Monday 24 July 2017

Winter's a hot tip to fill rare gap on O'Brien's CV

Twenty years ago this weekend, a youthful O’Brien burst into the public consciousness with his first Classic winner Desert King. Photo: Getty
Twenty years ago this weekend, a youthful O’Brien burst into the public consciousness with his first Classic winner Desert King. Photo: Getty

Aisling Crowe

Winter will this afternoon attempt to provide Aidan O'Brien with one of the few major achievements to have eluded him during his majestic training career and win the 1000 Guineas double.

Twenty years ago this weekend, a youthful O'Brien (below) burst into the public consciousness with his first Classic winner Desert King in the Irish 2000 Guineas and, in a portent of what would follow, his second Classic winner the next day when Classic Park was victorious in the Irish 1000 Guineas.

Since then Classic upon Classic, Group One after Group One, championship added to championship have followed and astonishing achievements around the world have cemented his reputation as one of the greatest of all time.

However, none of his three 1000 Guineas-winning fillies have managed to follow up their Newmarket success with triumph at the Curragh. Not even the brilliant Minding, who met with a setback earlier this week and will not be seen again before the autumn, was able to add the race to the phalanx of Group One victories she won last season.

Her narrow defeat by Jet Setting 12 months ago is the closest the Ballydoyle master has come to completing the double.

Despite difficulties in running encountered by second-placed Rhododendron, Winter was clearly the best filly on the day at Newmarket. Three of the fillies who finished behind her on the Rowley Mile that day line up against her once more at the Curragh this afternoon. Asking beat Winter by a short head in the Group Three Ballylinch Stud 1000 Guineas Trial but Winter comprehensively reversed placings with her at Newmarket and there is no reason to believe that any of Intricately, Hydrangea or Asking will turn the tables on Winter today.

That leaves four fillies who didn't go to Newmarket standing in the way of Winter becoming only the third filly to add Curragh Guineas glory to their Newmarket success. Jim Bolger's Bean Feasa is clearly an improving filly, winning the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud 1000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown on her most recent run. She beat Asking that day and she had previously finished fifth to her and Winter.

Rehana was third in that seven-furlong contest at Leopardstown and the Aga Khan's homebred daughter of Dark Angel subsequently won the Group Three Athasi Stakes at Naas, but the Dermot Weld-trained filly will have to improve again if she is to provide her sire with a first Classic winner.

Roly Poly's dam Misty For Me won this for Ballydoyle in 2011 but her daughter's chances of following in her hoofprints look slim after two disappointing runs, the most recent in the French 1000 Guineas at Deauville.

Aneen represents the Kevin Prendergast, Chris Hayes and Sheikh Hamden Al Maktoum team which won the Irish 2000 Guineas with her half-brother brother Awtaad last year. It is a tough ask to win a Classic on her first start of the season and in her first Group race.

It looks as if this might be the season for Winter to become the first filly since Finsceal Beo a decade ago to win the Guineas double and fill in one of the few missing pages in the Aidan O'Brien story.

The lustre of the afternoon's other Group One, the Tattersalls Gold Cup, was dimmed somewhat with the news of Minding's defection on Friday, but a good group of contenders has been assembled nonetheless.

O'Brien's Deauville, winner of the Grade One American Derby last year, was successful at Chester earlier this month and is in good heart. Somehow is another of the Ballydoyle runners to have been busy early in the season, and contests this on the back of her fourth place behind Godolphin's Ribchester on soft ground in the Group One Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last Saturday.

It might be another Godolphin horse passing the winning line in front here, with the Jim Bolger-trained Moonlight Magic a lively contender. He couldn't live with Minding in second gear on their seasonal bows at Naas a few weeks ago, but few horses could, and this colt, closely related to Sea The Stars, might add to his family's treasure trove of Group One victories today.

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