Friday 22 March 2019

O'Brien team keep Guineas glory in the family

Donnacha O’Brien: Classic winner. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA
Donnacha O’Brien: Classic winner. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA

Marcus Armytage

Donnacha O'Brien joined the family business of winning Classics yesterday when the 19-year-old rode his father Aidan's 3/1 shot Saxon Warrior to a comfortable length-and-a-half victory in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas. The colt is now as short as evens favourite for the Investec Derby in a month's time.

On yesterday's evidence, they might just as well cancel the Derby trials over the next couple of weeks - unless O'Brien has something better tucked away at Ballydoyle - because the now unbeaten winner of all four of his starts cruised through yesterday's test over a mile which would, on pedigree, be well short of his optimum trip.

In the process, he denied 25-horse dual-purpose trainer Roger Teal and small-time owner-breeder Anne Cowley a 50/1 fairytale with Tip Two Win, which belied all expectation to finish second, a head in front of the favourite, Masar, with Elarqam fourth. It was Aidan O'Brien's ninth 2,000 Guineas winner, his 300th Group or Grade One winner in total, and his 30th British Classic. However, the trainer was at Churchill Downs to oversee Mendelssohn's run in last night's Kentucky Derby so missed his son's finest hour in the saddle but was in radio contact with his wife, Anne-Marie, during the race as there was a three-second delay on the screening of the race out there.

"It's very special," said the jockey. "If I hadn't have won the Guineas, I'd be the disappointment in the family! Joseph [his brother] was here today and told me how to ride the course and it's great to have him in your corner.

"I'm hugely grateful to my father in trusting me and letting me sit on good horses. I'm under no illusions - that's why I ride them. I think that is the reality of it but I'm glad I can do the business."

He added that his weight was similar to that of his brother Joseph, who retired aged 22, when the issue finally got the better of him.

"I know I won't be riding all my life," he added. "I'll get this season and maybe a couple after that but I know I will wake up one morning and I'll be too heavy."

Saxon Warrior's sire is Deep Impact, one of the best horses to ever race in Japan and he is, by some margin, the stallion's biggest winner in Europe.

The race appeared to go very smoothly for Ballydoyle's latest superstar, although his jockey said it had not gone quite to plan early on when Saxon Warrior was slowly away from the stalls. "I wanted to follow William Buick [Masar]," he said. "But I ended up following Seamie Heffernan [Gustav Klimt]. He was always travelling. I thought he was the winner all the way. Two furlongs out, I got a bit excited, gave him a squeeze and got there a bit too soon.

"He could easily improve again on that. If I had to put my neck on the line, I'd say a mile-and-a-quarter will be his best trip because he has plenty of speed, but he's so relaxed I don't see a mile-and-a-half as a problem."

Part-owner Michael Tabor said that a mile was not ideal, adding: "But when a horse has the class and speed of Saxon Warrior, it's fine. I'm sure there's more to come. The Guineas has always been the best trial and even-money is what he should be for Epsom. Others will come out of the woodwork and it's a horse race, but if he arrives there he has a strong favourite's chance."

The runner-up picked up £107,000 but the connections of the pony-sized grey Tip Two Win could not have been more pleased had they actually won the Classic. "I can't put it into words," said Teal, who trains in Great Shefford just outside Lambourn.

He will now aim the colt at the St James's Palace Stakes. "I'm still pinching myself. I was watching out the front and didn't have my binoculars and all I could see what his white breast girth. It's amazing - it's what we dreamed of when we were in Qatar with him during the winter. He was only 50/1 because he was trained by me. It is a proud moment for us."

Owner-breeder Cowley added: "He's a first foal, too little and too weak. But that ain't little and that ain't weak."

With four runners in today's 1,000 Guineas, including favourite Happily, O'Brien's Ballydoyle bandwagon is up and running and will, it appears, once again take some stopping.

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