Strength of O’Brien team deters challengers in Curragh Group One races

HRI chief executive says dominance such as Ballydoyle’s is ‘not uncommon’

Minding will attempt to win the eighth Group One of her career in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. Photograph: Getty Images.

Minding will attempt to win the eighth Group One of her career in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. Photograph: Getty Images.

 

Even by the exalted standards of Aidan O’Brien’s record-breaking career to date Ireland’s champion trainer appears to hold an overwhelming Group One grip on this weekend’s Curragh action.

O’Brien has 19 of the 34 entries remaining in the three top-flight races on Saturday and Sunday, including the red-hot Irish 2,000 Guineas favourite Churchill and Minding who will bid to land her eighth Group One in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.

With the Newmarket heroine Winter also odds-on in some lists to become just the third filly to complete the 1,000 Guineas double on Sunday, O’Brien’s dominance has scared off overseas rivals in particular and just two raiders are entered for the three most prestigious races at Tuesday’s forfeit stage.  

Godolphin have given Thunder Snow the green light to try and upset Churchill in the colts classic while Roger Charlton has left Decorated Knight in the Tattersalls.

Nevertheless 20 years after his first ever classic victory with Desert King, and with 73 other Group One successes at the Curragh since then, the power of the O’Brien-Coolmore Stud axis has rarely looked more conspicuous than it does ahead of Ireland’s first classics of 2017.

 Half a dozen of the nine colts left in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas belong to John Magnier & Co and although Thunder Snow and Michael Halford’s unbeaten Irishcorrespondent in particular look set to take them on, Churchill remains a resounding 1-3 favourite.

Superstars

Should be complete the Newmarket-Curragh double he will follow in the footsteps of previous Ballydoyle superstars Rock Of Gibraltar (2002) and Henrythenavigator (2008) and become O’Brien’s 11th winner of the race.

Irishcorrespondent is unbeaten in two starts but has over a stone to find on official ratings while Thunder Snow bids to retrieve his reputation having been pulled up soon after the start in the Kentucky Derby.

Ger Lyons has left in the Dundalk winner Glastonbury Song but the bulk of Churchill’s opposition could come from stable companions such as Lancaster Bomber and War Decree, both of which have finished in front of Thunder Snow as juveniles.

The Oaks favourite Rhododendron is one of seven Ballydoyle fillies among the 13 left in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas where O’Brien is chasing a record-equalling seventh win.

However the trainer indicated her Newmarket conqueror Winter will be the stable number one and said on Tuesday: “The plan is to go there (Epsom) with Rhododendron and Alluringly.”

There is no overseas challenger for the 1,000 Guineas. Instead Halford is readying his Athasi winner Rehana as he pursues a first classic success. Jim Bolger has the option of running his Group Three winner Bean Fasa. Another possible challenger to Ballydoyle is Intricately, trained by O’Brien’s son, Joseph.

Minding looks to dominate the Tattersalls Gold Cup which has a dozen entries, half of which are O’Brien-trained. They also include the Breeders Cup winner Highland Reel although the trainer indicated Epsom’s Coronation Cup could be an option for him.

Unmatched

Ballydoyle’s strength in depth is unmatched in European racing although Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said he believes concerns about such dominance aren’t an issue.

“It’s not just in Ireland. You see it in Britain too. In many ways we are living in remarkable times and Aidan is a remarkable trainer,” he said on Tuesday.

“Because of the quality of horses in Ballydoyle, and the results Aidan is achieving with them, we will get to see the best quality horses coming to race at the Curragh which is great. And the best horses bring people to watch them.

“Aidan had the first three in the Derrinstown and the first three in one of the Derby trials at Chester. I don’t know if because the Derby looks open this year that some horses might be prepared for that rather than come to the Curragh but this is not uncommon,” Kavanagh added.

Ground conditions at the Curragh remain mostly “good” although there are good to yielding patches on the straight mile course. The weather outlook for the week ahead is mostly dry.

Acapulco and Washington DC are entered in Saturday’s Temple Stakes at Haydock but both also have the option of staying at home for the Greenlands Stakes instead. Ten horses remain in the Group 2 Curragh sprint.

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