Washington Irving can write final chapter in O'Brien's Classic season

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The Independent Online

One day, perhaps, supermodels will stuff themselves like Strasbourg geese and walk across cattle grids without fear. Fashion, after all, is defined by its transience. It is like the ripeness of apples. Some people notice when they are ready for picking. Others only come across them in the dewy grass, and discover too late that the apple is already rotting beneath. But then there is also the man, far ahead of them all, who plants the orchard.

No doubt Sheikh Mohammed perceives himself that way, having the instincts and many of the accomplishments of a pioneer. But while John Ferguson was spending over $20m on his behalf at Keeneland this week, Demi O'Byrne confined himself to less than $3m for Coolmore.

The Sheikh will not deceive himself that this disparity merely reflects his own insulation against global recession. If he considers the recent, relative records of the two empires, he might well borrow an old line from the movies: "I don't like it. It's too quiet out there."

Perhaps John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore are taking the view that the Americans, in digging up their dirt tracks, are also moving the goalposts for commercial breeders. Sooner or later even the Kentucky Derby is going to be run on a safer, synthetic surface and all those priceless dirt bloodlines at Keeneland will become about as fashionable as plus-fours and tank tops.

As luck should have it, the best young stallions at Coolmore are likely to produce horses that last the course. They run in longer races, over longer careers. And if that makes sires like Galileo and Montjeu the most fashionable in the world, so much the better.

Today Coolmore's principal stable, Ballydoyle, duly finds itself on the cusp of surpassing even its previous achievements. The depth of its staying resources means that Aidan O'Brien is expected to win both the Ladbrokes St Leger today, and the Irish Field Irish St Leger. The latter is not strictly a Classic, being open to older horses in a discipline that can embarrass three-year-olds. But if O'Brien does win, as he should, he will become the first trainer to win all five Irish Classics since Jack Rogers in 1935.

Yesterday O'Brien won the National Express Doncaster Cup with Honolulu, a son of Montjeu who was a beaten favourite in the St Leger last year but has since matured to the point where he is in a different class to most British stayers. He is also in a different class to Yeats and Septimus, the senior stayers in his own stable – that is to say, at least one tier below them, and maybe three. O'Brien, wearing belt-and-braces in his bid for a clean sweep, has declared Yeats and Septimus at the Curragh, but Yeats was left in only as insurance against anything going amiss with Septimus.

Back at Doncaster he runs three colts by Montjeu, one by Galileo, and one by the old king, Sadler's Wells. O'Brien has won the Leger three times in seven years but the plummeting centre of gravity in the stable's pedigrees suggests that he may in time improve even that ratio.

Frozen Fire is the obvious favourite after his success in the Irish Derby, and his absence since is no concern for a colt who ran Tartan Bearer to a photo first time out. The only caveat is that he was sheltered from a fierce headwind at the Curragh, and may have been flattered to cut down some exhausted rivals – including Alessandro Volta, who follows him here – in quite such striking fashion. He also shares with Honolulu the awkward demeanour you find in some sons of Montjeu, and this could be a brutish test in the conditions.

At 25-1 with the sponsors, it might instead be worth persevering with Washington Irving, who is still a maiden but looked a natural for this race when rallying dourly for fifth in the Derby. Clearly not himself behind Frozen Fire at the Curragh, he ran creditably in his trial at Leopardstown, again simply looking short of pace – hardly an asset likely to be critical today.

Of the rest, Look Here is on thin ice meeting colts for the first time, in tiring ground, after a rushed preparation, while Doctor Fremantle needs to settle if he is to get home. Unsung Heroine, a bargain at 5,000 guineas, lacks experience but this test could bring out dramatic improvement in Warringah at 50-1.

Needless to say, O'Brien and his patrons remain a force at every distance. For instance, they have a strong candidate for the Ladbrokes Sprint Cup, the Group One prize salvaged from Haydock last weekend, in US Ranger, though he is running out of excuses and meets a less exposed rival in African Rose.

Then there is Mastercraftsman, the unbeaten juvenile who runs in the Bank Of Scotland National Stakes at the Curragh tomorrow and is rivalled for favouritism in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas only by another Ballydoyle colt, Rip Van Winkle. As it happens, Mastercraftsman may be too much in the sprinting mould to cope with an extra furlong on much softer ground, not least with Arazan having been so impressive over course, going and distance last time.

The point remains that Ballydoyle retains all its versatility. But it is also a barometer for the breed in general, and you can see the way the wind is blowing. Next month the final Group One of the British season will be staged on Town Moor. No doubt the Racing Post Trophy, over a mile on autumn ground, will prove a gruelling test of a young horse – and O'Brien has dozens in the race.

You already know that a handful of them will return next year for the St Leger; that, in the meantime, several will have run in the Derby; and you could not be surprised if one of them won the Gold Cup at Ascot some day.

All these races have in recent times been described as unfashionable. But, judging by the look of the Co Tipperary orchards these days, things are changing. And that should please all of us who want to see a bit of substance come back into vogue.

Zarkava must ignite spark for the Arc

The meteor of French racing, Zarkava, apparently worked more like a wet matchstick during the week but her artful trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupré, remains happy that she is ready to end her summer break in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp tomorrow.

As a Group One race in its own right, however, this is much the most competitive of the three traditional trials staged over the course and distance of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Zarkava, moreover, still has to prove her stamina, having won two Classics on the bridle over shorter distances. Her pedigree offers only limited encouragement, but she is already a warm favourite for the Arc and the stakes are correspondingly high.

Her rivals include Dar Re Mi and Michita, the John Gosden pair who made the podium with Lush Lashes at Newmarket last month, and three Ballydoyle fillies – led by Ice Queen, last seen forcing a photo in the Irish Oaks at 66-1.

Vision D'Etat, the Prix du Jockey-Club winner, resurfaces in the Prix Niel, while Schiaparelli, winner of three Group Ones in Germany, makes his debut for Godolphin in the Prix Foy.

3 questions for Eddie Ahern

Eddie Ahern seeks his first Classic success when he rides the second favourite, Look Here, in the St Leger at Doncaster.

1. How are you looking at today's big race?

"I'd think there will be plenty of pace, though hopefully without going mad in the soft ground. They'll be getting well strung out in the last three furlongs. I sat on the filly the other morning, just for a nice canter, and she rode bigger than she looks standing next to her. She has a good action, gave me a real nice feel, and the form of her win in the Oaks has worked out well."

2. After missing the season's start with a controversial whip suspension, you must take satisfaction from the way things have gone since?

"I'd made a mistake, and wanted to put it behind me, so I was very grateful to the trainers who were supporting me. Unfortunately my main stables were not firing, and it was looking sticky. Things began to pick up, though, and I've been flying. I've already passed last year's total, with 62 winners. That puts me eighth in the table."

3. Back in Ireland you are known for your bravado in the hunting field, but who is madder, you or the fearless jump jockey, Paul Carberry?

"Carberry by far. Though it is true I've been out with him many times and never turned from anything he's jumped. I'll take on anything – hedge, ditch, gate. There was one time last year, over some water, when I did have my doubts. Only just made it. But where the hounds go, I go."

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