Racing: O'Brien has the power in Empire

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The Independent Online
THERE must be more than a few trainers in Ireland these days who pause for a moment while filling out the annual form to renew their licence, and wonder why they bother. True, the Irish racing calendar is full of valuable and prestigious contests, but that is not much use to the average handler when Aidan O'Brien insists on winning every last one of them.

The man who won the first three Classics in Ireland last year saddles firm favourites for both the Irish 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas this weekend. What is more, the ante-post market on the Derby implies that British trainers may soon appreciate the problems of their Irish counterparts, since Second Empire, O'Brien's main hope for today's colts' Classic on the Curragh, has been backed for Epsom in the last couple of days with a confidence bordering on utter conviction.

A price of 2-1 with a run (Coral) is now the best you will find with the major bookies, although since the minor muscle injury which Second Empire sustained a few weeks ago hasnow cleared up, it is only the sheer size of O'Brien's possible team for Epsom which is maintaining the "with a run" clause. One way or another, it will surely disappear this afternoon.

Such is the apparent confidence at Ballydoyle about Second Empire's chance today that Victory Note, the French 2,000 Guineas winner who, like Second Empire, is part-owned by John Magnier, will miss the race and head for the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Since there were similar good vibrations before Istabraq's win in the Champion Hurdle and King Of Kings' success in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, it is hard to see any outcome today but a convincing success for Second Empire. In the fillies' Classic, O'Brien is again the man to beat with four runners, and Christy Roche appears to feel that Sharp Catch is the best of them. Her stable-mate Shahtoush was unfortunate to meet Cape Verdi at Newmarket, however, and can find compensation here.

Today's domestic programme contains a couple of conditions races worth inspection. The Rosehill Stakes at Doncaster includes Chester House, who was most punters' idea of a horse to follow until he sank into the Kempton mud, taking some heavy bets with him. Today's ground should be more to his liking, but that was a poor performance, and Asad (3.45) may get the better of him.

In the Heron Stakes at Kempton, Speedfit Too, eighth in the 2,000 Guineas, is probably the form horse, but Raise A King (3.35) should go close after a fine run in a hot York handicap. PREMIER NIGHT (nap 4.05) is another to have made a promising return, while Marsad (4.35) should make the most of a good draw.

There are several improving performers in the Tote Credit Silver Bowl Handicap at Haydock, but nothing to match Florazi (3.00), the top weight, who appears a Group-class performer in the making. Fizzed (2.30) and Rudi's Pet (2.00) are others at Haydock with every chance at the weights.