Aidan O'Brien pulls off Classic double – but Maybe not the one punters expected

 

The Rowley Mile, Newmarket

As widely anticipated, Aidan O'Brien completed a Classic double here yesterday when adding the Qipco 1,000 Guineas to the colts' equivalent, won by Camelot the previous afternoon. But not even O'Brien could have entertained quite so bewildering a role reversal as the one seen in a feat matched only twice in the post-war era – first by Noel Murless, in 1967, and then by O'Brien himself in 2005.

On Saturday, O'Brien's teenage son, Joseph, had cemented his new status as de facto stable jockey at Ballydoyle by producing Camelot from well off the pace to win by a neck. Yesterday he was riding another hot favourite, Maybe, while Ryan Moore had to make do with the stable's 25-1 chance, Homecoming Queen. As the race unfolded, indeed, many assumed that Moore had been reduced to riding a mere pacemaker.

Astonishingly, however, Homecoming Queen had the entire field off the bridle before the Dip, and only stretched farther clear on the climb to the post. She reached it fully nine lengths ahead of Starscope, who in turn held off Maybe by a length.

Last season, Moore had seemed able to pick and choose his mounts for the Co Tipperary stable, and by the autumn his intimates were adamant that he intended a formal commitment this time round. Whether Moore changed his mind, or was merely overtaken by events after O'Brien Jnr's breakthrough success at the Breeders' Cup, the altered lie of the land became plain when So You Think was sent to the Dubai World Cup in March. Ridden last year by Moore, whenever he was available, the mount was suddenly handed to his young rival – and Moore began the new turf campaign instead hoping for a revival in the becalmed fortunes of Sir Michael Stoute.

His guvnor could not muster a runner in either Classic over the weekend, however, leaving Moore to pick up the Ballydoyle second strings. Power looked tremendous before Saturday's race, but ran deplorably, and Moore must have had limited hopes of Homecoming Queen, beaten seven times last year before finally winning a nursery.

Admittedly, she progressed well thereafter, and scrambled home in a Group Three at Leopardstown last month. But few identified her as a potential sunbeam to penetrate what had become a thoroughly depressing afternoon on the Rowley Mile.

For the race was delayed 28 minutes after the heartbreaking loss of Gray Pearl, who had injured her back in the stalls. While the dignity of her last moments was preserved by screens, the crowd was culpably left to stand in the rain and wonder what was happening.

They must also have felt like that once the race finally started, though O'Brien insisted Homecoming Queen had never been just a pacemaker.

"She's a hardy lady, who's been progressive all the way," he said. "Perhaps we didn't expect her to do it quite the way she did, but it's no surprise to see her win. She improved a ton from her first run to Leopardstown, and the last couple of weeks she's been in a different zone. She's not very big, but has a massive engine. She's fiercely determined, she'll never surrender, and she's getting better. When you get those things together, and the best of pedigrees, anything can happen."

It is on broadly similar principles, seemingly, that the trainer's patrons at Coolmore have vested such responsibility in the precocious talents of his son, whose nerveless ride on Camelot reiterated that none of his privileges surpass that of inherited flair.

In the end, however, all the talk about jockeys should not distract from the genius of the trainer himself, even if it nowadays seems so familiar as to be nearly routine. O'Brien now dominates the Investec Oaks betting, with Kissed as well as Homecoming Queen and Maybe, and already has Camelot odds-on for the Derby itself. Connections have conspicuously failed to discourage early talk about a crack at a first Triple Crown since 1970, and the St Leger sponsors, Ladbrokes, quote Camelot at just 5-2 to pull it off and make O'Brien 7-2 to win all five British Classics.

With most Derby trials yet to be run, for now Camelot looks a pretty frightening price. Sea The Stars himself started at 11-4 when he followed up at Epsom, and it is not as if Camelot remotely matched the show of his unconsidered stablemate yesterday. You have to go deep into the 19th century to find the only filly to have won the 1,000 Guineas by a greater margin, and she did the mile in a much faster time than Camelot, too.

But the bottom line remains that only one colt in Saturday's field seemed more likely to prosper at middle distances than over the bare mile, and that was the one who cut them down so smoothly from the rear before being driven out.

"He has been special all the way through, from the moment the lads saw him at the sales," O'Brien said. "He was one of those that was too good-looking, that moved too well – he seemed too good to be true. I couldn't believe it would really happen. I had myself programmed to think that it couldn't, so that I wouldn't be disappointed."

It must be hoped he had taken a similar approach, overnight, to his raider at the 138th Kentucky Derby. Though he broke well, Daddy Long Legs was soon under pressure and dropped right out to finish tailed off. The race was won by I'll Have Another, ridden by a Derby rookie in Mario Gutierrez, but was conspicuous for the reckless fractions set by a far more experienced rider in Mike Smith. Still clear on the home turn, Bodemeister was collared inside the final furlong but even in defeat had announced himself as an immense talent.

I'll Have Another, a breeze-up sales bargain at $35,000 (£21,000), will proceed to the Preakness Stakes in the hope of keeping alive the dream of a first American Triple Crown since 1978. But while there is a tempting symmetry to such ambitions, either side of the ocean, yesterday's startling events reminded everyone that they will always have a common fragility as well.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap: Terdaad (4.50 Kempton)

Significant that powerful stable perseveres after a solitary run last season, when he eased to the front before idling at Salisbury. Well-bred and entitled to prove better than this grade.

 

Next best: Ken's Girl (5.05 Windsor)

Made all on her reappearance over course and distance last year, and finds herself a couple of pounds lower this time round for a yard in good form.

 

One to watch: Steps (Roger Varian) made a promising return when a close third at Goodwood on Saturday, tanking through the race and looking the type to benefit from cover in a strongly run race.

 

Where the money's going: Kesampour, who won the same trial in France on Saturday as Pour Moi last year, is 16-1 from 20-1 with William Hill for the Investec Derby.

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