Racing: Classic battle of wills for O'Brien

It is said that nothing can make a fool of a man like a horse. Saturday will show whether it is Aidan O'Brien or his feisty, wayward charge George Washington who has the last laugh. The two have been involved in a battle of wills for some time and the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket may prove their Yorktown.

George Washington has been a public representation of the judgement of experts since he was sold at auction as a yearling for 1.15 million guineas to John Magnier and his Coolmore partners. Handsome and well-bred - he is a Danehill half-brother to top-class performer Grandera - he has already justified the outlay, with a juvenile career that culminated in two Group One victories and earned him winter favouritism for the first colts' Classic.

And should he triumph on the Rowley Mile, it will be a public manifestation of the talent of an expert. For George Washington's genetic legacy is one of superior athletic ability streaked with temperament. In Grandera, the mental quirkiness descended into dishonesty under pressure; in the younger horse, it is - so far - the lightning spirit of the high-mettled racer. O'Brien's challenge has been to harness the flashes and keep them channelled.

Racehorses are bred to excel as individuals and this is as singular a one as the Ballydoyle's maestro has had through his hands. "I have never met such an arrogant animal," he said. "He looks down on every other horse and every man. He has an ego the size of a planet. It's as if he has always been allowed his own way, never got a good dressing down as a foal."

Any three-year-old thoroughbred colt is a potential danger zone, half a ton of alpha male aggression at an age to become sexually aware. "George Washington is all of those things," said O'Brien, "and what we have to do is not let him get on top and at the same time keep him directed and focused without turning it into a fight, which could send his mind the wrong way.

"With fillies, you can have a lighter touch, and let them get away with a bit. But if a colt gets out of bounds, it does no one any favours, least of all himself. A horse like this one - basically a bully - must have parameters and know exactly where they are. We have tried to teach him a way so that his arrogance won't catch up with him but it is a fine balancing act."

George Washington has already showed his delinquent tendencies on the racecourse, most notably when he refused to leave the parade ring after winning a race at the Curragh last June, defying his trainer for 10 minutes with body language that clearly stated "you and whose army?", and again last month, when he tested Kieren Fallon by jinking through a gap in the rails before a gallop at the Co Kildare track.

Despite such behaviour, O'Brien has no worries that the crucible atmosphere of 2,000 Guineas day at Newmarket will get to the colt. "I don't think any occasion will be too big for him," he said. "He believes in himself and thinks that everyone else should too. And that's what can set a horse like this apart and make him special."

The powerful white-blazed bay has demonstrated blinding speed and electric acceleration and stamina doubts seem to have been allayed by his recent late entry for the Derby. There is some history to overturn, though. O'Brien has won three 2,000 Guineas, in 1998 with King Of Kings, his first runner in an English Classic, with Rock Of Gibraltar in 2002 and Footstepsinthesand last year. But all five favourites he has saddled have been beaten.

If George Washington is the aggressive yob outside the pub spoiling for a fight, then his charming, straightforward stablemate Horatio Nelson, also a top-level winner last term, is the mate you would be having a drink with inside.

The pair are likely to be backed up by the less exposed, unbeaten Art Museum, who has made notable physical progress through the close season.

"They are all different," added O'Brien, "and there will be disappointments as well as the good days. And that is the fascination."

The form line: Aidan and the 2,000 Guineas

1998 King Of Kings (1st, 7-2)

1999 Orpen (15th, 7-2 fav)

2000 Giant's Causeway (2nd, 7-2 fav), Bernstein (26th, 16-1)

2001 Minardi (4th, 5-1), Darwin (13th, 100-1)

2002 Rock Of Gibraltar (1st, 9-1), Hawk Wing (2nd, 6-4 fav), Sholokhov (18th, 100-1), Tendulkar (20th, 16-1)

2003 Tomahawk (8th, 7-1), Hold That Tiger (17th, 4-1 fav)

2004 Tumblebrutus (9th, 200-1), One Cool Cat (13th, 15-8 fav)

2005 Footstepsinthesand (1st, 13-2) Oratorio (4th, 8-1)

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own