O'Brien shows mastery

Ballydoyle trainer lands a sixth Irish Guineas as colt squelches his rivals
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The Independent Online

The level-headed and perennially modest Aidan O'Brien would be the first to cringe with embarrassment over any suggestion that his charge Mastercraftsman was named as a tribute to his talent. But there are not too many who would quibble with the notion, especially not after the colt turned yesterday's Irish 2,000 Guineas into a solo tour de force.

It was O'Brien's sixth victory in his local mile Classic, and his easiest. Mastercraftsman was never worse than third as stablemate Viceroy Of India did his hare's job clear of the pack. However, as soon as Johnny Murtagh asked the 6-4 favourite, to properly engage his mighty stride more than a quarter of a mile from home, the contest was effectively over.

On yesterday's sodden, testing ground winged Pegasus would have been hard pressed to produce a flashing change of gear but Mastercraftsman's lengthening strength got the job done equally effectively. He pulled away from his rivals readily, steadily and willingly, coming in four and a half lengths clear of staying-on but outpaced Rayeni, with Soul City an honourable third. Although the winner's superiority may have been exaggerated by the underfoot conditions he is now undisputedly the best of his generation over eight furlongs.

Like most of O'Brien's elite charges this season, Mastercraftsman improved markedly for his first run of the season, a fifth place in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks previously. He was also perfectly suited by the increased demands on his stamina posed by both the ground and the Curragh mile, much stiffer than the Rowley version. "He's brave and tenacious," said Murtagh, "and although the ground played to his strengths it's not that big an issue, he handles fast ground as well. But above all he has the heart and will to win."

Next stop for Mastercraftsman, whose iron coat is covered with the silver rockinghorse blotches made famous by his seven-greats grandsire The Tetrarch, will be the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Murtagh's choice for yesterday's race would not have been difficult, but his Derby pick from the Ballydoyle battalions may be more problematic. Fame And Glory is easing as Epsom favourite as the gamble on Rip Van Winkle – one place in front of Mastercraftsman when his mount in the 2,000 Guineas – continues apace, with the Galileo colt now as short as 4-1.

Murtagh admitted he has a soft spot for Rip Van Winkle, but would not yet be drawn on his selection for the premier Classic in 13 days' time. He said: "From day one the Rip has always shown class but I don't have to make up my mind for nea rly two weeks and I will go with my head, not my heart."

John Oxx, trainer of both Rayeni and 2,000 Guineas winner Sea The Stars, vying with Fame And Glory for Derby favouritism, will have been perfectly satisfied with yesterday's result. Though talented and progressive, Rayeni would not be judged fit to polish his celebrated stablemate's shoes at home.

The Brian Meehan-trained 2,000 Guineas runner-up Delegator disappointed, beating only the pacemaker. "He didn't go in the ground," reported rider Jamie Spencer.

It will be a surprise if O'Brien can land today's Irish 1,000 Guineas as his runner, Totally Devoted, is there only to help the Coolmore team's stronger fancy, Again, from the David Wachman stable but still Murtagh's mount. But it will still be a landmark day for the mastercraftsman of Ballydoyle; his teenage son Joe has his first race-ride in the mile handicap.