Tuesday 16 January 2018

Breeders' on radar as O'Brien salutes Flag's Dewhurst success

US Navy Flag ridden by Ryan Moore leads the field home to win The Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket and give Aidan O’Brien his 24th winner of the calendar year. Photo: PA
US Navy Flag ridden by Ryan Moore leads the field home to win The Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket and give Aidan O’Brien his 24th winner of the calendar year. Photo: PA

Graham Clark

Aidan O'Brien moved to within one winner of matching Bobby Frankel's top-flight world record haul as US Navy Flag landed the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

And just for good measure, the peerless Ballydoyle handler saddled the next three horses home in the Group One over seven furlongs.

O'Brien is now on 24 winners for the calendar year after US Navy Flag added to his gains in the Middle Park Stakes with an impressive two-and-a-half-length victory under Ryan Moore.

Stablemates Mendelssohn, Seahenge and Threeandfourpence finished second, third and fourth respectively.

The previously unbeaten Expert Eye was always in US Navy Flag's slipstream, but was notably keen in the hands of Andrea Atzeni. Whereas Moore's eager companion powered clear, the 4/7 favourite dropped back through the field and finished last of nine runners.

"He is a very good Middle Park winner and I think he was overlooked a bit," said O'Brien. "It is unusual and rare (for a horse to win the Middle Park and the Dewhurst). I suppose we're lucky to have a colt who has pace enough for six (furlongs) and it looks as though he's a good chance of getting a mile."

Regarding future plans, the trainer added: "He would have America (Breeders' Cup), but I don't know. We will see how he is. He is certainly very happy with what he is doing. It's exciting."

O'Brien said that he doesn't think about the record but accepted it would be "massive" to achieve it. "We take every horse and each race at a time but it would be a massive achievement for everybody. There are hundreds of people in the team and it's a big team effort. We'd be very honoured to do it, but we'll take one day at a time."

Trainer Michael Stoute was understandably deflated with Expert Eye. "It was just very disappointing," he said. "He was a little keen early on, but even so it was disappointing. That was not him."

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, was also at a loss to explain Expert Eye's performance.

"We are all a bit mystified," he said. "He was a bit keen. He settled but he was the first horse beaten. Obviously he will be checked out. I don't think there is no obvious explanation for this."

Withhold landed a big gamble when he powered clear of his rivals in the Betfred Cesarewitch. The four-year-old had run just once previously this season, finishing third at Newbury three weeks ago on what was his first start since joining Roger Charlton from the yard of Charlie Hills.

With champion jockey-elect Silvestre de Sousa in the saddle, the 5/1 favourite was never too far off the pace and was sent into the lead before the home turn.

After having taken a few strides out of the field, De Sousa angled towards the stands' rail and Withhold saw out the marathon distance well to score by three-and-three-quarters of a length. "I think Silvestre gave him a very enterprising ride, to have him up there from a wide draw," said Charlton. "He's a very nice horse and winning these races are very memorable. It was a demolition job, really."

De Sousa said: "Mr Charlton left everything to me. He quickened all the way to the line. He has done it very well. He's a lovely horse and he should improve."

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