Great emperors know to expect their most vulnerable moment precisely when they achieve an air of invincibility. Fortunately for his employers at Coolmore Stud, Aidan O'Brien will always be preserved from complacency by his humility. But events at the Curragh over the weekend confirmed that even men of genius will only achieve fulfilment when fortune and favour are also on their side.
On Saturday, O'Brien saddled his ninth consecutive Irish Classic winner, Mastercraftsman. Yesterday, however, he surrendered home rule to a man whom he recently acknowledged to be not so much a rival, as a successor in waiting.
When Again caught Lahaleeb, the British raider, in the final strides of the Boylesports Irish 1,000 Guineas, she became the first Classic winner trained by David Wachman. In the process, she extended to 10 the sequence of Emerald Isle Classic victories for John Magnier, and his partners in Coolmore.
Wachman, of course, is Magnier's son-in-law. And over the past couple of years, the calibre of horses he has received from Coolmore seems to have steadily improved. Indeed, he mustered no fewer than four fillies for this race. At the same time, there has at least been a shift of emphasis in the stock arriving at Ballydoyle. In the spring, O'Brien gave a candid interview in these pages, admitting that he could see a day when he would be altogether supplanted by Wachman.
Wachman, of course, faces a peculiar pressure of his own, but he is clearly equal to it. Again was one of two Group One-winning juveniles in his care last season, and has now trained on to win a Classic at the first attempt. It is one thing to envy a trainer his opportunity, quite another to imply that he might not deserve it. After all, there are some very conspicuous inadequacies among trainers working for those owners and breeders who think they stand toe-to-toe with Coolmore.
Magnier will leave all intrigue to those whose opinions have no bearing on the matter. Instead, no doubt, he will regard the most lasting significance of his weekend's work the double Classic success not of his retained jockey, Johnny Murtagh, but of Danehill Dancer – one of the Coolmore stallions detailed to fill the void left by the death of his own sire, Danehill.
By coping with such ghastly conditions, both Mastercraftsman and Again showed beyond doubt that Danehill Dancer can get thorough milers at Classic level. If anything, the ground was still more taxing yesterday than Saturday, as it began to congeal in the sunshine.
Again was soon off the bridle, and the race looked wide open as the jockeys spread across the track in search of less difficult going. In persevering along the rail, however, Lahaleeb made herself the filly to catch. Having begun her challenge up the centre, Again hung so badly under pressure that Murtagh at least had his target in view.
His mount stayed on so dourly – getting up by a neck, the pair well clear of Oh Goodness Me – that she is quoted among the favourites for the Investec Oaks, over another half mile. She is 6-1 from 12-1 with Ladbrokes, though Wachman will be some trainer if he can freshen her up by Friday week.
''Epsom is only 12 days away, but she is tough and she stays,'' he observed. ''There is also the Pretty Polly, the Irish Oaks and the Coronation Stakes to consider. But it is up to her owners where she goes, and will depend how she is. A mile and a half should not prove a problem to her, and she will come on for this. I thought the lack of a run showed in the last 100 yards, but Johnny always thought she was going to win from a furlong and a half out. It's great to win my first Classic. She's always been a nice horse.''
The other big prize, the Tattersalls Gold Cup, was reduced to just five runners by the conditions but Casual Conquest produced a performance commensurate with its status in surging five and a half lengths clear of Famous Name. Dermot Weld, trainer of both horses, will train the winner for the Arc. Thewayyouare finished tailed off for O'Brien, who does not seem to have a top-class older horse this summer. But it is not as if he will have been taking anything for granted.
Nap: Kingdom Of Fife (3.55 Redcar)
NB: Seasonal Cross (4.55 Goodwood)