was last in the Rochestown Stakes behind True Blue Moon trained by O’Brien’s son Joseph.

True Blue Moon is 14-1 for the Coventry at Ascot, although O’Brien Jnr indicated a slight preference for keeping the colt at five furlongs.

The Royal Hunt Cup is an option for Texas Rock, who made all the running in the colours of the Horse Racing Ireland chairman Joe Keeling. He was a first black-type winner for trainer Michael Grassick.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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