Thistle Bird’s success mars another fruitful day for Aidan O’Brien

George Baker guides the cross-channel raider to success in Group One feature

Aidan O’Brien continued his Curragh dominance on Sunday with the first four winners at HQ but the champion trainer did suffer a rare reverse in the Group One feature as his Venus de Milo had settle for second behind the cross-channel raider Thistle Bird.

The Newbridge Silverware Pretty Polly Stakes turned into a battle of the six-footers as English jockey George Baker edged out Joseph O'Brien to secure a first win at the track and just a second ever career Group One prize.

Baker, 31, faces a gruelling daily battle to keep his six foot frame under nine stone but his perseverance allowed him in with a rare shot at the big time yesterday as Thistle Bird's regular jockey, James Doyle, was claimed to ride in France where he was just beaten on Noble Mission in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

“It’s great such an opportunity came along and even better to make the most of it,” Baker said. “It’s just my third time at the Curragh and my first time on the round course. It’s a fantastic racecourse and I like it a lot more now!”


At six, Thistle Bird was the oldest filly in the race and after she comfortably overhauled Venus de Milo inside the final furlong her trainer Roger Charlton exuded quiet satisfaction at a job well done.

The ultimate

“Winning a Group One is the ultimate and I did advise the owners to persevere with her for another year. So to find the right race, and try to avoid Aidan O’Brien, and then actually win one of them, is hugely satisfying,” he said before nominating Goodwood’s Nassau Stakes as Thistle Bird’s next target.

“George is having a great year and is a very patient man,” Charlton added. “Once James Doyle wasn’t in a position to ride I knew he would be a great deputy. He rides out for me a lot, and loyalty is important in this game.”

After Australia’s Derby rout on Saturday, one of three winners on the day for the Ballydoyle team, O’Brien went one better yesterday with a 389-1 four-timer that included a Group Three hat-trick.

O’Brien’s son Joseph scored on Ernest Hemingway in the Curragh Cup, as well as on Gleneagles who received 25-1 odds for next year’s classics after an impressive maiden victory. But it was Séamus Heffernan who did the honours on board the 12-1 second-string I Am Beautiful in the Granegcon Stud Stakes and Mekong River in the Friarstown Stakes.

Mekong River looked beaten in the ten furlong race but with the favourite Ebanoran disappointing in third, the O’Brien runner rallied gallantly up the rail to edge out Parish Hall.

“He’s a tough hardy horse and looks to have stepped up on the fast ground,” said O’Brien whose comment – “the horse are starting to run consistent again” – will sound ominous to his rivals.

Almost hard

The Goodwood Cup could be next for Ernest Hemingway although his trainer warned after the five year old beat Certerach: “He is very ground-dependant. He loves fast ground, almost hard. He’s able to quicken on it.”

Joseph O’Brien was out of frame on As Good As Gold while I Am Beautiful kept going from the front under Heffernan to just hold off Jeanne Girl and Quinta Verde in a blanket finish.

Wexford Town was a well-supported favourite for the mile and a half handicap and the Ulster Derby winner made most of the running to score under Rory Cleary.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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