Sport Horse Racing

Monday 22 September 2014

O'Brien ordains Australia his "best ever" champion

Ian McClean

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

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Aidan O'Brien says Australia is the "best ever" of the champions to have passed through his care
Aidan O'Brien says Australia is the "best ever" of the champions to have passed through his care

Much like Salvador Dali selecting his favourite artwork, or Giacomo Casanova nominating his greatest kisser, Aidan O'Brien has ordained the three-year-old colt Australia as "best ever" from the pantheon of champions to have passed through his care.

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Since the O'Brien remark, Australia has delivered emphatically in two Derbies and is now on a short holiday as he prepares for a second-half campaign that will include the Juddmonte at York, Irish Champion and possibly the Arc.

What are the odds then that a horse very few have heard of, trained in Germany by a relatively unknown trainer (Markus Klug) is at the halfway point of the season rated 2lbs superior to Australia by the handicapper? Yet that is precisely the splash Sea The Moon's stunning 11-length victory in the German Derby last Sunday made on three-year-old classifications.

The unlikely gate-crashing of the Australia party sets up the mouth-watering prospect of a clash. However, such is the construct of the European pattern it is far from certain these two will ever face one another.

The progression of the Flat racing calendar is directly inverse to the jumps programme. Over the sticks the entire campaign is geared towards the spring festivals of Cheltenham, Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown. The nature of this format plays favourably to the unfolding of a narrative that all the while builds towards a climax. It is just one of the reasons why jump racing is generally more popular than its Flat counterpart.

The Flat race structure means that both Guineas are over in May before the season has even gotten its feet under the desk; while before the season is even one-third complete, four of the five Classics have been run and Royal Ascot has been and gone. While the Flat does have the additional fascinations of the Classic generation taking on their elders and the extra dimension of international competition, race fans are still left with the prospect of the most exciting three-year-olds never meeting. Flat racing suffers from the split personality of being both a sport and a business and the odds, therefore, of none from amongst the superpowers of Coolmore, Godolphin or the Qataris making Nico and Heike Bischoff of Gestut Gorlsdorf (owner of Sea The Moon) an offer they can't refuse before Arc-time is infinitesimally small.

Sea The Moon's scintillating display in Hamburg surprised everyone including his trainer who never expected him to obliterate the field the way he did.

The horse broke well from an outside draw and Christophe Soumillon was forced to make his own running on the tight circuit that resembles Taunton far more than the Curragh. In the home straight, a tendency to hang left meant Soumillon simply allowed his colt to veer all the way across to the near rail. Nevertheless, such was his superiority that the rider was pulling his horse up with half a furlong left and still had 11 lengths in hand over a field that included Epsom also-rans Pinzolo and Geoffrey Chaucer. His time, for what it's worth, was faster than Australia clocked in either Derby. Soumillon's conclusion was that he was a bit like Orfevre (which memorably threw away an Arc) and that he would "win the King George easily" if he contested it. That view, however, will remain forever a hypothesis as the horse will now be put away for two more runs - in the domestic Group One Grosser Preis von Baden and, then, most likely, the Arc.

Sea The Moon was returned unsold in October 2012 at Tattersalls Book 1 yearling sales having failed to meet the reserve of 230,000 guineas. Somebody up there was looking after the consignors that day as the owners currently have the highest-rated three-year-old in Europe, son of stallion-of-the-moment Sea The Stars out of an unraced daughter of Monsun, and sister to two German Derby winners. The ugly ducking now a gracious swan and worth a fortune as a future stallion.

Australia is similarly talented, and with an even more gilded pedigree. So, two impeccably-bred, sublimely talented three-year-olds both at their peak - but will the business of sport allow the twain to meet?

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