Wednesday 21 February 2018

O'Brien chases Longchamp glory

Clever Cookie, with Graham Lee up (right), gets the better of Tac De Boistron to win the Ormnde Stakes at Chester yesterday
Clever Cookie, with Graham Lee up (right), gets the better of Tac De Boistron to win the Ormnde Stakes at Chester yesterday
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Aidan O'Brien will bid to maintain Coolmore's 100pm record in this year's Classics when he saddles Highland Reel and War Envoy in tomorrow's French 2,000 Guineas.

Longchamp's Poule d'Essai des Poulains is a Group One that the Ballydoyle maestro has conquered three times, most recently with the Colm O'Donoghue-ridden Astronomer Royal in 2007. That was O'Donoghue's breakthrough Classic success, and he rides War Envoy this time, with Ryan Moore preferring Highland Reel.

Given that O'Donoghue was on the apparent fourth string when prevailing on a 33/1 shot eight years ago, he will be glad just to have got the nod for the mile event. Still, with no win in nine further starts since making quite an impression on his Naas debut a year ago, War Envoy is hard to fancy.

Highland Reel is clearly the stable pick. He hasn't run this season, but he looked deeply promising as a juvenile after getting beaten by Tombelaine on his Leopardstown debut.

The Galileo colt skated up by 12 lengths over a mile at Gowran Park next time, before making light of the drop back to seven furlongs to win a Goodwood Group Two at the end of July. It wasn't an especially hot race, but the manner in which Highland Reel quickened away was striking.

While both of those triumphs came on fast ground, the forecast slower conditions tomorrow shouldn't pose any fears for him. The main concern is his lack of a recent run, given that Richard Hannon's Smaih is the only other of the 18 runners not to have had an outing this term.

Of the locals, Andre Fabre's Make Believe could pose the biggest threat.

The Makfi colt was chinned by Ride Like The Wind on his Maisons-Laffitte return on April 2, but the winner was far from disgraced when eighth behind Gleneagles at Newmarket last week.

If Make Believe strips fitter, he will surely go close under Olivier Peslier. Charlie Hills' Muhaarar, which beat the Guineas third Ivawood in the Greenham, also tackles the French feature.

O'Donoghue's fellow Co Cork native Dane O'Neill is booked for Godolphin's Maftool, while Tipperary-born Kevin Ryan's Flaming Spear completes the overseas contingent.

Andrea Atzeni partners Flaming Spear, with his Killarney-born deputy Oisin Murphy aboard Qatar Racing's second string, Cornwallville.

A week after Gleneagles' polished win, today Moore and O'Brien target two Classic trials with Wedding Vow and Kilimanjaro at Lingfield.

The serious business only began at Newmarket, and it has been a highly productive initiation for the elite firm's more formal association.

Smuggler's Cove simply wasn't up to his task in yesterday's Dee Stakes at Chester, but Diamondsandrubies and Hans Holbein had torn up the Roodee on Wednesday and Thursday.

Their names are now very much in the mix for two Epsom Classics that remain distinctly open-looking.

Unfortunately, the prospect of very soft ground has rendered tomorrow's Derrinstown Derby Trial slightly irrelevant in terms of the June 6 contest.

O'Brien, who has won the last three Derbys, will next week turn his attentions to York's Dante Stakes, for which John F Kennedy is now in the mix, along with the Guineas flop Ol' Man River and Giovanni Canaletto.

Last year's Andrew Balding-trained Group One winner Elm Park might also turn up on the Knavesmire, as could John Gosden's Jack Hobbs.

He is the current favourite for Epsom at around 6/1, followed closely by Dermot Weld's Zawraq, Elm Park and John F Kennedy, so it promises to be another hugely informative week.

Meanwhile, the threat of heavy rain has prompted an 8.00 morning inspection ahead of this afternoon's card at Gowran Park.

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