Aidan O'Brien can fly out to Kentucky for the final important business of the season, the $25m Breeders' Cup extravaganza, happy in the knowledge that the promise displayed by members of his youth squad will make the winter that little bit warmer down Co Tipperary way. The last pile of logs to fuel hopes for the spring was stacked neatly yesterday by Nephrite who, with the minimum of fuss, lowered the profile of much-vaunted Born To Sea in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown.
Much of the attention paid to Born To Sea, who started 8-11 favourite for the seven-furlong Group 3 contest, was because of his close relationship to the brilliant superstar of 2009, his three-parts brother Sea The Stars. But the younger sibling had made an excellent impression in his own right by winning at Listed level on his debut, a performance that launched him to 2,000 Guineas favouritism. He had no answer, however, to Nephrite's finishing surge yesterday and, with his subsequent fall from favour in the Guineas betting, the O'Brien hegemony at the top of the winter Classic markets is now complete. Camelot, after his flash of brilliance in the Racing Post Trophy, is a strong favourite for both the Guineas and Derby, with Nephrite and another stablemate, Power, crowding Dabirsim and injured Harbour Watch for second spot in the mile race lists. Unbeaten filly Maybe tops the 1,000 Guineas betting and Wading that for the Oaks.
Ballydoyle team-mates Vault and Ishvana ensured a strong gallop yesterday, a pace which Born To Sea chased into the straight, slipstreamed by Nephrite, ridden by his trainer's son Joseph. Born To Sea led briefly a furlong out but it was Nephrite who produced the telling change of gear, as a son of Pivotal should on easyish ground, for a length and a half victory.
The last horse to take both the Leopardstown race and the Guineas was Ballydoyle inmate Footstepsinthesand and Nephrite, himself half-brother to a high-class performer, the globetrotting sprinter Cape Of Good Hope, has leapfrogged to 10-1 in the shaken-up Rowley Mile markets. "He relaxed nicely and picked up well when I asked," said O'Brien jr. "There's plenty of speed in his family but he was not getting any slower at the end today and I think he'll get a mile no problem next year. And he's got a good attitude."
O'Brien was also in Camelot's saddle at Doncaster nine days ago, but would not be drawn to make a comparison between the two. "They're both lovely horses," he said, "but they've never worked together."
As Camelot hardened to 3-1 for the Guineas, Born To Sea was eased to as much as 14-1 and if the bubble of anticipation surrounding him has now been burst, it was not one of his realist trainer's making. "We're not too disappointed," said John Oxx, "The ground perhaps didn't play to his strengths and the Guineas is still the plan."
In yesterday's Criterium International at Saint-Cloud, the penultimate Group 1 juvenile contest of the European season, the Ballydoyle candidate Learn finished fourth after leading into the final furlong, with his effort as Camelot's pacemaker on Town Moor possibly telling in the closing stages.
The winner, locally-trained French Fifteen, scored comfortably enough. But the horse who perhaps should have won was British raider Bonfire, who was trapped among rivals until inside the final 200 yards and, once he had a clear run, finished fastest of all under Jimmy Fortune for third place. The Manduro colt is now on the Guineas radar at around 14-1 but trainer Andrew Balding sees the Derby as his target.
A year ago So You Think, who will spearhead the Ballydoyle Breeders' Cup challenge on Saturday at Churchill Downs with his audacious tilt at the Classic on dirt, signed off from his magnificent Australian career with a third place, behind Americain and Maluckyday, in the Melbourne Cup.
In the small hours of tomorrow morning Americain, having his last run for Alain de Royer-Dupre, will lead a record 11-strong European raiding party for the 151st running of Australia's most famous and richest (£2.5 million to the winner) prize and is favourite to defend his crown, ahead of another French-trained runner, Dunaden.
A British-based horse has yet to win the race that stops a nation – the only others from these parts to succeed have been the Irish pair Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle – but among the nine who will try to be the first, Mark Johnson's charge Jukebox Jury is the punters' third choice alongside the perceived best of the home defence among the 24 runners, Lucas Cranach.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Crazy Too (2.15 Wolverhampton)
Well-regarded daughter of Invincible Spirit, who is progressing with experience and even a repeat of her latest effort – fifth in a strongly run Yarmouth maiden – may be good enough.
Plenty Pocket (1.00 Kempton)
Disappointed on his British debut back in January and hasn't been seen since, but has had corrective airway surgery in the meantime and can now start to fulfil expectations, if belatedly so.
One to watch
With his trainer being close to the source, look out for Godolphin cast-off House Party (John Ferguson), a half-brother to a hurdles winner, in junior bumpers.
Where the money's going
Weird Al, winner of Saturday's Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, has been made 8-1 favourite by Hills for next month's highly anticipated Hennessy Gold Cup.