O'Brien hopes Long Legs can hit dirt running in US
AIDAN O'Brien is constantly looking to areas where he believes improvement can be made -- like the rich rewards his forays to America have yielded in the past 12 months.
It was not that long ago that the mention of a Ballydoyle horse crossing the pond would draw a curt "so what?" among American scribes. But, not any more, not following the 2011 season.
In that landmark year for Ballydoyle, O'Brien sent out the winners of seven Grade One races in America with five different horses. His feat in preparing Cape Blanco to win three Grade Ones in three separate hops across the Atlantic landed the colt a much-deserved Eclipse award for best male turf performer and saddling St Nicholas Abbey to win the Breeders' Cup Turf gave his 18-year-old son Joseph the accolade of youngest jockey to ride a winner at the meeting.
But now O'Brien is marching towards an even tougher American challenge, trying to win the Kentucky Derby, which is the 'bogey' race for European stables. Clive Brittain went close when Bold Arrangement finished second to Ferdinand in the 1987 version, but there have been countless failures since.
The famed Co Tipperary nursery is placing their hopes this year on Daddy Long Legs, the Royal Lodge Stakes winner of last year, which went on to win the UAE Derby in the style of a very promising three-year-old. That night at Meydan, he was winning on the Tapeta surface, whereas at Churchill Downs, he will be racing on dirt. Daddy Long Legs has already run on the track -- he finished 12th of 13 in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (dirt) -- but O'Brien is satisfied that poor run had nothing to do with the racing surface.
"It was more about the start than it was the dirt," the trainer explained. "He lost it out of the gate and he wasn't as quick and as sharp in the first furlong as we would have liked."
For that reason, O'Brien has conducted a series of jump-outs from the stalls at Ballydoyle with Daddy Long Legs. O'Brien has even engaged one of his staff ringing a bell like the one at Churchill, and others shouting and roaring, in an attempt at simulating the US conditions, which are so different to the serenity often seen in Europe.
Daddy Long Legs, which looked very sweaty and warm before his recent Dubai race, will also need to cope with the buzz of the enormous Kentucky Derby crowd on Saturday. But, in terms of ability, he has it in abundance.
The Bob Baffert-trained Bodemeister, winner of the Arkansas Derby by nine and a half lengths, is the 4/1 favourite with William Hill, while Todd Pletcher is represented by 7/1 chance Gemologist, winner of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Daddy Long Legs, to be partnered by Colm O'Donoghue, is at 20/1.
Meanwhile, Godolphin have a serious challenger to the Ascot Gold Cup crown of O'Brien's Fame And Glory judging by the evidence of yesterday's Sagaro Stakes at Kempton, where Colour Vision ran out an impressive winner.
Colour Vision finished third to Fame And Glory in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions Day, and while Colour Vision was receiving a hefty three-year-old allowance that day, he has clearly made serious progress.
Now with Saeed bin Suroor following his transfer from Mark Johnston, Colour Vision had a length and a half in hand of Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux. And despite being eased down by Frankie Dettori in the closing stages to lift the Group Three contest, he broke the track record by three seconds.
Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, said: "I can't say we were expecting that because we thought he was a bit undercooked, but he clearly runs very well fresh.
"He'll definitely be aimed for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and we will just have to decide whether he has one more run before then, perhaps in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown."
Dettori and Godolphin were out of luck in the Listed Paradise Stakes when their Saamidd was beaten on the nod by Roger Varian's Sri Putra.
The meeting proved a good one for Richard Hughes, who collected his first two winners of the season having just returned from suspension.
The Kildare native did not have to work too hard on Richard Hannon's Lyric Ace which took the opening juvenile event as an odds-on shot should.
Hughes was then able to continue the good work of his colleagues as 6/4 favourite Gusto made it five wins in a row in the Pavilion Stakes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)