O’Brien indicates Winter right in Arc mix if ground conditions dry

Saxon Warrior the new Derby favourite after impressive Beresford Stakes victory

Aidan O’Brien has given the strongest indication yet that his star filly Winter could tackle the odds-on favourite Enable in next Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Europe’s two outstanding classic fillies of 2017 have never clashed before but, with dry conditions predicted for Paris this week, the dual-Guineas heroine Winter may get the green light for a mouth-watering clash with her double-Oaks winning rival at Chantilly.

“It looks like it is going to be dry over there and if the ground was good there’s a good chance she could be tried at a mile and a half,” O’Brien said at Naas on Sunday.

O’Brien saddled a historic one-two-three in last year’s Arc and expects to be well represented again with both Highland Reel and Order Of St George, who filled out the places behind Found in 2016, also in contention to appear.


The Leger hero Capri and the 2016 Irish Oaks winner Seventh Heaven are also possible starters for an Arc appearance, as are both the Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher and Idaho. However Winter could wind up Ballydoyle's No. 1 hope with Ryan Moore on board.

O’Brien stressed that plans have yet to be finalised but conceded: “If Winter runs I think it would be hard for Ryan not to ride her.”

It’s not just Arc plans which are concentrating the champion trainer’s thoughts ahead of a bumper Group One weekend which could see him represented in all six top-flight races at Chantilly on Sunday.

With both the Cheveley Park Stakes and the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, this weekend could prove crucial in terms of O’Brien breaking Bobby Frankel’s record 25 top-flight victories in a calendar year.

“Clemmie will run in the Cheveley Park and Sioux Nation, and maybe one other, will go in the Middle Park,” he said. O’Brien is 3-1 to break the Frankel benchmark.

The trio of Rhododendron, Hydrangea and Rain Goddess are on course for Sunday’s Prix de l’Opera, a race which is still an option for Winter too, while Spirit Of Valor could fly the Ballydoyle flag in the Prix la Foret.

O'Brien also didn't rule out one of the trio of fillies who swept the Moyglare Stud places earlier this month being switched from Sunday's Prix Marcel Boussac to take on the colts in the Prix Jean Luc Lagadere.

Decisive defeat

There was no Group One scalp for him at Naas but Saxon Warrior appeared to exhibit top-class potential when providing O'Brien with a 17th victory in the Juddmonte Beresford Stakes.

Moore rode the 5-6 favourite to a decisive defeat of his stable companion Delano Roosevelt and Warm The Voice, leaving some firms to cut Saxon Warrior to 6-1 for next year’s Derby.

O’Brien was reluctant to pin himself down to distance plans for Saxon Warrior next year and instead simply labelled him “a classic colt”.

He said: “Ryan said he felt very pacey and we’ve always felt he would stay. We were worried about the ground but he quickened very well. The two other horses we ran in the race are going to be two decent middle distance horses so he had to be decent to do what he did.”

The battle for this year's jockeys championship is a resolutely local affair and the day ended with Colin Keane one ahead of Pat Smullen (73-72.)

Keane was successful when McMunigal made a winning debut at 13-2 in the opening juvenile maiden. Gelded after it was established he was a rig, McMunigal had four lengths in hand of Found’s full brother James Cook.

Keane was on the 7-4 favourite Would You Believe in the juvenile auction race and was leading outside the furlong pole when his mount fractured a knee and had to be quickly pulled up. Would A Believe had to be put down.

The race went to the 16-1 outsider Powersville, a €2,500 purchase by trainer Tom Mullins, who had a head in hand of Sunday Smart.

Smullen hit back when Renneti won the Group Three Loughbrown Stakes at odds of 4-5 for trainer Willie Mullins.

Monday’s mixed action at Roscommon features a Grade Three novice chase but even the flat races have a National Hunt flavour with the dual-Grade One winning mare, Jer’s Girl, returning to action in a 12-furlong maiden.

Seamus Heffernan takes the mount on the JP McManus-owned star who could have a task on her hands against the 82-rated Solo Saxophone. Jer's Girl's stable companion Siempre Amigos may have  better luck in the apprentice handicap.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column