Will Aidan O’Brien spray and pray at Epsom?

By Lewis Syddall on |


Epsom racecourse

One of the myths perpetuated by some writers is that Aidan O’Brien is happy to rely on just one horse in the Classics when that one horse is sure to be good enough.

Most recently Camelot, the 2000 Guineas winner, is listed as the best example, having been returned the 8/13 odds-on winner. Poor old Astrology, who finished a creditable third and was also trained by O’Brien, has been airbrushed from history because it doesn’t fit the myth.

Fast forward a year to winning favourite Australia and, true enough, there are three more Ballydoyle horses down the field. It simply isn’t the case that Ballydoyle tend to rely on one and only one if they are brimming with confidence.

This year, of course, they may not be brimming with confidence on the evidence of some lacklustre trials in recent weeks: few observers were swept off their feet when the highly touted US Army Ranger scrambled home at Chester last week and bookmakers made the unusual but warranted move of knocking out the antepost favourite in the Epsom betting despite him finishing first.

At Leopardstown at the weekend, the Derrinstown went the way of Jim Bolger with a whole heap of Ballydoyle runners finishing in a pile not far behind. At the weekend, Lingfield provided even fewer clues, with the only horse entered for Epsom not taking the Epsom trial: cue much gnashing of teeth from the press and TV executives.

So what will happen next? We have the Dante looming large this week at York which will, perhaps, provide the most telling clue as to the Derby pecking order. Ballydoyle are taking on Midterm, Sir Michael Stoute’s current Derby favourite, but already we can be confident that the Coolmore team will throw the kitchen sink at Epsom next month.

Spray and pray, perhaps? Well, yes, there’s more than an element of doubt about whether or not they retain the faith in US Army Ranger and whether or not any of the many others are good enough. We’re set for a bumper field at Epsom and that’s no bad thing, but let’s nip it in the bud here and now that Aidan O’Brien only ever needs one and only one to land the biggest prize of them all; he uses many and this year he has many to use.

Knavesmire hopes

I’m not going to sulk on about the fact that, having missed the glorious sunshine of Chester, I am foregoing my annual May trip to the Knavesmire.

York gets nearly everything absolutely spot on and it is why — possibly with the exception of Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood — it is the epitome of Flat racing at its best. It’s reasonably priced, it is dead easy to manoeuvre, it is rarely overcrowded but always retain a terrific atmosphere, and the best horses — from Sea The Stars to Frankel — tend to go there and strut their stuff on one of the fairest tracks in the land.

I’m intrigued by Midterm in the Dante but excited by So Mi Dar in the Musidora this week. There’s no doubt that Minding’s 1000 Guineas win sets the standard for the Oaks reckoning, but I’d love to see Messrs Gosden and Dettori team up to once again at York to throw down the gauntlet on a hotpot favourite.

Respect for the Channel 4 incumbents

A press release landed yesterday from ITV confirming that Richard Willoughby is going to head up the production of the terrestrial TV racing coverage from January 2017 onwards. I know hime fairly well, having worked with him closely for a good few years whilst he has been leading the RUK coverage. It’s a good signing: he is young, energised and eminently sensible.

Willoughby is good company but work comes first and ITV have secured an ultra pro who will be well liked and respected as the programme discovers its identity. Inevitably, the racing rumour mill is in full swing as to which on-screen talent is likely to be announced.

I’ve been reluctant to join in the speculation as, frankly, nobody should give two hoots as to my own personal preference, but I can’t help but feel more than a pang of sympathy for the current members of the Channel 4 team, who are working as hard as they can to remain professional and deliver a good show, week in week out, under untold pressure and against a raging backdrop of gossip.

They deserve to be treated well, however it unfolds for them all as individuals, and it was terrific to see them nominated for a BAFTA on Sunday evening as testament to the fact that they’ve been getting an awful lot right. A bit of respect for those currently in situ isn’t too much to ask, I feel.

Don’t be afraid to touch Don’t Touch

As I tried to keep across runners from here, there and everywhere at the weekend, the performance of Don’t Touch up at Haydock on Saturday might easily have slipped through the net.

It was a six-furlong Conditions Stakes and was struggling for supremacy with so much quality terrestrial sport doing the rounds, but those of us who were lucky enough to be tuned in got to see a horse to set the pulse racing.

Richard Fahey’s horse was notching up his sixth win on the spin, albeit the past five of which came as favourite. He is a huge horse with as eye-catching a stride as I’ve seen from a sprinter this season. It’s a significant jump to Group 1 company from where he currently is but this is a horse to follow and at 16/1 my money is now down for the Saturday of Royal Ascot.

He’s likely — on all known trends — to find a more celebrated sprinter or an overseas superstar a bit too good, but that’s not enough to temper my enthusiasm. Don’t Touch will be winning more races this Summer and I am convinced there’s at least a big one in him.

Top image: Epsom racecourse, by Diamond Geezer via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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