Saturday 20 January 2018

Pressure on O'Brien to end drought

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Impressive Cheshire Oaks winner Wonder Of Wonders is one of four fillies tasked with securing Ballydoyle an overdue British Classic in tomorrow's Epsom Oaks.

The lightly raced Jessica Harrington-trained Siren's Song, successful in a Listed contest at Navan in April on just her second career start, completes a quintet of Irish hopes in the mile-and-a-half Group One.

In the day's other Group One, the Coronation Cup over the same trip, Aidan O'Brien saddles St Nicholas Abbey in a select field of five as he bids for a fifth win in the race since 2005.

Ryan Moore's mount also scorched to victory at Chester last month, and the four-year-old is odds-on to gain compensation for a frustrating 2010 tomorrow.

The long-term market leader for last year's Epsom Derby, St Nicholas Abbey was ruled out of the prestigious Classic just three days before the event after picking up a muscle injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the term.

A horse whose homework prompted O'Brien to declare that even the birds in the trees at Rosegreen sang about him, St Nicholas Abbey's Epsom defection was an untimely blow for Coolmore.

It is now nine years since the firm's High Chaparral denied stable-mate Hawk Wing in a vintage renewal of the premier colts' Classic.

Whether or not St Nicholas Abbey would have bettered Workforce, a breathtaking seven-length victor 12 months ago, is academic now, but there is no doubt that he was held in the highest regard.

Tantalisingly, the Montjeu colt might yet go head-to-head with Workforce in next month's King George VI Stakes at Ascot.

Nonetheless, a genuine opportunity to end Ballydoyle's Classic drought in England went west with St Nicholas Abbey's three-year-old campaign.

Although O'Brien continues to enjoy a near monopoly in the domestic equivalents, the conditions that facilitate as much are factored into potential stallions' subsequent fees.

The showpiece British Classics are the lifeblood of the Coolmore juggernaut.

O'Brien, no less aware of that fact than his expectant employers, hasn't delivered one since Henrythenavigator landed the 2000 Guineas in 2008.

In the interim, 16 Classics have passed, yet still the Co Wexford native awaits his 15th triumph.

That 11 of his 14 wins came since 2000 highlights the extent of O'Brien's changed fortunes in the five races in question over the past few years.

As the table alongside shows, he has gone close on a number of occasions.

By any normal standards, his record is remarkable, but Coolmore spends millions on fresh blood every year -- Classic results matter.

It is against this backdrop that O'Brien heads into Epsom.

On his leading prospects for both the Oaks and the Derby, he has booked none other than Kieren Fallon, whose mastery of the notoriously intricate Surrey venue is simply exquisite.

In their all-too-brief previous association, Fallon and O'Brien combined to win four British Classics, including an Oaks with Alexandrova in 2006.

Wonder Of Wonders, which is joined tomorrow by the Irish 1000 Guineas hero Misty For Me, Eirnin and Why, is a popular 4/1 shot to add to that legacy now.

The first offspring of All Too Beautiful -- runner-up to the Fallon-ridden, Ed Dunlop-trained Ouija Board in the 2004 Oaks -- Wonder Of Wonders will face 12 rivals in all.

In the meantime, the final line-up for Saturday's Derby will be unveiled this morning. Fallon's name will appear alongside O'Brien's Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial winner, Recital, and not, as we now know, Dunlop's Native Khan.

His brief will be to end O'Brien's run of 35 consecutive losers in the most coveted Flat race of them all.

Irish Independent

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