Joseph O’Brien brings Thunder Moon to Newmarket with eye on record books
Former champion jockey looks to continue success as a trainer in Qipco 2,000 Guineas
Declan McDonagh on Thunder Moon celebrates winning The Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh on September 13th, 2020. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The door closes on the National Hunt season at Punchestown on Saturday just as it opens on 2021’s classic campaign in Newmarket, where Joseph O’Brien hopes to secure Qipco 2,000 Guineas glory with Thunder Moon.
The 27-year-old former champion jockey won the Guineas on Camelot in 2012, one of a record 10 victories in the colts classic for his father, Aidan O’Brien.
The latter is triple-handed in the first European classic of the year, with Ryan Moore opting to ride the Dewhurst runner-up Wembley, leaving Frankie Dettori to pick up an enviable spare on Battleground.
Not many Group 1 winners get reduced to the role of third string, as Van Gogh is on Saturday, but Moore knows better than anyone how Ballydoyle strength in depth can make for a fluid pecking order.
Last year alone Serpentine upset expectations in the Derby while Moore had an infuriatingly close view of Order Of Australia’s 73-1 shock in the Breeders Cup Mile.
If many of the leading home players such as the Greenham winner Chindit and Godolphin’s Master Of The Seas, successful in the Craven, have had the benefit of a run this season, then the opposite is the case for most of the six Irish runners.
Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare, a son of Bolger’s 2013 Guineas hero Dawn Approach, is the exception having won a trial at Leopardstown.
Aidan O’Brien, however, continues his policy of bringing his best mile classic colts to Newmarket without a prep.
Jessica Harrington is doing the same as she pursues a maiden English classic success with the Phoenix winner Lucky Vega, and so is O’Brien jnr, who was only four when his father won his first Guineas with King Of Kings.
Evidence of a youth spent paying close attention continues to be stamped all over O’Brien’s remorseless success as a trainer since conceding defeat to weight problems that dogged a short but spectacular career in the saddle.
Three runners at Punchestown on Saturday reflect how that success has been cross-code.
Forced to take Pretty Gorgeous out of Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas due to a bad scope on Friday morning, O’Brien still has an opportunity to continue producing results that prompt scrutiny of the record books.
Galileo Chrome’s Leger success last autumn meant he was just the second person, after the legendary Harry Wragg, to both ride and train a winner of that classic.
Wragg will again be the reference point if Thunder Moon emerges on top; he trained the 1954 winner Darius having won it as a jockey 10 years previously.
Already a Group 1 winner in the National Stakes, Thunder Moon subsequently showed he handles the Rowley Mile when a fine third to St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley despite having to race wide on unsuitably easy ground.
“We’re excited. We think he is the right type for the race. He’s a mature, pacey type and we think a mile is a good trip for him,” O’Brien said. “Wembley is probably the obvious danger as he was very consistent last season.”
This time Declan McDonogh, the former champion jockey trying for a first classic success, should have an easier time getting cover from a midfield draw. A repeat of his dramatic late National Stakes spurt could once again prove decisive.
Ken Condon’s outsider Thunder Beauty joins a Ballydoyle pair in Sunday’s 1,000 although there is no question as to who has dominated the build-up.
Santa Barbara has only a Curragh maiden under her belt but has been backed as if she is already a classic winner.
None of Aidan O’Brien’s six previous 1,000 Guineas winners arrived at Newmarket with such a bare CV, but neither did they have as much expectation wrapped around them.
Reputations have already been made and lost in the jumps sphere as the Irish National Hunt season draws to a close on Saturday.
Willie Mullins will be crowned champion trainer for a 15th time while his jockey Paul Townend has a fourth riders’ title, 10 years after the first. Patrick Mullins is champion amateur for a 13th time. Simon Torrens is the top conditional.
The €120,000 Coolmore Mares Champion Hurdle is the final day festival feature at Punchestown, where Willie Mullins saddles four, with his son on board the likely favourite Concertista.
She started odds-on for the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham only to get edged out on the line by Black Tears’ late thrust.
Considering Concertista had previously beaten that rival comprehensively, it was a frustrating outcome for the Mullins team.
It’s an experience unlikely to be repeated at Punchestown considering Concertista is rated clear of this opposition, including the popular Skyace, who has almost a stone to find with her rival on figures.
The final day’s other Grade 1 is the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle where the Triumph hero Quilixios tries to retain his unbeaten record.
Katarino in 1999 was the last to complete the Cheltenham-Punchestown juvenile double.
The shock 150-1 Irish Grand National winner Freewheelin Dylan carries joint-topweight in the near-four mile handicap chase.
Brace Yourself was well behind him at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, but never looked happy and could prove more of a threat now.