Aidan O'Brien's Ascot double opens up new front for Coolmore turf war with sheikh


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The Independent Online

After their unprecedented depredations at the Cheltenham Festival, the Irish plundered the first four races in Britain's equivalent carnival for Flat racing. Chauvinism aside, however, the deeper gains were perhaps made by those superpowers discreetly manoeuvring for supremacy in the global bloodstock market.

For both Declaration Of War, the colt who exploited Animal Kingdom's dismal performance in the opener, and War Command, sensational winner of the Coventry Stakes, are sons of the same young stallion. And the collaboration between Coolmore Stud and War Front's American breeder, Joseph Allen, suddenly opens up a new front for John Magnier and his partners in their rivalry with Sheikh Mohammed.

Just when the sheikh must feel he is getting somewhere, then, Magnier has contrived to get one step ahead. The return to form of Dawn Approach here can only have heightened irritation among the Coolmore partners over the way Jim Bolger has allowed the sheikh back-door access to the precious Galileo bloodlines he has abjured at the sales. And you can also be sure that their rivalry has a fresh intensity after the exposure of the sheikh's No 1 trainer, Mahmood al-Zarooni, as a drugs cheat.

So for Aidan O'Brien to help War Front earn his stripes is both timely and hugely significant. Allen part-owns Declaration Of War while War Command ran in his colours and he had come over from Florida to join his partners. "This is surreal," Allen said. "I've been involved with horses for 35 years, and this is the highlight. To win two major races on the first day of Royal Ascot is a dream. This is a very difficult game [in which] to really sustain yourself. To stay ahead, you need great partners – and these guys have been in the game a long time, and add so much to it."

Declaration Of War had disappointed when heavily backed for his Group One debut in the Lockinge Stakes last month, but showed his true colours under a dashing ride by O'Brien's son, Joseph. War Command, however, was preceded from Ballydoyle by no such confidence – allowed to start at 20-1, behind two stablemates, despite an impressive debut success – before routing his rivals by six lengths and more. He is already as short as 5-1 with Paddy Power to emulate Dawn Approach, last year's Coventry winner, in the 2,000 Guineas. "This is a horse I've always liked," Allen said. "He has had a few issues but he has come around and what he did today was scary."

The other Irish winner on the opening day was Sole Power, who came miles clear on the stands side to foil Shea Shea's attempt to give South Africa a first success here in the King's Stand Stakes. His jockey, Johnny Murtagh, is increasingly preoccupied nowadays with his new career as a trainer, and could seek no better model in the handling of a mature sprinter than Eddie Lynam.

"These days are hard to come by as a rider," Murtagh said. "And I suppose even harder as a trainer. I've 40 horses in the yard, and they're keeping me very busy – but I have a great team and, hopefully, I can still continue [riding] on the big days. I am enjoying both and they're keeping me mentally sharp. Hopefully, today showed I'm as hungry as ever."

True to his word, Murtagh proceeded to add a 41st Ascot success when Extortionist won the Windsor Castle Stakes for another rookie trainer, Olly Stevens. The first handicap of the meeting also stayed in England, but again through the agency of an Irish jockey in Fran Berry – not to mention Well Sharp's Irish trainer, Jonjo O'Neill.