O'Brien's lesser lights stride into frame for Epsom Classics


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The Independent Online

The established Ballydoyle stars are scheduled to glitter at Newmarket at the weekend, with Camelot and Maybe, last year's top-rated juvenile colt and filly, short-priced favourites for the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas respectively. But there have been echoes of light from some of their less-exposed Aidan O'Brien stablemates, notably the filly Kissed at Navan yesterday and the colt Imperial Monarch at Sandown on Saturday.

Both now have the Epsom Classics within their orbit. And the pair have much in common: their sire Galileo and a close relationship to a Derby performer, their step up the class ladder after one successful maiden outing last year and the inevitable contraction in their odds for next month's middle-distance showpieces.

O'Brien's son Joseph was in both saddles, though the victories came in markedly contrasting styles. That of Kissed, whose Montjeu half-brother Pour Moi won last year's Derby, was perfectly straightforward; she dominated yesterday's Salsabil Stakes, making all the running before stretching powerfully eight and a half lengths clear through the final two furlongs.

Her time was slow, but she still completed the Navan 10 furlongs nearly half a second faster than the more strongly-pressed colt Karatash in the next contest, and now splits Maybe and another Ballydoyle filly, Wading, at the top of the Oaks betting, at 5-1. Before yesterday's performance she had been a general 12-1 or 14-1 shot, though Ladbrokes, reputed to be closest to the Co Tipperary operation, had had her on side at 9-1.

Imperial Monarch, whose Sadler's Wells half-brother The Great Gatsby beat all bar Kris Kin at Epsom nine years ago, was beneficiary of a more cunning plan; in the Classic Trial in the Esher mud the O'Briens pere et fils decided, after walking the course, that the best tactic was to sacrifice ground in favour of finding the least testing going, a strip near the outside rails that had been compacted by vehicles.

That attention to detail worked to produce a cosy lengths and three-quarter win for a colt now as short as 12-1 for Epsom glory, with 19-year-old O'Brien showing a masterly grasp of fractions, a talent he typically played down at Navan yesterday. "It's easy to win when you're on the best horse," he said.

Speaking of Kissed, he added: "We thought she'd improved a lot from two to three and she's proved that. The plan was not necessarily to make the running, but she broke quickly and they were only ever going to trot round in that ground, so the best thing seemed to be just to hack away in front."

At Longchamp yesterday, Cirrus Des Aigles followed up his narrow defeat of Ballydoyle's St Nicholas Abbey in the Dubai Sheema Classic with an effortless defeat of the good, progressive filly Giofra in the first Group 1 contest of the European season, the Prix Ganay.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Bounty Seeker (4.45 Kempton) Expensive yearling who was highly tried last term. This is more his level and made a satisfactory return (his first run as a gelding) at Wolverhampton last month.

Next Best

Mutafaakir (2.45 Kempton) Learning with experience and finished well in a seven-furlong maiden at Newmarket 12 days ago.

One to watch

The Mellor Fella (Richard Fahey)Had no sort of run at Ripon on Saturday, his seasonal debut, and can be counted better than his 10th place as he drops toward his last winning mark.