Sunday 18 November 2018

Mark your card with these 10 to follow for Flat season

Saxon Warrior, with Donnacha O’Brien up, on the way to winning at The Curragh last August. Photo: Patrick McCann
Saxon Warrior, with Donnacha O’Brien up, on the way to winning at The Curragh last August. Photo: Patrick McCann

Michael Verney

The paint is barely dry on another epic Cheltenham Festival, but the focus has begun to shift towards the Flat season as Aidan O'Brien looks to build on his record-breaking success and add to his remarkable Group One haul.

With proceedings commencing at Naas yesterday, we mark your card for the season ahead with 10 horses to follow on the level as the Classic build-up begins to take shape.

SAXON WARRIOR

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien

His place in racing history is already secure having become O'Brien's 26th Group One winner when taking the Racing Post Trophy last season - surpassing Bobby Frankel's mark - and more records may be just around the corner.

Unbeaten in three starts, the son of Japanese sensation Deep Impact heads a star-studded Ballydoyle string and is reported to have progressed rapidly since fending off Roaring Lion in a thrilling finale at Doncaster in October.

Already a general 6/1 favourite for the English 2000 Guineas in just under six weeks, O'Brien has high expectations for the "big monster" with Classic success on his agenda.

His trainer has cast some doubts about his race fitness for Newmarket, so the Epsom Derby could be the ultimate goal - for which he is 4/1 favourite - and the "massive colt" leads a potent team.

CONTINGENT

Trainer: Dermot Weld

It may have come at the tail end of last season, but there were few more impressive performances than Contingent's debut at Leopardstown, where she overcame numerous obstacles in eye-catching fashion.

Drawn widest of all, the daughter of Frankel showed a smart toe out of the stalls, but still had to race four deep before sweeping to the front and putting the race to bed.

Weld's filly fended of the challenge of Kevin Prendergast's Alghabrah - another to keep in the notebook - with the pair pulling clear and the master of Rosewell House has an exciting prospect.

"She may be an Oaks filly, but I wouldn't rule her out being a Guineas filly either. She just could be very good and is a beautiful filly to look forward to, she wouldn't have any problem on any ground," Weld said after her sole run.

VERBAL DEXTERITY

Trainer: Jim Bolger

Had the son of Vocalised not been a tad disappointing when fourth in the Racing Post Trophy he would still be the horse on everyone's lips so he comes in under the radar.

Bolger admits he "took a chance and paid the penalty" after the impressive National Stakes winner scoped badly just two weeks previous, but attention quickly turned to lofty ambitions for 2018.

The Coolcullen maestro has made no bones about his potential, hailing him "the complete package" and "as good as any of the two-year-olds I've had" after turning the tables on Group Two winner Beckford.

Favourable comparisons with some of his finest inmates, like Teofilo and Epsom Derby hero New Approach, make him one to keep on side with the 2000 Guineas - for which he is 20/1 - his initial target.

CLEMMIE

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien

There was so much to like about Clemmie's progression last season, culminating in her Cheveley Park Stakes romp as she led her rivals a merry dance and all signs suggest that the best is yet to come.

The daughter of Galileo wants further than the 6f which she excelled at over last season and it's easy to see why she heads the 1000 Guineas market at 5/2.

Heading straight to Newmarket is the plan and glowing similarities with her full brother Churchill - a dual Guineas winner - mark her out as a filly to watch this season.

"She's got a great mind, plenty of speed, stays well and nothing fazes her. She's wintered well and everything's right," O'Brien said.

LIQUID AMBER

Trainer: Willie McCreery

Success was no stranger to McCreery on the Gaelic football pitch with Kildare and he has a nice three-year-old to challenge for top Group races this season.

Liquid Amber's Group Three success on his home track of the Curragh last August was a season highlight for McCreery, when the homebred filly stepped up on all known form having only contested her maiden eight days previous.

Picking up O'Brien's 2/7 favourite Ballet Shoes in the home straight, jockey Billy Lee sent her on to score impressively by five lengths and after being put away for the season there's much excitement about what she could produce this term.

She may be short of 1000 Guineas class, but there are plenty of other races which the "lovely, big, scopey filly" can score in.

THE PENTAGON

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien

Nominated by Ana O'Brien as the horse she is most looking forward to this season, the son of Galileo could turn into a genuine Group One candidate at middle distances.

He progressed enormously with every run last season - taking the Group Three Tyros Stakes on his third start after bolting up in a Curragh maiden - culminating in a fine effort when staying on stoutly behind Saxon Warrior over 1m.

He missed three weeks' work prior to that run and might be underestimated outside of Ballydoyle. More improvement is likely to come with a step up in trip and a tilt at the English or Irish Derby would play to his strengths.

AMEDEO MODIGLIANI

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien

When O'Brien puts a horse in the "could be anything" category, it's hard not to take notice.

The Galileo colt showed promise on his Curragh debut behind stablemate Gustav Klimt - another one to watch - before leaving his mark when taking his Galway maiden in good fashion last August.

The visual impression he created and his exuberant racing style mark him out as one of the most interesting prospects for a yard spoiled with riches. Pedigree suggests he will be at his best at middle distances and his progress should be followed closely.

EXPERT EYE

Trainer: Michael Stoute

One poor performance doesn't make a bad horse and it was obvious that Expert Eye wasn't himself as he proved fractious in the stalls and ran far too keen when flopping as 4/7 favourite in the Dewhurst.

Despite that, the son of Acclamation is still held in the highest regard by Stoute. He produced two top-drawer performances, most notably when sizzling in the Group Two Vintage Stakes at Goodwood in August.

Stoute reported him in "good shape" last month and he should consign that disappointment to a dark corner this season.

ROARING LION

Trainer: John Gosden

His only defeat came when going down to Saxon Warrior by a neck in the Racing Post Trophy, having loomed large and strode to the front before hanging left and handing advantage to his rival.

That greenness is likely to have been ironed out as a three-year-old, however, and the 10/1 about Gosden's charge for the 2000 Guineas could be a steal.

CAPRI

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien

Of O'Brien's older horses, Capri really appeals as one to keep a close eye on later in the season.

The four-year-old son of Galileo excelled as the season progressed with Classic victories in the Irish Derby and English St Leger and looks sure to pick up a few Group One prizes, with versatility in middle distance trips a huge plus.

Irish Independent

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