Racing’s love of ‘buzz’ horses is clear from how the most talked-about runner at the Curragh on Sunday will be one who’s never run at all.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Waterville boasts a superb pedigree being a Camelot half-brother to the ill-fated Irish Oaks winner and Arc runner up, Sea Of Class.
He makes his racecourse debut in a mile and a quarter maiden and will be accompanied by plenty expectation. O’Brien made no secret of how much he likes the three year old colt at a recent media event where he described him as a potential Derby horse.
With a record eight victories in flat racing's 'Blue Riband' no one's better qualified to estimate such potential. Whether that's enough to justify a run of support that makes Waterville a general 16-1 shot for Epsom in June is debatable.
Last weekend’s Ballysx winner Piz Badille is the same odds despite having a traditional Derby trial under his belt. Having said that, O’Brien has won the Derby before with a colt that didn’t run at two, Ruler Of The World in 2013.
Waterville also boasts a true classic pedigree so there will be intense interest in how he shapes on Sunday. A reminder of the dangers of hyping up horses prematurely will come earlier on the Curragh card.
Waterville’s stable companion High Definition spent months as Derby favourite last season only to not even make Epsom. And when he did line up for a classic, he beat only one home in the Irish Derby.
The strapping son of Galileo starts his four year old campaign in the Group Three Hollywoodbets Alleged Stakes where he is set to line up against a proven Group One winner in Helvic Dream. The latter gave Noel Meade memorable first top-flight success on the flat in last season's Tattersalls Gold Cup.
Helvic Dream hasn’t run since and could have to cope with ground conditions quicker than his ideal.
Another Group One winner in the line-up is Gear Up who will have a first start for Joseph O’Brien. Under Mark Johnston’s tutelage, Gear Up landed the Criterium de Saint-Cloud as a juvenile but failed to add to that as a three year old. It’s not unknown for good two year olds to hit top form again at four and Gear Up looks an interesting contender.
O'Brien will hope a similar scenario applies to Thunder Moon in Sunday's other Group Three, the Galdness Stakes. Thunder Moon had classic stars in St Mark's Basilica and Mac Swiney behind him when landing the 2020 National Stakes.
His three year old campaign failed to ignite however when mixing it between a mile and sprints. However, it could be significant his best effort in 2021 was over seven furlongs in the Prix Jean Prat.
Thunder Moon flopped on his last start in Saudi Arabia but if O'Brien's Group One ambitions for him this season are realistic he should be at least capable of going close in this heat.
Top riders, Rachael Blackmore, Paul Townend, Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy are set to return to domestic action at Tramore on Sunday where Life On The Park could be one for the Opportunity Hurdle.
Joseph O'Brien got an Aintree boost on Friday when his decision to skip Cheltenham with Fakir D'oudairies was vindicated in style. The JP McManus-owned runner gained a fourth career Grade One success when completing back-to -back victories in the Marsh Chase.
With not having to reckon with his old rival Allaho, the odds-on favourite proved five and a half lengths too good for Hitman under jockey Mark Walsh.
“I have to see the race again but it’s as good a performance as he’s put up I’d say,” O’Brien said. “I think there’s no doubt it was a deeper race this year and I was surprised he was as short a price as he was to be honest.
“We’ll see about Punchestown. He doesn’t owe us anything this year so we’ll take him home and discuss it with JP. I wouldn’t be much either way at the moment,” he added.
The McManus team had earlier scored in the Grade One1 novice hurdle with Jonbon who proved too good for El Fabiolo in a close finish. Runner-up to his stable companion Constitution Hill at Cheltenham, Jonbon made light of the quick turnaround under jockey Aidan Coleman.
"There is no doubt the second horse is a very good horse and they pulled a long way clear of the third. He hasn't been in any battles as he has had it fairly easy. That is the first time he has really had to put his head down and fight and he jolly did. That is why you love him" said trainer Nicky Henderson.