O'Brien to step up and defy the odds
Injury to Ryan Moore will see his predecessor regain choice mounts
When Joseph O'Brien was struggling to get his weight in check in the spring, one bookmaker offered odds of 6/5 that he wouldn't win a Group One for Ballydoyle this term.
Those who saw value in the gimmick will be sitting a little uneasily now. Ryan Moore suffered an injury to his neck in an incident in the stalls at Newmarket on Thursday, and his father Gary has suggested that he "could easily be out for at least a month with it".
Of course, Colm O'Donoghue and Seamie Heffernan have both won Group Ones for Ballydoyle lately, a reminder there was always a chance O'Brien might show up those odds for what they were, which was little more than a cheap PR stunt. Now, though, the 22-year-old could ensure that punters who took that bet will be left disappointed.
The former dual champion is riding less frequently this year. However, by being more selective, he has got a better handle on his weight than in 2014, when it became erratic due to the extreme demands of his frequently trying to do 9st, with his feat of getting down to 8st 12lb to ride Australia at York prompting extra volatility.
Thus far in 2015, O'Brien has essentially committed to doing 9st only for the Classics, and consequently there has been less of a yo-yo effect. A scan through his mounts suggests the only time that he has done overweight recently was on Father Frost at Tipperary on July 2, when he did 9st 7lb rather than the allotted 9st 6lb.
Despite it being clear from Thursday evening that Moore would not ride over the weekend, it was Saturday morning before confirmation emerged that he would be replaced on his three Ballydoyle mounts by O'Brien.
Chances are that Aidan O'Brien was waiting to see if his son could commit to doing 9st and 9st 1lb on the respective smart juveniles, Ballydoyle and Air Vice Marshal. Joseph hadn't ridden at lower than 9st 5lb since he did 9st for Giovanni Canaletto in the Irish Derby on June 27, but commit he did.
That required him to get off the David O'Meara-trained G Force in the July Cup to partner Due Diligence, which was outclassed. Air Vice Marshal ran green when second to Birchwood - a first Godolphin winner for Co Louth-born Yorkshire-based trainer Richard Fahey - in the Group Two Superlative Stakes, while Ballydoyle won the maiden readily.
Moore's unflappable consistency is going to be a loss to Coolmore if his father's assessment is accurate. On the other hand, if Saturday's developments are anything to go by, his absence might give O'Brien an opportunity to gain some redress for the predicament that a towering 5ft 11in frame has put him in.
Given the youthful age at which he was thrust into the limelight as stable jockey to the single most powerful Flat racing operation in the world, O'Brien did well during his stint as number one. His defeat on Australia in the Irish Champion Stakes last September was the worst of a handful of bad days that were to be expected of someone so inexperienced in a position of such pressure and responsibility.
It is no mean feat, though, that only Mick Kinane and Johnny Murtagh have ridden more Group One winners for his father. As a rule, the best international Flat jockeys don't come into their own before they turn 30 - Moore is rising at 32 - so O'Brien was always at a distinct disadvantage in that sense, notwithstanding the equine talent that he had at his disposal.
It was the equivalent of a star minor hurler being asked to lead the line for an indomitable force like Kilkenny in a senior All-Ireland final - on a weekly basis.
Ideally, that sort of talent would be nurtured gradually. Being thrust prematurely into the glare of the spotlight inevitably will result in lessons being learned in public, a point acknowledged by O'Brien in the wake of Australia's Moore-inspired Leopardstown defeat.
Given O'Brien's height and his profile, a gradual exposure to the perils of the game was never on the cards. Still, it shouldn't be forgotten he is a proper, big-race rider. In the circumstances, he fulfilled his duties with some distinction, but you suspect he would relish the opportunity to showcase his talents on a grand stage once again. To that end, tomorrow he will partner the improving Montjeu colt Archangel Raphael in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. On Saturday, he could have the pick of a select band of mares in the Darley Irish Oaks.
Then there is Goodwood and the small matter of Gleneagles taking on his elders in the Sussex Stakes. Lest we forget, it was aboard the exceptional son of Galileo that O'Brien endured an exasperating reversal at Longchamp in the autumn, when the best horse in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere was disqualified by the stewards for causing interference.
O'Brien had to shoulder some of the blame for not switching his whip hand. Since then, Moore has ridden the horse three times, securing a pair of Classics and three Group Ones in all.
Should he still be sidelined come July 29, his still youthful predecessor would be a worthy deputy.
Now it's up to
It will be a case of over to you, Gleneagles, come Goodwood after Muhaarar emulated Golden Horn's Eclipse Stakes victory by conquering his elders in the July Cup.
After Jack Hobbs' superlative Irish Derby rout, it was the third Saturday in a row the Classic generation enhanced their stock. With the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, Muhaarar (2/1 fav) had what amounted to a gimme for his first Group One. On Saturday, Charlie Hills' colt's mettle was tested and he wasn't found wanting.
The son of Oasis Dream responded gamely for Paul Hanagan to nail Tropics by a nose, consigning last year's runner-up to the narrowest official margin of defeat in the history of the six-furlong Group One. It amounted to another resounding stamp of approval for the elite three-year-old colts. Eddie Lynam's Sole Power and Anthem Alexander both ran admirably, keeping on gamely to be fourth and sixth.
Apart from Ballydoyle's decisive win in the maiden, Pat Smullen enjoyed a first and last race double aboard favourites for Jane Cecil (Western Reserve, 11/2) and Ralph Beckett (Maxwell, 15/8), while old allies Fahey and Hanagan ensured they departed with a brace apiece courtesy of Rene Mathis' 16/1 coup in the Bunbury Cup.
Up at York, Gordon Elliott's Eshtiaal continued its fine run of form by plundering the stayers' handicap under Graham Gibbons at odds of 8/1. Elliott was out of luck at his beloved Perth yesterday, but Navan handler Gavin Cromwell saddled St Maxime (4/1) to a second win there from as many starts this month. Stuart Crawford's 20/1 shot Run With The Wind took the card's only other handicap chase.
Diakali now bound for Ballybrit
Diakali put himself in the picture for the Guinness Galway Hurdle with a smooth triumph in Saturday's Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary.
Willie Mullins' grey hadn't run since June 2014, but, with Bayan scratched after his defeat to Mullins' Alelchi Inois at Cork on Friday night, Ruby Walsh's mount strode to a stylish 10-length win.
The 4/5 shot's game 11-year-old stable-mate Thousand Stars emulated his French Champion Hurdle second in the Limerick Junction feature.
Territories wins at home for Fabre
Andre Fabre's Territories - second to Gleneagles in the 2,000 Guineas - paid the Ballydoyle colt a handsome compliment by readily accounting for the Jersey Stakes winner Dutch Connection under Mickael Barzalona in the Group One Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly yesterday.
Tweet of the weekend
Susannah Gill (@TheARCIronLady)
Pouring bubbles for the wonderful Toomey family after Brian's first ride back goes down as one of the magic moments in life. #miracleman
Susannah Gill, one of the Arena Racecourse group's personnel, celebrates the comeback of Brian Toomey (left), whose return after two years off with serious head injuries ended in his pulling up his odds-on mount Kings Grey in yesterday's selling hurdle at Southwell.
Given the attention that accompanied the occasion, Limerick native Toomey felt it was an appropriate return to the normality of life as a jump jockey. "Now this is over and done with I can hopefully get my career back," he said.
4,799 Cumulative odds returned on Philip Makin's York four-timer on Saturday. He won on David O'Meara's Birdman (7/1) and Out Do (4/1), Rod Millman's Master Carpenter (14/1) and Keith Dalgleish's Dark Defender (7/1).