Saxon Warrior provokes triple crown excitement even before Derby
O’Brien predicts ‘an awful lot of improvement to come’ from Guineas hero
Saxon Warrior, ridden by Donnacha O’Brien, winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 5th. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Talk of a “triple crown” over a fortnight before the Investec Derby is always going to seem presumptuous, but even Aidan O’Brien appears excited at the potential of his latest superstar Saxon Warrior.
After a compelling 2,000 Guineas victory, Saxon Warrior is odds-on in most lists for racing’s “blue riband” at Epsom.
And on Monday O’Brien gave every indication that the colt he has labelled “a monster” will try to become the first since the legendary Nijinsky in 1970 to win British racing’s Guineas-Derby-St Leger triple crown if successful at Epsom.
Most worrying for any opposition is O’Brien’s assertion that “there’s an awful lot of improvement to come” plus a palpable sense that Saxon Warrior could be a singular colt even by Ballydoyle standards.
A permanent reminder of those standards is Nijinsky’s statue at the gates of Ballydoyle, which assorted media passed on Monday to examine O’Brien latest classic paragon.
Nijinsky himself bridged a 35-year triple crown gap to Bahram, and although the Leger has slipped massively in fashion O’Brien knows precisely how difficult it can be to win after Camelot’s failure there following Guineas and Derby victories in 2012.
Both Camelot and the fifth of O’Brien’s half-dozen Derby heroes, Australia, were originally models for Saxon Warrior’s three-year-old campaign until a resounding Guineas victory suggested a colt with a sprinter’s bulk and true miler speed might be even better still over longer.
It makes a horse already that little bit different look an even more intriguing prospect.
“We viewed him as a Camelot or an Australia type. That’s the way we’ve done everything with him. The difference was the acceleration he showed from the three [furlong pole in the Guineas]. That surprised us but maybe it shouldn’t. He did it in the Racing Post as well,” O’Brien said.
“We’ve always thought he was going to be a middle distance horse rather than a Guineas horse. He’s a big colt. He wears his head low, he’s a good traveller and he seems balanced. He didn’t have any problems with the dip at Newmarket.”
It’s a package to further encourage hopes O’Brien can win Europe’s most prestigious classic for a seventh time, beating the half dozen tally his Ballydoyle predecessor Vincent O’Brien accumulated from 1962-82
In the 20 years since O’Brien’s first Derby runners in 1998 he has won the great race with material as diverse as the superstar stallion Galileo in 2001 to last year’s 40-1 shocker Wings Of Eagles.
Saxon Warrior, though, is a first Japanese-bred contender, and at the risk of inscrutable stereotypes there’s a sense of not quite knowing what might lurk inside a handsome frame that would do justice to Nijinsky himself.
“He’s a very sober horse, relaxed but sharp. Most horses have a middle ground but this horse is either asleep or alive. You could see that in the Guineas the way he quickened up. He’s very quick to react. He can go from second gear to fifth in a flash,” said O’Brien, who, significantly, was happy to talk of a potential triple crown.
“It’s very rare to have a horse you think can do it. But we always felt if there was a chance we had a triple crown horse this was going to be the horse. And that’s why we started him off in the Guineas. We’re still alive and kicking after the first round!”
Both Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon, second and third in Sunday’s Derrinstown Derby Trial, are also in contention to run for Ballydoyle at Epsom, as is Kew Gardens, who was runner-up at Lingfield on Saturday.
But when talk has already turned to the Leger in September it suggests the Derby on the first day of June could be a one-horse race.