O'Brien weighs up Juddmonte options for 'Rip' and 'Blanco'
AIDAN O'BRIEN has yet to finalise his plans for the Juddmonte International at York next Tuesday.
With Harbinger out of the equation after suffering a career-ending leg injury, Rip Van Winkle is favourite across the boards for the Group One contest and the trainer is certainly eyeing up a trip to the Knavesmire.
Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco, a distant second behind Harbinger in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, is another Ballydoyle inmate under consideration for the race.
"We're looking at the Juddmonte with both Rip Van Winkle and Cape Blanco, but it hasn't been decided whether we will run one or both," said O'Brien. "They are both in good form and ready to run, we're just waiting for everyone to decide. It's not definite by any means -- we have the Juddmonte and then the Irish Champion a couple of weeks later.
The main opposition appears to be the Khalid Abdullah-owned duo Byword and Twice Over.
Irish Derby runner-up Midas Touch is likely to be O'Brien's main candidate for the Great Voltigeur Stakes.
The Ballydoyle handler could also saddle Joshua Tree, which has been off the track since winning the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot last September.
O'Brien is uncertain when classy colt St Nicholas Abbey will make his racecourse return. An unbeaten juvenile campaign culminated in a breathtaking victory in the Racing Post Trophy, leading bookmakers to price him up as favourite for the 2,000 Guineas and Epsom Derby. He was beaten into sixth in the first-named contest at Newmarket, however, and a subsequent setback has seen him sidelined ever since.
"He's back cantering. He hasn't worked yet, but he's getting close," said O'Brien. "Everything is good, but we haven't picked a race because we want him to tell us when he's ready. We are looking at an autumn campaign."
This evening, Gowran Park stages a seven-race card featuring the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Hurry Harriet Stakes, a Listed race for fillies and mares.
Three of the runners, Maybe Grace, Famous and Scarlet O'Hara, are taking each other on again after filling the frame behind Hen Night in a similar contest over a shorter trip at Cork at the beginning of the month.
There are other interesting candidates like Song Of My Heart, Duchess Of Foxland and Shareen in the mix. Shareen, trained by John Oxx, is stepping up from handicap company for the first time, having completed a hat-trick when winning from the front at Down Royal in June.
O'Brien, who runs three, has a big chance of opening the meeting with a winner when Treasure Beach lines up for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden (5.15).
The son of Galileo caught the eye when running on well into second behind Longhunter in a maiden at Leopardstown at the end of May and normal improvement would make him hard to beat.
O'Brien also drops Bright Horizon back into a winnable race, the McEnery Cup Handicap, after an ultra-competitive contest at Royal Ascot and pacemaking duties for stablemate Cape Blanco in the Irish Derby.
Suntan, Jim Bolger's top-weight, is on a retrieval mission in the Rooftop Restaurant At Gowran Park Nursery, having finished a luckless third when favourite at Galway last time, while Bolger's Rock Medley is lurking at the bottom of the weights for the Tote Jackpot Races 3 To 6 Handicap.
Several impeccably bred three-year-olds make their debut in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Maiden, in which the standard is set by David Wachman's twice-third Councilofconstance and John Oxx's Edallora, which is dropping back in trip.