Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 29 September 2016

Air Force Blue leads high-flying Coolmore Classic contingent

Published 12/10/2015 | 02:30

Air Force Blue, under Ryan Moore, leaves his rivals for dead in Saturday’s Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket
Air Force Blue, under Ryan Moore, leaves his rivals for dead in Saturday’s Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket

Going by the ante-post markets, the most salient issue in relation to next year's Classics will be identifying which Ballydoyle horse Ryan Moore will ride.

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Either that or ascertaining the most suitable Classic for Aidan O'Brien's elite three-year-old delegation. Because that's how one-sided it is beginning to look now that the Ballydoyle maestro is flexing his two-year-old muscle.

Of course, an apparent concentration of power in Rosegreen is nothing new. Still, it's hard to remember quite such a depth of juvenile talent at O'Brien's disposal at one time.

After Air Force Blue's Dewhurst demolition on Saturday, the War Front colt is odds-on in a place to win the 2016 2,000 Guineas. It is 16/1 bar, so it's hard to avoid concluding that you would be backing him to simply turn up.

Minding and Ballydoyle vie for 1,000 Guineas favouritism at 4/1. Mark Johnston's Cheveley Park Stakes winner Lumiere is next best at 8/1. She is a classy sort, but there is a possibility that a mile will prove beyond her. After that, it is 20/1 bar.

At 8/1 and 10/1, Minding and Ballydoyle are also half the price of anything else for the Oaks.

The middle-distance bracket is the one in which O'Brien's three-year-olds have made the least impact this year, and that might yet be the case again in 2016, as the Derby is the one of the four early Classics for which he has still to produce an obvious heavyweight.

Impression

Remember, though, as Johannesburg carried all before him at two in 2001, High Chaparral was making comparatively little impression.

On October 27 14 years ago, Johannesburg won his fourth Group or Grade One in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, stretching his unbeaten record since his May 30 debut to seven.

The same day, High Chaparral won the Group One Racing Post Trophy, his second win in three starts since September 30. Thereafter, Johannesburg would never win another race, whilst High Chaparral would go on to cement his place among Ballydoyle's equine immortals.

He ran an aggregate 10 times at three and four, winning the Derby, its Irish equivalent, the Irish Champion Stakes and two Breeders' Cup Turfs. The only race that he was beaten in was the Arc - twice. You couldn't compare Air Force Blue with High Chaparral, as he simply doesn't appeal as a Derby horse. The hope would be that, ultimately, he won't compare with the precocious Johannesburg, either.

Both boast American pedigrees, and, by declaring Air Force Blue the best two-year-old that he has had, O'Brien evoked memories of Johannesburg, the ultimate early-maturing juvenile whose four Group One wins have not been matched by any other O'Brien representative. Indeed, two is all any other O'Brien two-year-old managed prior to Air Force Blue securing his third at Newmarket.

He is a fantastic physical specimen, a perceptively bigger and more scopey horse than the speedy Johannesburg. We are well accustomed to the master of Ballydoyle anointing a new "best ever", but there is a degree of substance to his statement that he hasn't had a two-year-old like Air Force Blue. Tellingly, Ryan Moore was similarly effusive. This is a colt that has clearly progressed since his Royal Ascot defeat.

He has blown away good horses in three Group Ones, although Saturday's race fell apart a little when Emotionless bombed. Emotionless was found to have chipped a knee, but Sanus Per Aquam is a fair standard bearer in third. Given how well-furnished Air Force Blue is, maybe he won't progress as much as others at three. However, he has run just five times and shown discernible improvement for each start.

We won't know until April 30 next year if he can maintain that rate of progression, but he looks so far clear of his peers at the moment that he may not have to.

John Gosden's Middle Park victor Shalaa is another pacey type that might be more of a sprinter, and many trainers may well be tempted to prioritise the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot with Guineas fringe horses. With a running tally of 13 Group One wins, then, O'Brien has already matched last year's final haul.

Hopefully, Gleneagles will soon get the chance to enhance that total. O'Brien has reiterated that he intends to run the elusive Guineas hero for a first time since June in Saturday's QE II Stakes. Found is also going to be a player at Ascot in the Champion Stakes, likewise Tapestry in the fillies and mares' Group One, so, such has been the team's irresistible form of late, it's not hard to envisage O'Brien soon emulating his 2012 tally of 15. As for 2016, the sky's the limit.

Townend enjoys topsy-turvy time

It has been a mixed few days for Paul Townend.

The former champion appeared destined to partner Rebecca Curtis's exciting Beast Of Burden to an emphatic fencing debut success at Chepstow yesterday, only for his mount to unseat him after a novicey blunder two-out.

He had successfully renewed his lucrative association with Curtis via their Cheltenham Festival winner Irish Cavalier at Newton Abbot on Friday. At Tramore on Thursday, Townend won aboard the fencing debutant Just Get Cracking for his fellow Co Cork man, James Dullea.

However, he had earlier incurred the stewards' wrath, earning a 10-day ban and ordered to forfeit his riding fee for an incident of dangerous riding aboard Vermout Fougeray. As Brian Hayes challenged on the eventual winner Conduct Yourself up the inside of Vermout Fougeray after two-out, Townend appeared to steer his mount towards the rail, in the process nearly knocking over Conduct Yourself.

To these eyes, Hayes had every right to go where he did. Actually, it would've been remiss of him not to, as Vermout Fougeray had been leaning off the inner. There was sufficient space inside and Hayes had enough horse to go there - even after being broadsided.

Townend was the second rider recently found guilty of dangerous riding, which the Turf Club rule book denotes, in a nutshell, as a deliberate manoeuvre that results in interference and might endanger another horse or rider.

Veered

Seamie Heffernan was found guilty of same aboard In Salutem at the Curragh last month, when his mount veered off a straight line as he challenged, bumping the horse on its inside, which in turn hampered the horse on its inside. He appealed the ban and had reason to, as it seemed far less clear-cut that he done much wrong, let alone purposely.

In the end, his objection was dismissed. Townend also indicated he would appeal, but, if Heffernan was guilty as charged - and that is debatable - then he surely is. The 48-hour time frame for an appeal has passed, although weekend days may extend that window. It would be no surprise if Townend were to take this one on the chin.

Risk reaps reward in Munster National

Sadler's Risk (14/1) overcame a mixed round of jumping to claim the Munster National at Limerick.

In an incident-packed race, the fancied Perfect Promise brought down last year's winner Shanpallas and Pass The Hat at the fourth. Andrew Lynch's Henry de Bromhead-trained mount then capitalised on the last-fence exit of Carriganog, which blundered Niall Madden out of the saddle.

Carriganog's trainer Aidan O'Brien had earlier taken the conditions hurdle with the odds-on Tigris River, and Willie Mullins was another who bagged an across-the-card multiple.

The winning Irish Cesarewitch handler enjoyed a short-priced double at Limerick courtesy of Long Dog and Devils Bride, whose rider Bryan Cooper doubled up on Gordon Elliott's Lord Scoundrel.

Numbers Game

4 Successive years that Gordon Elliott has won Thursday's Grade Three Chase at Punchestown. His dual winner Roi Du Mee is in again, as is last year's victor and general revelation, Don Cossack. He is an intended starter.

Irish Independent

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