War Command to bounce back in Futurity Stakes at the Curragh

It was a major shock to see the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt finish only third at 2/5 odds in the Phoenix Stakes won by Sudirman just 13 days ago

Just over an hour after Wilshire Boulevard lines up for York’s Gimcrack Stakes this afternoon, Aidan O’Brien will target a similar rated Group Two pot at the Curragh which has only half the prize-money of the earlier prize and yet is likely to carry much more long-term significance for the champion trainer if War Command bounces back to winning form.

If the colt that lit up Royal Ascot in June isn’t quite the world-beater that six-length Coventry Stakes rout suggested he might be, it was still a major shock to see him finish only third at 2/5 odds in the Phoenix Stakes won by Sudirman just 13 days ago.

Billed as O’Brien’s big hope for next year’s 2,000 Guineas, the expulsion of air out of War Command’s sky-high reputation was enough to see him deposed as ante-post favourite for next year’s Classics to such an extent that even after just three starts, it feels like the embryonic champion is already in rehabilitation mode.

Today he is back at HQ for today's Galileo Futurity Stakes, a race with a proven pedigree of unearthing Classic winners, and, crucially, run over seven furlongs.


For a horse that won his maiden at the longer trip, it was remarkable how War Command swept past his Coventry rivals at six furlongs, although time suggests it was because he sat well off a brutal pace and then winged his way past a relatively undistinguished bunch.

The tempo in the Phoenix was decidedly different which indicates a return to the longer trip should be right up War Command's street.

No barrier
Certainly distance proved no barrier to Declaration Of War at York during the week and the increasing influence of American businessman Joe Allen, breeder of the stallion War Front, can be emphasised by an emphatic display this time in a five-runner race where War Command is well clear on official figures despite his recent reverse.

In contrast Wilshire Boulevard put up a career-best performance last time in the Anglesey and will attempt to give O'Brien a first Gimcrack since Rock Of Gibraltar a dozen years ago.

However in terms of long-term Group One impact, the Ballydoyle colt on the Knavesmire doesn’t look to have the same potential as the one on the Curragh who as well as carrying a penalty also looks to carry the considerable weight of Coolmore expectation.

War Command is joined by his stable companion Friendship, a Nursery winner at Tipperary on Thursday, who chased home Mustajeeb at Galway nearly a month ago. Both appear to be high-class prospects. But if War Command really is the real-deal in terms of being a top-class prospect, he surely has to bounce back to winning form.

Proven himself
Royal Diamond has already proven himself in the top-flight and the Irish Leger hero has another crack at Ernest Hemingway in the Gain Trial, a race that had long-term reverberations last year due to the fallout of Ursa Major's win on the partnership between Johnny Murtagh and the Aga Khan.

Murtagh's career, both in the saddle and as a trainer, has already suffered on the back of that split and a possible Melbourne Cup attempt by Royal Diamond is still an option next November.

But even if he gets the better of his old rival today, both could wind up trumped by the filly Voleuse De Coeurs who was favourite to beat both of them in the Curragh Cup in June but probably didn't relish the very fast ground on that occasion.

Today's big money pot is the €125,000 Tattersalls Ireland sales race where Vallado could wind up proving a class apart from her 17 opponents.

Pat Smullen’s mount swept clear of My Titania in a recent Leopardstown maiden, and the third that day, Little Fastnet, may be no back number in today’s opener.

A step up in trip looks inevitable for Vallado sooner rather than later but a €61,250 first-prize this afternoon is a good enough reason to stay put for the time being.

Smullen has a big gap to close on Joseph O'Brien in the jockeys table but can enjoy a productive fixture with Ucanchoose also while Russian Soul can repel the cross-channel challenge for the Group Three Flying Five.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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