Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Churchill can down rivals in Dewhurst

O'Brien team and sire Galileo set to continue sensational run

Johnny Ward

Published 08/10/2016 | 02:30

Scarlet Dragon (fourth right with blinkers on), under Hollie Doyle, on the way to winning The Godolphin Flying Start Old Rowley Cup during day one of the Dubai Future Champions Festival at Newmarket. Picture: PA Wire
Scarlet Dragon (fourth right with blinkers on), under Hollie Doyle, on the way to winning The Godolphin Flying Start Old Rowley Cup during day one of the Dubai Future Champions Festival at Newmarket. Picture: PA Wire

After Aidan O'Brien's near-incredible 1-2-3 in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, I was probably among hundreds to text him on congratulations.

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"Ireland has no finer ambassador," it read. "With the possible exception of Galileo."

O'Brien is a genius, he teamed up with another one in John Magnier and, thanks to Vincent O'Brien having grasped the potential of Northern Dancer, the Coolmore-Ballydoyle axis has never seemed more formidable.

Whatever Northern Dancer's son Sadler's Wells could do, Galileo can do and more. Yesterday's Fillies' Mile Group One 1-2 was another milestone for trainer and stallion. Expect Churchill to keep the party going in today's Dubai Dewhurst Stakes.

Like so many top O'Brien horses in recent years - Gleneagles, Highland Reel and Order Of St George, for example - Churchill was beaten on his debut. Since then, he has steamrolled all that has come before him and his victory in the National Stakes was in keeping with O'Brien's belief that he is essentially lazy.

"You'd have to love him," O'Brien said, and - while the runner-up Mehmas is no world-beater - Churchill was nevertheless impressive. This looks a difficult enough conclusion to the campaign but Churchill should have the answers.

The opposition is dominated by British runners. The Frankel-bred Seven Heavens needs respecting but it is hard to know how good he is. He seems to have more potential than the remainder to cause an upset, with a stiff seven furlongs looking iffy for the 115-rated Blue Point.

South Seas, true to name, has enjoyed some ease in the ground in his three starts and is clearly a high-class colt. However, this is another level entirely, and the point remains that Ballydoyle had plenty of options for this race and went for Churchill.

Curiously enough, O'Brien's Dewhurst winners since Rock Of Gibraltar in 2001 have tended to fade into obscurity at three, in particular Air Force Blue, which won the race last year and is now retired. It would be a major surprise were Churchill, which is favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, to follow that trend.

Tony Martin's loss of the Gigginstown horses earlier in the year was a major jolt but he refused to feel sorry for himself and he has had some high-profile wins on the Flat since. Laganore's stunning victory at Newmarket yesterday will have his stable staff in confident mood ahead of the yard's two-pronged Betfred Cesarewitch assault in the form of Moonmeister and Golden Spear.

However, two Sea The Stars-bred horses are dominating the market: St Michel and Starchitect. The draw has been poor for both, with preference for Starchitect nonetheless.

Trained by David Pipe, Jamie Spencer takes the mount. He was last seen scoring in an 11-runner handicap at Salisbury in May when the market confidence behind him befitted a horse which had progressed markedly over jumps.

That the bookmakers are wary of St Michel is no surprise. He runs off 97 here, yet is rated 112 after finishing third in the Doncaster Cup in first-occasion cheekpieces. He might be a bit flattered by that and this is tough going for a three-year-old.

Aidan O'Brien has a rapid improver in the maiden The Anvil, which was narrowly beaten in a course-and-distance Group Two recently. Ryan Moore now takes over and he is taken to take advantage of a drop down in class in the Group Three Dubai 100 Autumn Stakes.

York's Coral Sprint Trophy contains some familiar faces. While his form has tailed off on paper, blinkers are added to Lexington Abbey, which was just touched off at Ascot in July off 95 yet is down now to 92. He may be worth chancing under Kevin Scott.

Generally, the juveniles in Britain do not seem out of this world, and racing aficionados there would welcome a revelation in the Rockingham Stakes, in which Ernststavroblofeld is a tentative pick. Just don't tell the commentator.

Watching brief

This is an exciting juncture in the year for jumps fans.

Most of the stars are not ready to run but some novices are and it is always compelling to see who improves for a new discipline.

Alpha Des Obeaux, which began his chasing career on Sunday at Tipperary, could be a burst bubble if that is his true running.

Likely he can leave that flop behind and his owner, Gigginstown, will be hoping that Identity Thief performs in a manner more keeping with his ability if he makes his chase bow this week. The lively Arkle outsider is set to run at Punchestown or Galway.

Gigginstown is wary of saying whether Apple's Jade is bound for the Champion or the Mares' Hurdle long-term.

Gordon Elliott is only getting to know her but it would be bizarre if she were not treated as a Champion Hurdle horse.

She could kick off before then but Naas' Fishery Lane Hurdle on November 12, which is restricted to four-year-olds, is being considered.

It might make sense too for the Gavin Cromwell-trained Jer's Girl. Now that's a real Ladies' Day.

Irish Independent

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