There’s some half decent racing in Britain on Saturday but nothing really to write home about. It’s a different story in Ireland over the weekend because the Irish 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas are taking place at the Curragh on Saturday and Saturday. It will be no surprise but Aidan O’Brien has leading contenders for both Classics and several other runners with place prospects. It will be interesting to see which O’Brien horses Ryan Moore partners in the big races.
If there is a duopoly in Irish jumps racing on the Flat it’s just about a monopoly. Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins dominate the winter game and were miles ahead of the trainer who finished third in the trainer’s championship. O’Brien is dominant alone on the level and his sons and daughter all get in on his act. He broke the record for the number of Grade 1 and Group 1 wins in a calendar year in 2017 and his dominance looks like continuing for some time to come.
O’Brien trains the Coolmore horses and the syndicate spends a fortune. The business plan is based on winning Classics and sending the horses to stud to produce the next generation. That means the O’Brien horses have the best pedigree and the empire continues to function and the competition can’t catch up. It’s debatable whether this situation is good for Flat racing in Ireland but investment does filter down through the ranks so the whole sector benefits.
Cliffs Of Moher could start about even money for the Tattersalls Gold Cup. Last year’s Derby runner-up did not build on that effort in the second half of the season but showed enough to suggest Group 1 ability. Defoe has produced some great runs over the last year but could be found out at this level. Eminent is on a retrieval mission after a poor run at Chester so the race looks like its O’Brien’s.
The trainer produces Classic winners almost in his sleep and it may be tongue in cheek but he has said Israbraq is the best he has rained. The horse won three Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham at the turn of the century and for a number of years was the best in the business over two miles and eight hurdles. If Saxon Warrior wins the Derby and St Leger to complete the Triple Crown Istabraq might drop down the pecking order to second place. The last colt to win three Classics in the same season was Nijinsky in 1970, trained by Vincent O’Brien who is no relative.
Elarqam is the favourite for the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Saturday in the absence of Saxon Warrior who is the favourite for the Derby run over one mile and four furlongs. The horse was the one to take out of the English Guineas in the context of the Irish version. Gustav Klimt, trained by O’Brien, has something to find on Newmarket form so US Navy Flag has the better chance to beat the favourite. However, Elarqam looks solid so this could be one Classic that gets away for O’Brien.
The 1,000 Guineas the following day looks like another kettle of fish because Happily is a worthy favourite. The horse also ran well in the English version but was found wanting in the final furlong. Laurens finished in front of Happily at Newmarket but the O’Brien horse can reverse the form. Magical and I Can Fly could get in the mix at bigger prices but Soliloquy should make the frame. O’Brien can win one of the two Classics at the Curragh and maintain his strike rate in the races that matter most.