Curragh win helps put O'Brien on fast track for world record
Abrupt as it was, this could never be mistaken as merely a 15th minute of fame. Rather the success of Mastercraftsman at the Curragh yesterday varnished the eponymous reputation of his trainer with another coat of timelessness. Within 24 hours of saddling his 14th Group One winner of the year, Aidan O'Brien had come up with another, and a world record of 26 is now acquiring the look of a formality.
He will not view things that way himself, of course, as he made plain at Ascot on Saturday, after Duke Of Marmalade had taken his own Group One haul for the season to four in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. To O'Brien, tomorrow is never more than the next yesterday. "We always take each race as it comes, and each horse as it comes," he said. "Everyone knows that in this game, when you go to bed at night, that's yesterday done."
But the daily routines of Ballydoyle are creating not just continuity, but remorseless cycles of success. The ominous symmetry of its weekend will not be lost on any of the other bloodstock empires trying to keep in step with John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore Stud. Duke Of Marmalade has only achieved fulfilment as a four-year-old; Mastercraftsman, in contrast, has now established himself as the fastest two-year-old in Ireland. Historically, the intermediate stage has been definitive for stallions, and O'Brien has duly made it his business to win all four of the Classics in his homeland this year. But nowadays Magnier is exploring the latent resources of both his horses and his trainer by persevering with older colts as well.
Yeats has been the most obvious bonus for the sporting public, but there have been commercial dividends, too, for instance in Dylan Thomas last year. And Duke Of Marmalade is another late bloom, having shed the inhibitions of his three-year-old campaign after the removal of pins last winter. As O'Brien himself observed: "Last year he might have gone off to stud and nobody would have believed what he really was."
The one possible reservation on Saturday had been his stamina, as he had never previously run over a mile and a half, and there were many at Ascot anticipating an artful caution in the Ballydoyle pacemaker. As it turned out, Red Rock Canyon was ridden aggressively, and in the process measured the abyss now dividing O'Brien from the rest.
"We put all our cards on the table," he said. "If he stayed, he stayed. If he didn't, he didn't, and we could drop him back." The reality is that O'Brien had no doubt about his stamina, and wanted to be sure that the best horse would win. In broader terms, moreover, the only way he can learn more about his champions is by stretching them – a job he cannot reliably leave to anyone else. In both respects, it is all a matter of conviction.
As it was, the purposeful gallop at last prompted Papal Bull to show that he still has an uncommon talent. Even Magnier had given up on him by the end of last year, and he began the new season in new colours. As one of the few trainers who can match even O'Brien with an older horse, Sir Michael Stoute must have been exasperated by the nine-length gap the pair opened up on the rest. Having gone a neck up before wilting, Papal Bull might conceivably have won under a jockey who knew him better than Olivier Peslier; but it is more likely that he would not have run anything like as well for a jockey he knew better.
O'Brien now wants to drop Duke Of Marmalade back in trip, and the Juddmonte International Stakes at York provides one obvious opportunity, followed by the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. With Henrythenavigator odds-on for the BGC Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on Wednesday, and a cavalry of staying types still to emerge among the juveniles, O'Brien surely needs his horses only to stay healthy to retrieve the Group One record he surrendered to Bobby Frankel in 2003.
Fortified by his faith in his new stable jockey, Johnny Murtagh, O'Brien has reached these new altitudes by increasingly coaxing his horses forward race by race. Mastercraftsman is a case in point, having only scrambled home at the Curragh before raising his game dramatically over the same course and distance yesterday, in the Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes.
Again the stable's pacemaker guaranteed an honest result. But while a strong pace should also have suited Art Connoisseur, ridden with the same patience as at Royal Ascot, it was Mastercraftsman who wound up his giant, loping stride to much greater effect, bounding four and a half lengths clear.
He is now as short as 5-1 favourite in places for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, and 6-1 with the sponsors, but speed is palpably his forte. He flourished on this faster ground and Danehill Dancer, his sire, would not seem terribly likely to turn such a good sprinter into a miler. For now Rip Van Winkle remains a more attractive Guineas prospect after his stylish success at Leopardstown last Thursday.
"Rip Van Winkle learned a lot the first day and will have learnt a lot more again from that," O'Brien said at Ascot. "Johnny gave him a lovely, educational ride and he's definitely a horse for the future." The Galileo colt will make his next start in the Futurity Stakes at the Curragh on 23 August. As it happens, that is only a Group Two prize, but he may well contribute to O'Brien's record quest by the end of the season. Meanwhile the fortunes of the Maktoums' elite stable, Godolphin, continue to provide an excruciating contrast. With just one Group One success in Europe this season, its managers must already be craving the fresh impetus promised, some distant day, by Sheikh Mohammed's purchase of so many stallions last year.
In the meantime they are bidding farewell to one of their few big successes of the last five years. Sheikh Mohammed is switching Kerrin McEvoy (below), second jockey at Godolphin, back to his native Australia where the recent £200m purchase of Woodlands Stud opens up new horizons for them both.
Indeed, the way things are going, McEvoy's new job could well end up rather bigger than Dettori's. McEvoy was well spotted, and well groomed. But the onus is now on the stable to show that it can still do the same with horses. O'Brien's example must be a torment.
To others, of course, he is an inspiration: he was not present at the Curragh yesterday, instead watching his son represent Ireland in an eventing competition. "Aidan is a genius," Murtagh declared. "The way his horses come out every race, every day, 100 per cent. And they never lose a battle. Whenever they get into a battle, they always come out on top."
Nap: Floodlight Fantasy(Uttoxeter 8.50)
NB: Cawdor (Windsor 6.10)
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