Ruby Walsh sets Paris target after American National win
Aidan O’Brien moves on to 21 Group One wins with Minding’s QEII success at Ascot
Ryan Moore rides Minding to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty
Ruby Walsh has pinpointed the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, French racing’s equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as his next major international target after Ireland’s champion jockey secured the seventh “National” victory of his career in New Jersey on Saturday night.
Walsh rode Rawnaq to success in the $350,000 (€320,000) American Grand National at the Far Hills track and then crossed the Atlantic overnight in time to ride at Cork on Sunday, where he partnered two winners. On Monday, he is scheduled to ride four horses at Roscommon.
“His [Rawnaq’s] usual jockey, Jack Doyle, suffered some bad injuries a few weeks ago, and that’s why I’m here,” Walsh told local media afterwards. “He’d run over fences in Ireland. I was confident in his ability to jump, and jump racing is about being able to jump.”
Walsh flew from JFK airport shortly after scoring on Rawnaq and landed in Dublin on Sunday morning.
“I landed 10 minutes early at 8.20am, dropped Gillian [his wife] home [to Co Carlow] and then headed here,” he said after riding The Fitz Lady to victory at the Mallow course.
Rawnaq, who won the Grade Two Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan when trained by Matthew Smith, is eligible for a $500,000 (€445,000) bonus if he can add the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March to his victory in last May’s Iroquois Hurdle in Nashville.
Walsh has won Grand Nationals in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, last year, Australia. He also won the Japanese version, the Nakayama Grand Jump, in 2013 on board the Willie Mullins-trained Blackstairmountain.
He has been successful at least once in every major race in Ireland and Britain and has also won the French Champion Hurdle twice on Thousand Stars. Pressed about his remaining big-race ambitions, however, he replied “the Grand Steeple de Paris”, which is run at Auteuil in the summer.
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The champion trainer moved on to 21 Group One wins on the flat for 2016 with Minding’s dramatic Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, although many bookmakers are also counting Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Triumph Hurdle success towards Bobby Frankel’s 2003 record tally of 25.
There are just seven Group One races left on the European programme and O’Brien has nominated the Beresford Stakes one-two, Capri and Yucatan, as possibles for Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. He all but ruled Order of St George out of the next day’s Prix Royal Oak in Paris.
That leaves just a handful of European Group Ones in 2016, including two in Rome and next month’s Grosser Preis von Bayern in Munich, but O’Brien said: “No, we won’t be going to Italy or Germany.”
He added: “Capri, Yucatan and Finn McCool are possibles for Doncaster. We could look at the races in France [Critérium International and the Critérium de Saint-Cloud] for those that don’t run in the Racing Post.”
Instead, O’Brien’s international focus will encompass some familiar global targets, with Sir Isaac Newton, out of the money in Saturday’s Caulfield Cup, not ruled out of a quick reappearance in this weekend’s Cox Plate in Moonee Valley, a race the trainer won with Adelaide in 2014.
He is also pointing Bondi Beach towards the Melbourne Cup, saying: “The horse travelled well, didn’t lose too much weight, and the lads down there are very happy with him.”
O’Brien’s Group One reach may extend to Hong Kong’s international fixture in December, but ultimately it is next month’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita that could prove crucial in terms of record calculations.
“We will decide about who goes to the Breeders’ Cup in the next seven to 10 days. Nothing is ruled out, even Found, even though we’re looking at Highland Reel for the Turf,” he said.
Other Breeders’ Cup options for Ballydoyle include Alice Springs (Mile) and Seventh Heaven (in the Filly and Mare), while Roly Poly (Juvenile Fillies Turf) is a possible to contend among O’Brien’s two-year-old team at the US’s most valuable meeting.
Spirit of Valor might yet take in Leopardstown’s Killavullan Stakes, although any lingering impact from ploughing through the very testing conditions at Naas will be keenly monitored by his trainer.
The ground officially changed to “soft to heavy” after heavy rain resulted in 20 withdrawals and made it a slog for most of those left in.
“He works well with an ease at home and I thought he would handle it better than that. It’s probably even softer than we thought, and he struggled a bit,” O’Brien said.
In contrast, Trevanna appeared to relish the testing conditions and made it two from two in career starts with victory in the €100,000 EBF Auction Final, under jockey Chris Hayes, who also scored in the concluding handicap on Renneti.
However, Colin Keane took the major riding honours with a hat-trick that included a pair of Listed victories. Keane’s first ride for the legendary cross-channel trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, proved a winner as Intimation ran away with the Garnet Stakes.