Rhododendron set to lead O’Brien bid for Lockinge Stakes at Newbury

Djakadam chasing history for Mullins in French Gold Cup

 Ryan Moore riding Rhododendron to victory in the  The Dubai Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in  2016. Photograph:  Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Ryan Moore riding Rhododendron to victory in the The Dubai Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in 2016. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Aidan O’Brien attempts to secure Group One victory No. 301 of his legendary career when Rhododendron leads a four-pronged Ballydoyle challenge into Saturday’s Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Ireland’s champion trainer reached the unparalleled landmark of 300 Group Ones when Saxon Warrior landed the 2,000 Guineas a fortnight ago.

Saxon Warrior is odds-on for the Derby in two weeks’ time and already just 11-4 to become the first since Nijinsky in 1979 to complete the English Triple Crown in September’s St Leger.

While it’s impossible to know what heights O’Brien’s latest classic hero will reach in 2018 it’s officially still the case that Hawk Wing remains the trainer’s highest rated ever runner based on his 11-length Lockinge rout in 2003.

Fifteen years later and the straight Newbury mile hosts a Ballydoyle team headed by Rhododendron backed up by the trio of Deauville, Lancaster Bomber and War Decree.

The latter is ridden by last year’s Derby hero Pádraig Beggy but it is Ryan Moore on Rhododendron who will be the focus of most attention. The class that saw the filly finish runner-up in the Guineas and the Oaks last year was matched by resolution which she showed in bouncing back from a bleed in the French Oaks in June to winning the Prix de l’Opera just over three months later.

Rhododendron drops back to a mile after finishing less than six lengths behind Cracksman on her first start of the season in the Prix Ganay. 

But with stamina doubts about Limato, and progressive types like Addeybb and Zabeel Prince still with plenty to prove, the Irish filly’s undoubted quality looks to see her with a leading chance.

O’Brien has seven runners overall at Newbury with a handful lining up at Navan’s Saturday card. They include three in the Listed Yeats Stakes where the Leopardstown maiden winner Southern France can successfully step up.

Coral Beach, third to her stable companion Fairyland at Naas less than a fortnight ago, is likely to be a warm order to land her maiden while quick ground could see Scealai Aonair strike in the 13 furlong handicap.

Ground conditions

 Ryan Moore will be at Naas on Sunday for five rides on a card billed as a Royal Ascot Trials programme.

 Moore’s book includes the juveniles Sergei Prokofiev and So Perfect who step up to Listed class while the Athasi third Broadway looks a winner in waiting in the opener.

 If ground conditions stay on the quick side Bond Street shapes as a leading contender in a handicap while Moore also has last year’s Phoenix Stakes winner Sioux Nation to look forward to in the Group Three Goffs Lacken Stakes.

 Seven line up for the six furlong event and with Aidan O’Brien saddling three in all, his son Joseph responsible for three others, The Broghie Man’s trainer Adrian Keatley might be forgiven for feeling surrounded.

 It was The Broghie Man who led home Speak In Colours, Fleet Review and Sioux Nation in the Committed Stakes at Navan. However ground conditions may be very different now and Sioux Nation in particular should strip a lot sharper.

 The weekend National Hunt action is at Limerick on Sunday although a blank Saturday here allows jockey Paul Townend in for a Grade One opportunity in Paris.  Townend’s 21-day dangerous riding ban picked up at the Punchestown festival runs until June 7th but he can team up with the apparent first-string of Willie Mullins’s three challengers for the Prix Alain Du Breil at Auteuil on Saturday.

 Mullins has won the French version of the Triumph Hurdle twice before and has won the French Champion Hurdle four times in the past. He has four runners in Sunday’s €350,000 renewal due off at 3.55 Irish-time with David Mullins on board Killutagh Vic.

 However it is Djakadam’s tilt at the €820,000 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris (3.15) that is a potential landmark event for this country’s champion jumps trainer. No foreign-based runner has won French racing’s Gold Cup since Mandarin in 1962 and Djakadam is a 7-1 shot with Powers for Sunday’s highlight behind the home favourite Perfect Impulse.

 With Townend suspended and Ruby Walsh still on the injury sidelines, David Mullins will ride Djakadam for the just second time. The partnership pulled up in the Christmas Chase in December.

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