O'Donoghue offers O'Brien a ready solution
For a perfectionist, there can never be a perfect solution. And if that is how Aidan O'Brien came to find himself in his present predicament, then it may also show him the best way out.
Johnny Murtagh would not be the first Ballydoyle stable jockey to have decided that the rewards accompanying the post, considerable as they are, do not match the cumulative pressures. And at least one of the more feasible candidates to succeed Murtagh, who announced his departure on Monday, has confided that he would be too wary of O'Brien's exacting standards to accept any approach. Another, Pat Smullen, yesterday reiterated his commitment to Dermot Weld, while issues of temperament or relevant experience dilute the claims of several others. There is only one way to guarantee that O'Brien and his next stable jockey can both be happy in their working relationship – and that is not to bring in a new rider at all.
Colm O'Donoghue has become an increasingly significant contributor at Ballydoyle, quietly establishing himself as eligible for any task in Murtagh's absence. Over the past couple of years, he has certainly overtaken Seamus Heffernan in the pecking order, for instance when replacing the suspended Murtagh on Cape Blanco at Ascot in July – when a number of other top-class jockeys, not least a former Ballydoyle man in Kieren Fallon, were available.
O'Donoghue is both familiar and comfortable with O'Brien's priorities and methods, and has won his opportunities by diligence at Ballydoyle and good judgement on the racecourse. He admittedly lacks experience in the international crucibles, but has won a Classic round the notoriously difficult track at Longchamp and last month produced a top-class ride to steal the Canadian International on Joshua Tree from under the noses of his rivals. Here is a rider clearly entering his prime.
There would be no offended grumbling, either, should O'Brien continue to give opportunities to his son. Joseph O'Brien is an authentic talent, but his bloom is likely to prove brief on account of his physique. Given greater responsibility, both could flourish together.
O'Brien's own employers, moreover, will presumably be impatient for some continuity. Michael Kinane stayed at Ballydoyle for six years. In the six since he left, John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore have hired Jamie Spencer, who left after one, painfully unhappy season; Kieren Fallon, who eventually came to seem more trouble than even he was worth; and Murtagh, who had seemed to restore stability to the role with three consistently successful seasons.
Magnier and his confederates might prefer a marquee name, more obviously commensurate with the Coolmore-Ballydoyle brand. But those with superior éclat to O'Donoghue would also bring more risk. Christophe Soumillon has the requisite flair, but what sort of chemistry might so volatile a character achieve with O'Brien? Soumillon has signed a retainer to ride for the Wildensteins, in France, and it is hard to picture him riding one in a nursery at Ballinrobe.
William Buick has coped so coolly with his first big chance that he might conceivably be fast-tracked again, but knows that his development for now could be no more sagely managed than by John Gosden. Fallon would seem to have burnt his boats. There would only be one more sensational signing than Fallon, in fact, and that would be one of the top American riders – among whom Julien Leparoux would seem the most adaptable to turf. In itself, his arrival would automatically refresh Coolmore's stature as a giant of the global industry. In reality, however, he probably has far too much to lose.
What all these alternatives have in common is risk. Promoting O'Donoghue, however, would seem to offer just one danger – that he simply might not make the grade as No 1. The odds are, however, that he would cut the mustard. And given that his relationship with O'Brien is tried and tested, rather than trying or testy, this relatively small risk might prove well worth taking.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Tower (6.20 Kempton) Set plenty to do when given a sharper test at Wolverhampton last week, but strong finish for third confirmed him to be flourishing now, having narrowly scored a first success over this course and distance last month.
Doctor Hilary (7.50 Kempton) Faded into midfield on his return from a break at Windsor last time after contesting an excessive pace, but useful in his prime and looks as though he retains the ability to exploit this kind of rating.
One to watch
Final Drive (J Ryan) Has shared a quiet season with much of his stable but looked ready to exploit a diminished mark when placed on consecutive days last week, finishing fast over 8f and then just run down late over 10f.
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