O'Brien in St Nicholas hot seat for King George
A race that could scarcely accommodate any fresh intrigue obtained a sensational dimension yesterday when the final declarations were made for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, with young Joseph O'Brien booked to ride St Nicholas Abbey.
As expected, the big prize at Ascot tomorrow is all about quality, not quantity. Only five runners stood their ground, including the Godolphin pacemaker Debussy. Few, however, had envisaged the possibility that one of the key protagonists might be partnered by a teenage apprentice who will not, in contesting so prestigious a prize, be permitted to use his claim.
Joint-champion apprentice of Ireland last year, O'Brien Jnr has since confirmed himself an assured and precocious talent, notably with a maiden Classic success on Roderic O'Connor -- trained by his father Aidan, who also saddles St Nicholas Abbey -- in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Even so, this opportunity represents a momentous vote of confidence.
O'Brien Jnr has ridden precisely one winner in Britain, in an apprentice handicap at Ayr last summer. However, he rode a very cool race from the front on Memphis Tennessee before holding out for fourth when taking his first Derby mount at Epsom.
He is understood to have escorted St Nicholas Abbey in plenty of his work at home, and that has become as pertinent a qualification as any since Ballydoyle adopted its present ad hoc solution to riding arrangements.
Ryan Moore rode St Nicholas Abbey to both his wins at Chester and Epsom earlier this season but now has to ride Workforce for Michael Stoute.