Tuesday 16 July 2019

Undeniable genius of O'Brien conjures win for Circus Maximus

Ryan Moore. Photo: PA
Ryan Moore. Photo: PA

Marcus Armytage

It is fair to say the Sport of Kings probably takes Aidan O'Brien a little bit for granted these days. Modest to a fault, his post-race media debriefs are likely to assign more credit for the victory to the man wielding the leaf blower at Ballydoyle than to himself. He is "just privileged to be a small part of it".

Not even 50 until October, sometime in the next couple of years he will become the most successful trainer in the history of the Derby - and that is a race with a history which pre-dates Waterloo by 35 years - and yesterday he posted his 66th and 67th Royal Ascot winners; no more or less than to be expected from the Coolmore-Ballydoyle axis on any one day at Ascot.

However, if ever racing needed a gentle reminder that a genius walks among us then it was not just the victory of Circus Maximus in the St James's Palace, an eighth win in the race for O'Brien, but the fact that the colt was in the race at all.

It is not unique for a horse to run in the Derby and then win the St James's Palace, but the timing is tight, the Derby often exacts a heavy toll on a horse, and it is unconventional to drop back in trip in one hit.

And although O'Brien credited the colt's owners for the 11th-hour decision to supplement the colt for the race minutes before the deadline, the idea was so far out of the box it can only have come from the trainer.

"His point was that he was not far behind Phoenix Of Spain as a two-year-old, stick a pair of blinkers on him [to make up the distance] and that just about sums it up," said John Magnier, the Coolmore supremo.

Ryan Moore had the 10/1 shot well placed behind Fox Champion throughout and when his lead dropped off and he was left in front two out, the first to range up with a challenge was Phoenix Of Spain, the Irish Guineas winner. But he saw him off. Then came Too Darn Hot, last year's champion two-year-old, with a sustained challenge, which drew him level, but Circus Maximus saw to him too.

Finally, in the last few yards, he stuck his neck out to hold off a third rival, King Of Comedy's late challenge, by a head. Too Darn Hot was three-quarters of a length back in third.

"It was a big challenge for the horse," said O'Brien, who also collected the Coventry Stakes with the exciting two-year-old Arizona. "We put the blinkers on to sharpen him up because he was dropping back to a mile and he was not going to get any second chances today."

The King's Stand Stakes proved to be deja-vu of last year's race with Charlie Appleby's Blue Point beating Battaash for the second year in succession.

A furlong out Battaash looked like he was coming to win the race but he barely gets Ascot's stiff five furlongs and he was outstayed by Blue Point, which went away at the finish to win by a length and a quarter to get racing's other superpower - Godolphin - up and running for the week watched by stable jockey William Buick, who is sidelined with concussion.

Drama was instant when Accidental Agent, last year's winner, did a passable revival of the old Hamlet cigar advert in the stalls at the start of this year's Queen Anne, the opening race. Even with the others long gone he had to be coaxed out by the handlers.

In the event the race went to last year's admirably consistent runner-up Lord Glitters. The grey six-year-old, trained by David O'Meara in Yorkshire, had previously only been out of the first two at Ascot once in five starts. Victory was nothing if not deserved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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