Melbourne Cup high on autumn target list for Aidan O’Brien

Trainer has four horses remaining for Flemington race at the start of November

Order Of St George, seen here winning the Irish St Leger at the Curragh, is one of four Aidan O’Brien-trained horses entered for the Melbourne Cup in November. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Order Of St George, seen here winning the Irish St Leger at the Curragh, is one of four Aidan O’Brien-trained horses entered for the Melbourne Cup in November. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Aidan O’Brien stamped his domestic authority with a ‘Champions Weekend’ Group One hat-trick and is now gearing up for what could be an epic international autumn campaign with potentially a first Melbourne Cup raid in seven years on the cards for Ireland’s champion trainer.

Australian racing officials admit they have faced a tough task in enticing O’Brien back for the ‘race that stops a nation’ but appear confident he may have more than one runner on the first Tuesday in November with four Ballydoyle nominations remaining in the Flemington showpiece.

They include Sunday’s hugely impressive Irish Leger winner Order Of St George as well as Bondi Beach, who controversially got the previous day’s English Leger in the stewards’ room.

Kingfisher and Fields Of Athenry are the other O’Brien-trained hopefuls among a list of overseas contenders that also includes a quartet of Willie Mullins horses and two from the double-Melbourne Cup winner, Dermot Weld.

Australian focus is firmly on O’Brien though after the fireworks which surrounded his 2008 Cup attempt when the jockeys of his three runners were questioned by stewards after the race regarding their riding instructions. O’Brien, who had left the track, was also summonsed back to appear before the stewards.

He hasn’t had a Melbourne Cup starter since but broke new ground when training Adelaide to land last year’s Cox Plate and did previously saddle Mahler to finish third at Flemington in 2007.

“I think he’ll have at least two runners in the race; one of them might be the older horse Kingfisher,” the Racing Victoria handicapper Greg Carpenter told local media in Australia after releasing weights which have last year’s winner Protectionist and the Michael Stoute-trained Snow Sky on topweight.

Carpenter was particularly impressed by Order Of St George’s weekend success and pointed out: “Order Of St George is right up there on the weight for age scale and all of the O’Brien-trained three-year-olds will get runs if he elects to bring them.

“I’d love to see an Irish St Leger winner come, of course; Vintage Crop won that race before winning the Cup in 1993. I think Aidan will have multiple runners,” he said.

Highland Reel, fifth to Golden Horn in Saturday’s Champion Stakes, is a 7-1 favourite in some lists for an early Australian raid on October 20th in the Cox Plate and after last weekend’s haul of four top-flight prizes, which has brought O’Brien’s Group One tally for the year to 11, the focus now is very much international.

Ireland’s Group One programme is complete but the Norfolk Stakes winner Waterloo Bridge remains among the entries for Saturday week’s Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, while Found is a general 16-1 shot to take her chance against Treve in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe just eight days later.

The Breeders Cup Classic at the end of October remains the ultimate target for Gleneagles, although Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is also on the radar for Ballydoyle’s star colt of 2015, while other Breeders Cup options already include Air Vice Marshal, who is a 6-1 second favourite in some lists for the Juvenile at Keeneland.

Air Force Blue, winner of both the Phoenix Stakes and Sunday’s National Stakes, disputes favouritism for next month’s Dewhurst with Godolphin’s Emotionless, while the Moyglare winner Minding may not be finished for the season with Newmarket’s Fillies Mile a possible option for her.

O’Brien’s Sunday hat-trick at the Curragh meant he won half of Ireland’s 12 Group One races in 2015. He has also won four in Britain to add to Highland Reel’s Secretariat Stakes victory in Chicago last month.

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