Australia emerges with Guineas credit at Newmarket
O'Brien ace stakes Derby claim as Fallon steals Thunder at Newmarket
Despite all the hype beforehand, Aidan O'Brien will have been pretty satisfied with Australia's gallant Qipco 2,000 Guineas defeat on Saturday.
In a messy edition of the Newmarket Group One, the chestnut colt emerged with massive credit. From the highest draw, Richard Hughes opted to make a beeline for the stands' side rail from the get-go on Toormore, and Mickael Barzalona quickly decided to join him aboard Outstrip.
The Joseph O'Brien-ridden Australia was then among a group of six riders that belatedly moved to follow suit after a furlong or so. The peloton, for want of a better name, had already established a natural line angling towards the far side rail, and it included the hot favourite, Kingman.
On quick ground, it's hard to understand why the six riders then felt a need to break away from that group. Given his draw, for good or bad, Hughes had a deliberate plan in mind, and Barzalona was entitled to stick close to a leading contender that was drawn directly alongside him.
Why the others belatedly changed tack is less easy to rationalise. It might sound ridiculous, but in the end you could nearly say that there were three moral winners of the one race, as opposed to the usual two when a field splits in similarly unsatisfactory situations.
Australia essentially prevailed on the near side. He led that delegation from two furlongs out, and, by the time the course narrowed and 40/1 outsider Night Of Thunder careered across from the opposite side, he simply didn't have time to respond with a meaningful challenge.
If you discount Night Of Thunder's late arrival, Australia passed the post clear of the stands' side group and was eventually just a head behind Kingman on the far side.
It's impossible to know how the race might have unfolded for Australia had the field converged in one single unit.
Either way, it was a cracking effort, so it was no surprise to see him cut from 5/2 to 7/4 favourite for the Derby.
Kingman, which is likely to turn up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas next, also did nearly everything right. While we may be guilty of reading too much into the fractured way that the race unfolded, the way that Night Of Thunder veered so dramatically so late also left him all on his own.
Kingman led a furlong out and drew clear of his bunch, with the exception of his Greenham victim Night Of Thunder, which he appeared to be holding until the Richard Hannon colt disappeared across the course. Kieren Fallon is an incredible rider whose Group One acumen is second to none, but Night Of Thunder's cross-track lunge may have skewed the result.
With him gone, did Kingman think he had enough done under James Doyle? Did O'Brien and Australia simply not have time to get to grips with him because he wasn't in their parish for long enough? Or are we overcomplicating it and not giving Night Of Thunder the credit he deserves?
Still, if he was the best horse in the race, how do you explain a five-length reversal with Kingman from their Newbury clash, given how much Kingman had to spare that day? It is frustrating to be left with so many unknowns, but the magic of an early Guineas is that it sets things up intriguingly.
One thing we do know after Saturday is that Fallon (below) is back. Since Johnny Murtagh's retirement, he is the most decorated big-race rider left in the weigh room, and Richard Hannon junior knew better than to leave him sitting in there on such a big day.
Following the breakdown of Fallon's relationship with Ballydoyle after the drama that led to a court injunction denying him the ride on Recital in the 2011 Derby, his star spiralled into a seemingly terminal decline. Class, though, is permanent, and he is now increasingly in favour with Godolphin.
His win on Night Of Thunder was his first Classic victory since his success on O'Brien's Alexandrova in the 2006 Oaks. Despite all his tribulations, the man from Clare never went away, which, with Fallon, means there is always scope for another twist in the tale.
ABBYSSIAL AND ANNIE STAR IN PUNCHESTOWN FINALE
A Punchestown Festival that was almost defined by the "out with the old and in with the new" adage ended with two performances from Willie Mullins-trained horses that left us pining for more.
Impressive Grade One victories for Annie Power (1/6 favourite) and Abbyssial (15/2) took the man who was crowned champion trainer for an eighth time to a final tally of nine for the week.
As a son of Beneficial, Abbyssial has been one of the most intriguing juvenile hurdlers to emerge all season. He was responsible for the fall from which Ruby Walsh got injured at Cheltenham, but galloped his rivals remorselessly into submission in the AES Champion Four-year-old Hurdle. Mullins confirmed that he would go chasing next term, although he could first go to France next month.
Tiger Roll's lacklustre seventh contributed to Gigginstown Stud's battalion drawing a blank from 40 runners. With JP McManus' Plinth earning €20,000 in second, the Limerick man overhauled Michael O'Leary's firm on the final day to claim the owners' title for an 18th time.
Patrick Mullins is champion amateur rider for a seventh consecutive season, while Kevin Sexton took the conditionals' title.
Walsh was crowned champion for a ninth time and a first since 2010 following his decision to vacate the Paul Nicholls gig, while there was a suggestion that Hurricane Fly could yet join Quevega in retirement, with Sizing Europe's future yet to be confirmed.
Mallow-based Eoghan O'Grady enjoyed some overdue luck with Unoccupied when Philip Enright's mount made most of the running in the marathon Madra Dog Foods Chase.
Backed from as big as 20/1 before returning a 14/1 SP, Unoccupied had finished second in the Cork Grand National before being disqualified after passing the post in front in the Ulster equivalent.
Noel Fehily, an exiled west Cork man who has just completed a fantastic season in England, ensured his two-day stint paid off by guiding Ben Case's Deep Trouble (16/1) to victory in the €100,000 handicap hurdle.
Tom George had earlier doubled his tally for the week with the Tom Scudamore-ridden Chartreux (13/2), ensuring that the raiders departed with six winners in all.
SHERMAN MAKES KENTUCKY DERBY HISTORY WITH CHROME
Art Sherman became the oldest winning trainer in the history of the Kentucky Derby when saddling California Chrome to justify 5/2 favouritism under Victor Espinoza on Saturday night.
The 77-year-old's chestnut colt has run nine times in 11 months, winning just twice from five starts as a juvenile. However, he had won the Santa Anita Derby prior to 'The Run for the Roses' contest at Churchill Downs, and he will bid to extend his winning run to six in the Preakness Stakes in a fortnight following his decisive triumph in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Breeders' Cup Mile hero Wise Dan won his 10th Group One in the Turf Classic on the same card.
MISS FRANCE COMPLETES FABRE'S ENGLISH CLASSIC SET
Andre Fabre and Maxime Guyon yesterday combined to plunder their respective first successes in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas with 7/1 shot Miss France.
The Dansili filly, which was completing the set of English Classics for Fabre, held on to see off Lightening Thunder by a neck at Newmarket. In a more suitably run Group One than 24 hours earlier, neither Bracelet nor Tapestry made an impression for Ballydoyle.
Tapestry had been heavily backed into 4/1 favouritism, but faded alarmingly under Joseph O'Brien after initially travelling well. She finished last of the 17 runners, with Bracelet 14th.
Fabre and Guyon were enjoying a double on the day, having taken the Group Three Dahlia Stakes in similar style with Esoterique at odds of 9/4.
TWEET OF THE WEEKEND
Can't believe I woke up beside a 40 year old this morn'!! Happy bday handsome husband @AP_McCoy pic.twitter.com/BlfvffZL16.
– Chanelle McCoy posts a photo of herself and the incredible 19-time champion jockey celebrating his 40th birthday yesterday
106,689 – Record attendance figure for the week at Punchestown. A Saturday crowd of 29,042 meant that the final day joined the week's opening day with a new benchmark figure, as the aggregate for the five days topped 106,000 for the first time