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Magical weekend for all-conquering maestro O'Brien


Trainer Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire

Trainer Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire


Trainer Aidan O'Brien. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire

It was a magical weekend for Aidan O'Brien in more ways than one as the all-conquering Ballydoyle maestro plundered his 14th Irish Derby success with Santiago leading home a 1-2-3-4 in Saturday's Classic at the Curragh.

Things took an even better turn yesterday when Magical (2/5 favourite) oozed class to rout a decent Pretty Polly Stakes field in her seasonal reappearance with Seamie Heffernan again proving himself to have the Midas touch in Ryan Moore's absence.

It was an Irish Derby meeting like no other behind closed doors without spectators - the horrible plane-like noises emanating from the roof of the new grandstand hardly added to the occasion either - but it had a familiar theme as O'Brien finished the three-day meeting with seven winners.

His Irish monopoly continued with Santiago (2/1 favourite) setting tongues wagging having held on bravely by a head from lightly-raced stablemate Tiger Moth (11/1) just eight days after his Queen's Vase success at Royal Ascot.

Heffernan secured his fourth Irish Derby triumph in the process as the 47-year-old continues to get better with age and with Dawn Patrol (10/1) and Order Of Australia (33/1) next best, O'Brien's cup is overflowing ahead of Saturday's Epsom Derby.

Given the unprecedented nature of the current Flat season due to the coronavirus, O'Brien is not ruling out the possibility of Santiago turning out again at Epsom for a unique hat-trick attempt, although the English St Leger (for which he is 9/4 favourite) is a more likely target later in the season.

"It's very possible (those that ran in Irish Derby could run at Epsom). I spoke to John (Magnier), Michael (Tabor) and Derrick (Smith), the entries are made on Monday so we'll see what everybody thinks today and tomorrow whether they decide to make an entry or not," said O'Brien yesterday.

"If any of them come out of the race exceptionally well and they want to make an entry, that's what will happen. They didn't do much today, they'll do a canter tomorrow and a decision will be made some time during the morning. We'll see what they want to do, but it's not impossible. Nothing is ruled out."

Recent Royal Ascot winner Russian Emperor (7/1) and Irish 2,000 Guineas second Vatican City (8/1) are his leading chances for Epsom's showpiece, while O'Brien believes he has a future Ascot Gold Cup candidate on his hands in the shape of the "uncomplicated" Santiago.

"We thought he was going to be a Leger horse and one to look forward to next year and it looks a lovely race for him. He'll be a lovely Cup horse next year, he travels well so he's a horse to look forward to," the 50-year-old said.


Options are also aplenty with Magical showing that none of her sparkle has been lost as a five-year-old when she jumped out quickly and never saw another rival to streak away from Jessica Harrington's Cayenne Pepper (7/1) - which is bound for the Irish Oaks - by a commanding four-and-a-half lengths.

Heffernan, who completed a treble on the day having scored on the unbeaten Napa Valley (evens favourite) in the Finlay Volvo Cars Race as well as impressive maiden winner Houston River (3/1 joint-favourite), teamed up with Magical for the first time in public and couldn't hide his satisfaction as she secured her fifth Group One success.

"She's a queen. She's been mixing at the top for a while. I rode it like a piece of work and hopefully she'll improve. She's top class. She's a push-button ride in a Group One. You can't ask for anymore," Heffernan gushed.

"It's like driving a car and you're halfway through the race and you haven't put your foot on the accelerator. It's buckets of class. They're very rare this type comes along.

"She's been competing at the top for a long, long time and still has the will and the attitude and the ability and the flow and the motion of her. This one is as good as I've ever ridden. I'm in a privileged position at the moment to be steering them around."

Aidan's son Joseph, 27, was also to the fore with six victories over the three days and with 13 of the 23 races going the way of the O'Brien clan, their domination looks likely to be a familiar sight on Irish racecourses, and across the world, for a long time to come.

Speak In Colours (100/30) showed his liking for the Kildare track, as well as his durability on his third run in a fortnight, once again to take the Group Two Greenland Stakes yesterday with Shane Crosse just holding on at the finish.

Aidan Fogarty's Forever In Dreams (6/1) and Ger Lyons' Buffer Zone (7/1) threw down the gauntlet in the final furlong but 18-year-old Crosse had just enough to add yet another milestone win in his fledgling career.

The younger O'Brien had watched Buckhurst (13/8) turn over his father's frustrating Sir Dragonet (10/11 favourite) in the Group Three Alleged Stakes under Wayne Lordan the day previous with his teak-tough display earning a 33/1 quote for the Melbourne Cup.

The Tattersalls Gold Cup is next on his radar, though, while stablemate Twilight Payment (15/8 favourite), also owned by Australian Lloyd Williams, is likely to join him having swatted aside last year's Irish Derby hero Sovereign (5/2) for a comprehensive success in the Group Three Vintage Crop Stakes.

One of the most impressive victories of the weekend was Lyons' Frenetic (10/11 favourite) in the Listed GAIN First Flier Stakes on Saturday with Colin Keane streaking away from her five rivals by five lengths. The former Irish champion Flat jockey also had a short head to spare as Strong Johnson (5/2 favourite) handed Laois trainer Kieran Cotter a massive handicap victory in yesterday's Rockingham.

Irish Independent