St Mark’s Basilica lands French 2,000 Guineas for Aidan O’Brien

9-4 shot produced in style to score under 47-year-old Spanish rider Ioritz Mendizabal

Aidan O'Brien has yet another classic colt on his hands in St Mark's Basilica, who landed Sunday's French 2,000 Guineas and could secure singular status for himself back in France next month.

Europe’s champion two-year-old of 2020 made a perfect return to action in the Poule D’Essai des Poulains when scoring under veteran Spaniard Ioritz Mendizabal.

The 47-year-old rider, a former champion jockey in France, is enjoying an 'Indian Summer' to his long career having landed last year's Prix Du Jockey Club on the 'spare' John Gosden trained star Mishriff.

This time Mendizabal was a late replacement by O’Brien for Pierre-Charles Boudot, suspended by the French racing authorities for three months on the back of being charged with the rape of a woman in February.


However, it looked far from a straightforward task at halfway when St Mark’s Basilica was badly checked by Sealiway.

In contrast Jim Bolger’s English Guineas hero Poetic Flare looked in a perfect position, just off a slow place only for the situation to change radically in the straight.

Poetic Flare struggled to pick up as Mendizabal brought St Mark’s Basilica with a withering run on the outside and the 9-4 shot proved much too good for the 80-1 outsider Colosseo.

Once in the clear Poetic Flare ran on noticeably well only to eventually finish sixth.

O'Brien has the Derby favourite Bolshoi Ballet at his Ballydoyle base with a handful of others in the running to line up beside him at Epsom.

But on the back of his three Newmarket Guineas runners failing to fire, success for St Mark's Basilica, a £1.3 million yearling, and a half brother to Magna Grecia, in one of the mile classics vital to the Coolmore empire was important.

It was a fifth French 2,000 Guineas for O'Brien who shortly afterwards narrowly failed to secure a memorable classic double as Mother Earth had to settle for the runner up spot in the Poule D'Eassi de Pouliches behind the 66-1 Coeursamba.

It means Rose Gypsy all of 20 years ago continues to be the Irish trainer's only win in the French 1,000 Guineas.

His efforts to land the French Derby have been ongoing since a first attempt in 1997 although bookmakers reckon St Mark’s Basilica is a 9-4 favourite to finally break his frustrating ‘Jockey Club’ hoodoo at Chantilly in three weeks time.

O'Brien was on duty at Naas for 'Ascot Trials' day and indicated that filling in the glaring gap on his European classic CV is under consideration for the Siyouni colt.

“He quickens very well. He has an option to go to Ascot (St James’s Palace Stakes) or go back for the French Derby,” he said. “The original plan was that he would go there and back for the French Derby. He’s been working lovely and you saw the way he progressed through last year.

“They all couldn’t go to Newmarket and when he was to go to France last year, we said we’d stick that way.”

Travel restrictions from Britain to France meant Ryan Moore was on duty at Naas and so also missed out on Mother Earth's attempt to complete a rare English-French Guineas double.

Instead it was Christophe Soumillon, who'd earlier done St Mark's Basilica no favours on Sealiway, that did the steering and there looked to be no excuses for the Irish star.

Mother Earth struck the front a furlong down but couldn’t repel Coeursamba who had over a length in hand at the line.

The winner's trainer Jean Claude Rouget suggested afterwards that Coeursamba could tackle colts later this season in the Prix Jean Prat.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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