'Circus' strengthens O'Brien Derby hand as Mullins eyes Cup prize
It's fair to say that Aidan O'Brien's cup is overflowing with Derby candidates and Circus Maximus was the latest to state his Epsom claim when leading home a Ballydoyle 1-2 in the Listed Dee Stakes at Chester yesterday.
While not as impressive as stablemate and Chester Vase winner Sir Dragonet - which needs to be supplemented for the Derby despite vying for favouritism (4/1) after Wednesday's romp - Circus Maximus (5/4 favourite) went about his business professionally in the hands of Ryan Moore.
The Galileo colt - which does hold an Epsom entry and is as low as 14/1 - had a length and a half to spare over the Donnacha O'Brien-ridden Mohawk (7/1) on his seasonal debut, much to the delight of his trainer.
"He's a relaxed horse and he just needed to learn a little bit. It was lovely to come here. He got a lovely handy break, he gets lazy in his races and he dropped back," O'Brien said.
"The great thing about here is that they have to have quick feet, they have to learn to jump and they have to travel - then they have to keep going as well.
"The ground was slow so they had to work a little bit harder but it was all perfect really and you couldn't be happier."
Mohawk is expected to stay at 10 furlongs while Circus Maximus is "a Derby possible" as O'Brien is left with a host of other contenders for the Epsom showpiece as he bids to add to the Classic victories of Magna Grecia and Hermosa last weekend.
O'Brien is just 8/11 to train the Derby winner and three more of his leading candidates will stake their claim in the coming days as Anthony Van Dyck, Broome and Japan bid to book their Epsom ticket.
"The lads (owners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and John Magnier) decided to run Anthony Van Dyck at Lingfield (tomorrow), then Broome will run on Sunday and it's possible that Japan could go to Leopardstown. If he doesn't go to Leopardstown he could go to the Dante," O'Brien said.
It wasn't all good news for O'Brien, however, as St Leger winner Kew Gardens (4/5 favourite) was comprehensively turned over in the Diamond Ormonde Stakes, where Andrew Balding's Morando (3/1) impressed under Silvestre de Sousa.
O'Brien was far from downhearted on his seasonal reappearance though.
"We were very happy with his run and he was just ready to start. Soft ground is not his thing. It was just a case of getting a run into him to get him started, then if he is well we will think very hard about the Coronation Cup."
O'Brien has no runner at the Roodee today but there is plenty of Irish representation as champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins turns his attention to the level with Cesarewitch hero Low Sun and Whiskey Sour tackling the marathon Chester Cup (3.35).
Ken Condon also sends over Success Days for the Group Two Huxley Stakes (2.25), although the globe-trotting seven-year-old is likely to be up against it when facing Mark Johnston's Matterhorn.
The other Irish runner is intriguing as Tony Martin's Drakensberg - a facile winner on his last two starts - tackles the Chester Plate Handicap (5.15) under veteran rider John Egan.