Japan in the frame as O’Brien continues his overseas campaign at Saratoga

Champion trainer has already notched up a couple of big Grade One wins in the US this summer

Aidan O’Brien: top trainer will be bidding for a 16th Grade One success of the year  when Japan lines up in the Sword Dancer Stakes  at Saratoga on Saturday night.  Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Aidan O’Brien: top trainer will be bidding for a 16th Grade One success of the year when Japan lines up in the Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday night. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Aidan O’Brien has a 16th Grade One success of the year in his sights when Japan lines up at Saratoga on Saturday night.

Victory for the five year old at the renowned upstate New York track in the $750,000 Sword Dancer Stakes would feel apt too in the overall context of O’Brien’s 2021 campaign to date.

Although he is in his customary position on top of the trainers’ championship at home it has been by his own standards a relatively low-key season in Ireland so far.

That could turn around in a major way at the upcoming Irish Champions Weekend but up to now Curragh classic wins for Snowfall and Empress Josephine have been the domestic highlights.

In contrast the Ballydoyle team has been notably successful in France this season with five Group One victories already in the bag, including St Mark’s Basilica’s classic double in the Guineas and Derby there.

This summer has also seen a pair of Grade One wins in the US for Santa Barbara in the Belmont Oaks and Beverly D at Arlington while Bolshoi Ballet scored in last month’s Belmont Derby.

All told it means that last year’s overall tally of 15 top-flight races has already been equalled. Ten of them have been with fillies.

Coming before the end of August it is a haul that compares favourably to many other seasons including 2017’s world record total of 28.

The progress of a two year team topped by the unbeaten Point Lonsdale could be key to the upcoming autumn campaign.

However on a weekend featuring only Saturday’s Navan card at home it is the stalwart older horse Japan who will at the centre of Ballydoyle’s big-race focus.

It is fair to say that if Japan’s career had lived up to expectations then he wouldn’t be lining up for Saturday night’s mile and a half contest.

He appeared to be the best regarded of Ballydoyle’s classic colts in 2019 and looked to have the racing world at his feet when landing that’s year’s Juddmonte International.

However the anticipated flowering of that talent as an older horse didn’t occur in 2020 when failing to win in half a dozen starts.

Home team

Japan has won twice this year at Group Three level – including when dropped to nine furlongs for the Meld Stakes last time – but his overall profile continues to look disappointing considering original hopes for him.

O’Brien is sending him to the US to try and secure a third career top-flight victory and Ryan Moore will team up with Japan in a seven-runner contest due off at 10.25 Irish-time.

The English jockey is confident quick ground conditions can make a significant difference.

“The ground went for him in the Coronation Cup and again in the Hardwicke when it came up soft. He just doesn’t operate to the same level when it’s soft.

“With this race in mind we dropped him back to nine furlongs in the Meld at Leopardstown the last day. He did it well there and I thought he was always holding off the late closers. That will have sharpened him up,” Moore said on Friday.

Moore and O’Brien failed to win the Sword Dancer when Idaho started favourite in 2017.

Last year’s winner Channel Maker is among the home team while other proven local Grade One winners are Gufo and Tribhuvan who recently made all to land the United Nations in Monmouth.

Tribhuvan is a 2-1 favourite in US morning line betting. Japan is a 9-2 fourth best in the market.

O’Brien has just a couple of runners at Navan where Hms Endeavour should relish the quick ground conditions in a five furlong maiden.

The son of War Front has been waiting for this sort of surface since finishing a promising third on his debut at Naas last month.

Forgetthesurprise is back at Navan for the concluding handicap having won there over flights in June.

She has since won again over hurdles at Limerick although in between was third to Third Avenue on the flat at Bellewstown.

Forgetthesurprise has to reverse that form and also has to contend with a wide draw. However Navan’s galloping course could suit an in-form mare who looks up to exploiting a flat rating of 51.

The in-form Gavin Cromwell is another with a couple of chances at Navan but the Co Meath trainer also teams up with Frankie Dettori on Saturday for an ambitious Group Three tilt at Goodwood.

White Pepper, winner of her maiden at Tramore last time, lines up in the March Stakes under the renowned Italian rider.

With an official rating of 84 the Irish hope is the outsider of the five runner field, a traditional St Leger trial won last year by Subjectivist.

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