Beckett moves up O'Brien's Classics class

Strength in depth is fine in principle, but sometimes it can create more headaches than it cures. Five of the nine runners in the Group One National Stakes at the Curragh yesterday - a race won 12 months ago by Sinndar - were owned by the John Magnier/Michael Tabor partnership which operates out of the Coolmore Stud, and two of them finished first and second. The problem was that Beckett, the winner, was at best reckoned to be Aidan O'Brien's third-string runner, and O'Brien and his principal patrons may yet have to reconsider some of their assumptions about the relative merits of their latest crop of juveniles.

Strength in depth is fine in principle, but sometimes it can create more headaches than it cures. Five of the nine runners in the Group One National Stakes at the Curragh yesterday - a race won 12 months ago by Sinndar - were owned by the John Magnier/Michael Tabor partnership which operates out of the Coolmore Stud, and two of them finished first and second. The problem was that Beckett, the winner, was at best reckoned to be Aidan O'Brien's third-string runner, and O'Brien and his principal patrons may yet have to reconsider some of their assumptions about the relative merits of their latest crop of juveniles.

According to everyone from O'Brien and Mick Kinane, his stable jockey, right down to the bookies and punters in the racecourse betting ring, the colt who was supposed to win yesterday was Darwin. The winner of his only previous start - by seven lengths, no less - back in May, the son of Danehill had cost Tabor 500,000gns as a foal. Victory in Ireland's principal two-year-old event would, to a large extent, have been payback time.

Although he drifted sharply in the market from 1-3 to 4-9 just before the off, Darwin was still a raging favourite, not least because, if the riding arrangements were any guide, he had only three rivals to beat. Yet Mick Kinane was shaking his reins with barely half of the seven furlongs behind them, and the response was not what anyone would have expected from a colt who was 16-1 fourth favourite for next year's 2,000 Guineas yesterday morning.

Darwin was a beaten horse with a quarter of a mile to run, eventually finishing sixth. A veterinary examination later revealed that he was "lame behind", and O'Brien insisted that he would expect "a different result on different ground". If he runs again this season, though, punters will be forgiven for treating him with caution.

As Darwin faded, though, Beckett surged to the front against the far rail, and never looked likely to surrender his advantage. The 10-1 chance had three lengths to spare at the line over his stable-mate King's County, and was swiftly quoted at 20-1 by Hills for the Guineas.

"Michael Kinane and Jamie Spencer said Darwin and Bonnard weren't able to handle the ground," O'Brien said. "Beckett is very well bred and you can't beat blood. He's had a hard race but we should be able to get him ready early next spring. King's County is also by Fairy King and we'll be looking at the Racing Post Trophy for him."

The favourite for the 2,000 Guineas is another member of O'Brien's team, Hemingway, who was forced to miss the Prix de la Salamandre at Longchamp on Sunday after suffering a minor setback. "He is walking again and will probably be back cantering soon," the trainer said. "He had five days off but comes to hand quickly and could still go for the Dewhurst Stakes." Honours List, who finished second to Tobougg in the Salamandre, is likely to run in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp on 8 October.

Even after Darwin's defeat, the upper reaches of ante-post betting for the 2,000 Guineas still includes a whole series of O'Brien-trained horses in Minardi, Freud, Mozart and Galileo, as well as Beckett and Hemingway. Sometimes it seems that he has so many highly priced, impeccably bred horses that there are simply not enough races in which to run them.

It was not like this in the old days, when O'Brien's namesake Vincent was in charge at Ballydoyle. Then, the juvenile Group Ones usually had one Ballydoyle runner, who won as often as not, and it was clear from a long way out which of them was the yard's number one.

Aidan has more of a scattergun approach, which clouds the picture as often as it clears it. If Beckett is truly his best juvenile, it may be that next year will be a good one for Godolphin.

Comments