O'Brien settles on Derby quartet
Yesterday was a time for some i-dotting and t-crossing, and a little head-scratching, in mission control at Ballydoyle. In the morning, Aidan O'Brien's squad for the Derby was finalised; a quartet – Seville, Recital, Treasure Beach and Memphis Tennessee – is set to challenge for the £1.25m Investec-sponsored purse at Epsom on Saturday, with another who might have done so, Roderic O'Connor, heading for the Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly the following day.
And in the afternoon, at Leopardstown, Gold Cup candidate Fame And Glory duly made it two out of two for the season in the Saval Beg Stakes, with last year's Royal Ascot hero Rite Of Passage back in third, but did not wholly convince as a marathon champion to follow in the hoofprints of his erstwhile stablemate, the peerless Yeats.
Five-year-old Fame And Glory already has three top-level victories under his girth, the Tattersalls Gold Cup over 10 furlongs and the Irish Derby and Coronation Cup over 12. Yesterday's Listed contest was his first attempt at a mile and three-quarters and, having travelled smoothly into contention at the turn into the straight, he had to work hard through the final furlong to repel the unconsidered Vivacious Vivienne by half a length and justify his 30-100 starting price.
Repel her he did, though, and was well enough in command at the line without Jamie Spencer having had to recourse to any meaningful use of the whip. But the son of Montjeu will have another six furlongs to go at Ascot next month and O'Brien, though pleased with the effort, admitted that the long-distance run, for which task Fitri Hay's colour-bearer remains favourite, will be something of a shot in the dark.
"With stayers," he said, if they get a mile and six they usually get two miles. The extra half-mile, you don't know though, but he didn't look like he was stopping here, he looked like he still had more left. It was a solidly run race and he is a very courageous horse."
Rite Of Passage, running for the first time since his defeat of Age Of Aquarius at Ascot last year, lost his unbeaten Flat record (he has been defeated over hurdles) but little caste, just three-quarters of a length behind the 50-1 runner-up. "Very pleased," said his trainer, Dermot Weld, "he was staying on again at the end and had a real blow afterwards."
Between them, the four Ballydoyle Derby horses, whose riders have yet to be confirmed, have two firsts and two seconds between them in Epsom preps. The shortest-priced of them, 6-1 third favourite Recital, was followed home by the longest, 40-1 shot Memphis Tennessee, when he took the Derrinstown Stud Trial; Treasure Beach, a general 25-1 chance, won the Chester Vase; and Seville, 7-1, beat all bar Epsom favourite Carlton House in the Dante.
Roderic O'Connor, who had been available at around 16-1, won the Irish 2,000 Guineas under O'Brien's teenage son Joseph, but the more experienced hands of Ryan Moore – also partner of Carlton House – will take over for the trickier assignment at Chantilly.
O'Brien's two leading Oaks fancies, the second favourite Wonder Of Wonders (whose dam All Too Beautiful finished second seven years ago) and Misty For Me may be accompanied by a pacemaker, but the Coronation Cup the same afternoon will be left solely to the market leader St Nicholas Abbey, with Moore on board, as Cape Blanco will now stay at home.
Yesterday at Auteuil, on France's top day for jumpers, the Willie Mullins-trained Thousand Stars, runner-up in the Irish Champion Hurdle and Aintree Hurdle, finished a gallant second to Roi Du Val in the Prix La Barka, and the legendary Mid Dancer took the Grand Steeplechase de Paris for the second time, having won in 2007.
* Chris McGrath's Nap
Take It To The Max (4.05 Carlisle)
Was rated 20lb higher than now last year and his win this month suggests a change of home has rekindled his innate ability.
* Next best
Sluggsy Morant (2.40 Leicester)
Emerged at three after a promising first campaign to win with something in hand.
* One to watch
Watered Silk (Marcus Tregoning), the victim of a muddling pace at Salisbury last week, can find compensation soon.
* Where the money's going
Yesterday's winner Bewitched is 12-1 from 16-1 with Ladbrokes for Royal Ascot's Golden Jubilee Stakes.
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