Racing: O'Brien plots new course for Horatio Nelson

The Iron Horse yard at Ballydoyle testifies in bricks and mortar to the empire-building achievements of Giant's Causeway. Each stall has its own tack room, and a miniature paddock behind, like a row of suburban gardens. Some of the most precious thoroughbreds in the world are housed in this palace. To find la crème de la crème, however, you have to go back to the equivalent of the railway cuttings: an antiquated row of half a dozen boxes in the old yard.

The horses moved into these stalls every winter are anointed by history. Still fixed to the wall of number three is the nameplate of Nijinsky. The new tenant is Horatio Nelson. Next door was once home to Desert King, the colt who ensured a seamless transition for Coolmore Stud's Classic dynasty when Aidan O'Brien arrived here 10 years ago. Peering out now is the haughty face of George Washington, the champion juvenile of 2005.

"He has the most arrogant personality," O'Brien said. "The way he'll look you up and down, it's unusual in a horse. You go in and he looks at you as if to say: 'Feed me and get out'. He has a huge ego, pumps himself up. He looks down on people and looks down on horses. On the gallops, when he lies up with them doing a half-speed, he'd be herding them."

The stable's present hegemony is measured by the fact that the nearest rival to George Washington in the betting on the Stan James 2,000 Guineas is in the adjacent box. The best price against George Washington is 5-2 with Coral, who offer 5-1 against Horatio Nelson. Yet their trainer disclosed grounds for caution about both during his press open morning yesterday. He feels that George Washington must demonstrate stamina for an eighth furlong, while Horatio Nelson may keep out of his neighbour's way and step up to 10 furlongs for a Derby trial instead.

"George is very fast, probably as fast as we've ever had here," O'Brien said. "He has so much speed that the mile would be my biggest worry. I'll believe it when I see it. Horatio will either go to the Guineas and then the Derby or he could take the Ballysax and Derrinstown route at Leopardstown."

O'Brien will postpone that decision until he has a better idea of how various less exposed Classic candidates are shaping up. "The ground has been too bad to sharpen them up," he said. "If we get a dry week I'd love to take a whole lot of them to the Curragh on Sunday and get Kieren [Fallon] to sit on as many as possible. That would tell us plenty and we could then start splitting them up."

Three other colts in "Millionaires' Row" are entered in the Kentucky Derby: Frost Giant, Hurricane Cat and Art Museum. With time running out, O'Brien considers that an impractical target, but noted that races like the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August and of course the Breeders' Cup leave his patrons with ample opportunity to advertise future stallions to the American market.

O'Brien was notably enthusiastic about Art Museum, the Storm Cat colt who won both his starts at the Curragh in September but missed the Middle Park Stakes after bruising a foot. "I'd say he is the closest we've had to Giant's Causeway since he was here," he said. "He's exactly in the mould of your man: tough, relaxed, a tank of a horse with a great mind. He runs with his head out, and there's always more there."

The stable has such an embarrassment of riches among its three-year-olds - though the genuine embarrassment will perhaps be felt by the Maktoums instead - that some of the most envied animals in Europe were reduced to footnotes. For instance, O'Brien did not rule out the possibility that the 1,000 Guineas favourite, Rumpelstiltskin, could be diverted to the French equivalent, having delivered her best performance last season at Longchamp - "though Newmarket would be favourite at the moment".

Fallon, meanwhile, nominated as his "dark horse" another son of Giant's Causeway, Hitchcock, still a maiden after fracturing a cannon bone on his second start. The older horses are headed by Scorpion, who may run in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh in preparation for the Coronation Cup.

And then there is the small matter of 23 juveniles from the final crop of Danehill; 15 priceless ones by the ageing Sadler's Wells; another 15 by the American champion sire, Storm Cat; and of course several apiece by Coolmore's emerging stallions: Montjeu, Rock Of Gibraltar, Giant's Causeway.

Their sleek young sons breezed up the gallops, like a lantern show of the breed's evolution, groping ever closer for the paragon thoroughbred. "We have real depth this year," their trainer mused. "So many horses that really believe in themselves."

Chris McGrath

Nap: McEldowney

(Pontefract 5.20)

NB: Harvest Warrior

(Pontefract 4.20)

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