O’Brien bidding for ninth Newmarket 2,000 Guineas win in 20 years
Top trainer saddles both likely favourites Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior
Gustav Klimt: The Galileo colt won impressively at Leopardstown three weeks ago and has topped the 2,000 Guineas betting since. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Aidan O’Brien will bid for a first American classic victory in the Kentucky Derby although it promises to be business as usual for the Irishman when Europe’s classic campaign opens at Newmarket on Saturday.
Victory in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas would be O’Brien’s 30th British classic success and he is set to saddle both the likely favourite Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior who will be ridden by O’Brien’s 19-year-old son, Donnacha.
The champion trainer is pursuing a ninth win in 20 years in the colts classic. He also has four runners in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas including the likely favourite Happily. O’Brien has landed the fillies highlight four times including the last two years.
With Ryan Moore in Kentucky to ride Mendelssohn, Seamus Heffernan gets a gilt-edged opportunity to ride a second British classic winner on board Gustav Klimt.
The Galileo colt won impressively at Leopardstown three weeks ago and has topped the 2,000 Guineas betting since.
However on Friday there was more support in the betting for his stable companion Saxon Warrior, a horse bred in Japan who counted a Group One success as part of an unbeaten juvenile career.
“We’ve probably never had a horse to change so much over winter as he has. He’s turned into a monster of a horse, big, powerful and strong,” O’Brien said.
“We think he will get further than a mile. It will be a nice place to start him and we can look forward to him for the rest of the year. He looks a very unusual horse at the moment in how much he has changed from two to three,” he added.
Donnacha O’Brien will try to emulate his brother, Joseph, who won the 2,000 Guineas when he was just 18 on board Camelot.
The top two Irish contenders are joined by a Ballydoyle third-string in Murillo and their major challenge is expected to come from Godolphin’s Masar and the race’s other unbeaten colt Elarqam.
O’Brien’s four 1,000 Guineas contenders are joined in Sunday’s 15-runner classic by the Willie McCreery-trained Liquid Amber.
The ex-Kildare footballer saddled a Group One winner for her owners with Fiesolana in 2014 and, like her, Liquid Amber, who hasn’t run since a five length win at the Curragh last August, will be ridden by Billy Lee.
Ryan Moore will make it back from Kentucky to ride Happily who beat colts in last Autumn’s Prix Jean Luc Lagadere in Chantilly. Heffernan is on board the apparent second-string I Can Fly.
Godolphin again look to pose the biggest threat to the Ballydoyle team with both Soliloquy and Wild Illusion.
A bumper Bank Holiday weekend programme in Ireland kicks off on the flat in Cork on Saturday where Whirling Dervish will try to live up to some fancy entries on his first start of the year.
Jessica Harrington’s impressive maiden winner has entries for both the Irish Derby and the King Edward VII Stakes.
“The ground might be a bit heavy for him and he might get a bit tired on it but he’s got to start somewhere,” said Harrington who also could score at Wexford’s jumps card on Saturday with Little Princess.
Dermot Weld runs the wide-margin course winner Bandua against Whirling Dervish but the Curragh trainer’s best chance at Cork may be Jewel Maker.
The well-bred colt holds some good entries himself and there was plenty of promise in his sole start to date at Naas last October.