The skirmishing is over, the big push imminent, and yesterday the heavy artillery at last began their bombardment. Aidan O'Brien, who had saddled just two winners since the beginning of the month, began Guineas week by rolling out two of his big guns and each found an immediate range. True, Yeats was made to work pretty hard to win a listed race at Navan, but morale at Ballydoyle could only be fortified by news from Paris, where Duke Of Marmalade won the stable its first Group One prize of the year.
It might be naïve to treat these as solid portents for the three-year-olds, whose challenge for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas on Saturday is supposedly led by the unbeaten Jupiter Pluvius. But it should be noted that many were professing disquiet with the stable's form two years ago, when O'Brien mustered only two winners during the whole of April. Sure enough, George Washington romped home at Newmarket. Like that tragic colt, and indeed like all four of O'Brien's Guineas winners, Jupiter Pluvius will be making his reappearance on Saturday.
Last night O'Brien cautioned that it was "by no means" certain that his new stable jockey, Johnny Murtagh, would ride that colt. Nothing would be decided until the horses had worked in midweek. O'Brien admitted that he could not be certain that Jupiter Pluvius, a son of Johannesburg, would stay a mile. "He's a big, powerful horse and we weren't even sure he would get the seven furlongs when he ran at Leopardstown last year," he said. "We asked Seamus Heffernan about the mile, and he said he thought he would get it, but these things are never guaranteed."
Henrythenavigator and Plan are the other candidates for Murtagh's attention. O'Brien confirmed that Kitty Matchem and Savethisdanceforme were the stable's likely runners in the Stan James 1,000 Guineas, on Sunday, with Georgebernardshaw and Halfway To Heaven at this stage instead pointing towards equivalent targets in France.
Duke Of Marmalade laid down a legitimate marker in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp. It may not be too fanciful to suggest that he could yet approach some of the heights subsequently reached by Dylan Thomas, after his success in the same race last year.
As a three-year-old, Duke Of Marmalade was a squad player at Ballydoyle, his honesty and limitations alike defined when he made the first four in six consecutive Group One races, without winning any. But he has had some physical issues resolved during the winter, and may be shedding his inhibitions – albeit he kept to the old script yesterday, gaining first run and grimly repelling Saddex by half a length.
"He's a horse to look forward to this year," O'Brien said. "He had a few pins in his leg after Goodwood as a two-year-old and it bothered him all last year. They were removed in the winter and he's looked a different horse, much happier."
Though there is stamina in his maternal pedigree, O'Brien is in no hurry to try the Danehill colt over a mile and a half. "Johnny was very surprised by the pace he showed today," he said. "He quickened up so well, but he's a lazy horse and will always do just enough. He's built like a miler, to be fair, round and strong. I'd say we'll be looking at the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh next month."
As for Yeats, the ground was softer than he would care for at Navan, but he knuckled down well for Heffernan when Red Maloney had the temerity to move smoothly past him in the straight. The 13th furlong was enough to bring his stamina into play and he was firmly in control at the line, three-quarters of a length in front. "Seamus was very happy," O'Brien said. "He just said that he was very idle, very laid-back, and that he was happy he was never going to get beat."
While other stables progress only fitfully towards the Classic races, John Gosden now finds himself with one of the favourites for each of the first four Classics, Centennial having made a perfectly adequate reappearance at Sandown on Saturday.
It was a gritty display, lacking the charisma attributed to Centennial in gallops gossip over the past month. But Gosden's 1997 Derby winner, Benny The Dip, managed to get himself beaten in this race and we will learn a lot more about Centennial when he meets Twice Over at York next month. In the meantime, Raven's Pass and Infallible have the chance to open new frontiers at Newmarket this weekend. Gosden does not seem to be running a war of attrition, but a Blitzkrieg.
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