Aidan O’Brien is simply a phenomenon in the world of racing. A record-breaking National Hunt trainer in the initial stages of his career, his abundant talents didn’t go unnoticed and he was appointed as the trainer in the historic Ballydoyle complex in 1996 at the age of just 26. He quickly established himself as a dominant force in Irish racing and since then has broken every record worth breaking and won every race worth winning in Europe and beyond. Most recently, he broke the world record for the number of Group/Grade 1 winners trained in a calendar year by enjoying 28 such victories in 2017.
As always, O’Brien has an array of stars under his care for the new season headlined by a strong team of older horses including Capri, Hydrangea and Order Of St George. Even more promising is his team of 3-year-olds, with Saxon Warrior, Clemmie and Gustav Klimt being just three of his potential Classic winners.
Aidan was good enough to sit down with Kevin Blake to discuss Ballydoyle’s prospects for the 2018 season.
AMEDEO MODIGLIANI (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Gooseberry Fool (GB), by Danehill Dancer (Ire).
Amedeo Modigliani made it second-time lucky when winning a maiden at the Galway Festival in impressive style.
“He looks a very nice horse,” O’Brien said. “He only had two runs last year and we only learned a bit about him in those. In an ideal world, we would have got more experience into him later in the season, but that wasn’t to be as he had a little setback and we didn’t want to force him to get another run into him. He’s a horse that travels so strongly at home and in his races that you’d say he probably goes more like a miler than a middle-distance horse, but he’s by Galileo and that always gives them a chance of staying. He’s only had the two runs, so his exuberance in his races might just have been babyishness. We’ll probably start him off gently in a Derby trial and we’ll evaluate him from there. We just wouldn’t want to light him up to be a Guineas horse as we’d find it easier to start him off over further and bring him back in trip if we needed to rather than the opposite. He has won on soft ground, but he’s a very good mover and good ground or better should suit him well.”
gr, c, 4, Galileo (Ire)–Dialafara (Fr), by Anabaa.
Rated 120, he won the G1 Irish Derby at The Curragh and the G1 St Leger at Doncaster last year.
“He is in full work and everything is well with him,” O’Brien said. “He did particularly well during the winter, so I’d expect it will take him a run or two before he is really right. He could be one for the [G1] Coronation Cup at Epsom and we’d hope to get a run or two into him before then. He clearly stays a mile-and-a-half well, but he could have the pace to come back to a mile-and-a-quarter as well. Even though he got the trip in the St Leger, we didn’t ever think we’d have to go that far with him. He was below form in the Arc, but I probably ran him back too quick after Doncaster at the backend of a busy season.”
b, f, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Meow (Ire), by Storm Cat.
Rated 115, she was crowned the European champion 2-year-old filly following her three wins, which included the G1 Cheveley Park S. at Newmarket.
“We have our eye on the [G1] 1000 Guineas for her, but we won’t put any pressure on her to make it there and we’ll make a decision closer to the time,” O’Brien said. “We always thought she was a filly that going seven furlongs would be right up her alley and that she should get a mile, though we wouldn’t be sure she would get much further than that. We could have stepped her up in trip last season, but we had plenty of other fillies for those races and we didn’t think she needed to step in amongst them just yet when she was doing so well over six furlongs. For her to have done what she did over six furlongs as a daughter of Galileo makes her quite unique, but the Galileos can do anything. The faster the ground the better for her.”
CLIFFS OF MOHER (IRE)
b, c, 4, Galileo (Ire)–Wave (Ire), by Dansili (GB).
Rated 117, he finished second in the G1 Investec Derby prior to running well without winning for the remainder of the season.
“Things went a bit wrong for him after he was second in the Derby last year,” O’Brien said. “I think and hope that we can get him back to that form this year. He has done very well over the winter, so like Capri, he might take a couple of runs before he’s at his physical best. We were always worried about him getting a mile-and-a-half and as well as he ran in the Derby, I’d say going shorter will suit him better. We’ll look at all the big races over a mile-and-a-quarter for him and he should start off soon enough.”
DELANO ROOSEVELT (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Again (Ire), by Danehill Dancer (Ire).
Rated 104, he made a winning debut at Leopardstown in July prior to twice finishing in the frame in group races at Leopardstown and Naas.
“He’s a big, strong, galloping horse that should stay at least a mile-and-a-quarter,” said O’Brien. “He’s in good shape and will start off in the Derby trial. He looked very raw in his first few starts and I think because his stride is so big and that we never asked him to open it up at home, it just took him a while to get himself organised off the bridle in his races.”
DIFFERENT LEAGUE (FR)
b, f, 3, Dabirsim (Fr)–Danseuse Corse (Ire), by Danehill Dancer (Ire).
Rated 110, she was formerly trained in France to win the G3 Albany S. at Royal Ascot and twice place in Group 1 company. She changed hands for 1,500,000gns in December.
“We have her now and she’s going well,” O’Brien said. “She’s a lovely, big filly with a powerful stride and good temperament. I’m not sure how far she’ll stay, as she shows plenty of pace in her work. We might have a look at the 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown over seven furlongs, but she’s very pacey and it’s very possible that she might not stay that far. She’s a big powerful filly that is built like a sprinter.”
FAMILY TREE (GB)
ch, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Sant Elena (GB), by Efisio (GB).
A half-brother to the Group 1 winner Reckless Abandon that cost 420,000gns as a yearling, he made a winning debut in a seven-furlong maiden at Gowran Park in September.
“He’s a grand, straightforward, kind horse,” O’Brien said. “He was green when he won on his debut and should improve well from that. He’ll start off in a Derby trial and we’ll see how he goes. I would see him as a middle-distance horse, but there is a chance he could end up in the [G1] Irish 2,000 Guineas.”
FLAG OF HONOUR (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Hawala (Ire), by Warning (GB).
Rated 102, he won a maiden at Naas and the Eyrefield S. at Leopardstown.
“He’s a grand, solid horse,” O’Brien said. “He looks a middle-distance horse and he handles an ease in the ground. We sent him to Newmarket as we thought he’d learn a lot there and while it all happened a bit quick for him there, I’d say he really learned from it. We’ll start him off in a Derby trial.”
b, c, 3, War Front–A Star Is Born (Ire), by Galileo (Ire).
Rated 115, he won a maiden and a conditions race at The Curragh prior to finishing a close second to U S Navy Flag in the G1 Middle Park S. at Newmarket.
“He’s a fast horse that we think is going to be a nice sprinter,” O’Brien said. “Five or six furlongs on good or better ground will be what he wants. We tried him over seven furlongs at York and I remember Donnacha saying to me that he wasn’t sure he’d get it and he probably didn’t stay that day.”
GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Queenscliff (Ire), by Danehill Dancer (Ire).
Finished in mid-division on his debut, but showed much-improved form to finish second to Flag Of Honour in the G3 Eyrefield S. at Leopardstown.
“He’s still a maiden and is a big, solid horse,” O’Brien said. “He was quite raw last season and I’d say he’ll improve with racing and stay further than a mile. He has really thrived from two to three and for that reason he could be one that takes a couple of runs to get fully fit. We’ll start him off in a maiden.”
GUSTAV KLIMT (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Massara (GB), by Danehill.
Rated 111, he won a maiden at The Curragh and overcame trouble in running to win the G2 Superlative S. at Newmarket in July.
“He’s in good shape and everything is going smooth with him so far,” O’Brien said. “We unfortunately didn’t get to run him at the highest level in the Dewhurst last season as he just had a slight muscle issue that held him up. We would have learned more about him if we’d had a chance to run him in that, but that would have been more for our benefit than his as he’d learned plenty in his last start in particular. He travels well at home here and while he came off the bridle a bit early in a couple of his races, we’ve always concentrated on keeping him relaxed at home rather than revving him up, so I think it was just greenness when he came off the bridle in his races. I’d expect him to travel more strongly as he gets more experience. We think he’s a miler and I’m not sure how much further than that he’ll get. He has plenty of class and good or better ground will suit him well. He has physically done well since last year and we are looking at either starting off in the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial or going straight to the [G1] 2000 Guineas. Traditionally we would have sent nearly all our 2000 Guineas colts straight to Newmarket, but with Leopardstown and HRI having dropped their 2,000 Guineas Trial from a mile back to seven furlongs, that is a real option for us now. We always thought a mile was too far for their first run back and taking on older horses over seven furlongs in the Gladness was too tough an ask, so this race gives everyone a perfect opportunity to get a run into their Guineas horses. It’s a massive, forward-thinking initiative from Leopardstown and HRI and we’ll be supporting it if we can.”
b, f, 3, Galileo (Ire)–You’resothrilling, by Storm Cat.
Rated 113, she won four of her seven starts last season including the G1 Moyglare Stud S. at The Curragh and the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly.
“She’s a filly that we always liked and she was very good last year,” O’Brien said. “Her run in the Breeders’ Cup was a non-event as she didn’t have a great draw and it never really happened for her on the day. She’s very straightforward, relaxed and genuine, so she might get further than a mile. She clearly handles soft ground, but I never thought she wanted it like that. We are aiming her at the [G1] 1000 Guineas and she could run in a trial before then. She’s a filly to look forward to.”
b, f, 4, Galileo (Ire)–Beauty Is Truth (Ire), by Pivotal (GB).
Rated 119, she won the G1 Matron S. at Leopardstown and the G1 British Champions Fillies & Mares S. at Ascot last season.
“We are taking our time with her and are moreso focusing on the second half of the season for her,” O’Brien said. “What is so exciting about her is that she has shown that she gets a mile-and-a-half really well. It’s very rare to see a filly that reached such a high level over a mile, then turns out that she could be even better over a mile-and-a-half. She worked all spring and through the summer with Winter and when she got her chance to really shine later in the year, it was like she grew another leg and found improvement. She handles soft ground and fast ground well. We’ll take her along in gentle steps and if you were dreaming, you’d hope she might end up in the Arc, but we’ll see what happens before then.”
I CAN FLY (GB)
b, f, 3, Fastnet Rock (Aus)–Madonna Dell’Orto (GB), by Montjeu (Ire).
Rated 103, she made an impressive winning debut at Dundalk in September prior to finishing third in the G3 Oh So Sharp S. at Newmarket in October.
“She’s a lovely filly that we’ve always liked a lot,” O’Brien said. “We sent her over to Newmarket to get some experience into her and maybe she was gone a little bit weak at that stage, but she ran a lovely race. She’s a big, rangy filly that is doing her work very easy. We’ll look to start her off in a Guineas trial and she could be one that stays a bit further later in the year. She’s a good mover and should like a bit of nice ground. She’s a filly to look forward to, she could be very nice.”
b, c, 5, Galileo (Ire)–Hveger (Aus), by Danehill.
Rated 119, he won the G2 Hardwicke S. at Royal Ascot last year and went on to run well without winning in Group 1 company.
“He came out of [the G1] Japan [Cup] well and is in good form,” O’Brien said. “The plan is to run him in the [G1] Dubai Sheema Classic. It took us a while to get his travelling routine right, but his last trip was his best one, so if that continues to work well with him he could be one that does a fair bit of travelling. He could potentially try further than a mile-and-a-half again this year.”
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Red Evie (Ire), by Intikhab.
Rated 91, he built on his promising debut when winning a maiden at Leopardstown in October.
“He’s in full work and will start back in a Derby trial,” O’Brien said. “We think he’s done well over the winter and should be a lot better as a 3-year-old. He was green when he won at Leopardstown, all he did when he got to the front was look around and look to pull himself up. We knew that he didn’t want to be in front too soon, but that was just how it panned out on the day. I’d say he’ll be a lot better when he can be ridden a bit more quietly. He’s a good mover and doesn’t go like a horse that wants soft ground.”
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Tender Morn, by Dayjur.
Rated 105, he won a maiden at Cork and the G3 Killavullan S. at Leopardstown.
“He’s going very nicely,” O’Brien said. “We always thought he was going to be a middle-distance horse, but he’s showing up well at home and might not need to go that far just yet. He handles an ease in the ground well as he bends his knee a bit. We might start him off in a Guineas trial.”
KEW GARDENS (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Chelsea Rose (Ire), by Desert King (Ire).
Rated 110, he won a maiden at Killarney and the Listed Zetland S. at Newmarket.
“He’s a lovely horse,” O’Brien said. “A straightforward, good-minded, good-moving horse. He won very nicely at Newmarket and you’d imagine he’ll stay middle distances very well. We’ll start him off in a Derby trial and see how he goes from there.”
b, c, 4, War Front–Sun Shower (Ire), by Indian Ridge (Ire).
Rated 117, he finished second in the G1 St James’s Palace S. at Royal Ascot, the GI Woodbine Mile in Canada and the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar last year.
“He goes for the [G1 Dubai Turf] at Meydan,” O’Brien said. “He’s a hardy horse and we’re happy with how he has progressed from three to four. Nine furlongs might be as far as he wants to go, but we’ll see how he goes at Meydan. He’s a horse that could travel plenty this season. He ran well on the dirt in Dubai last year and that could be an option for him out in America later in the year.”
b, c, 3, Scat Daddy–Leslie’s Lady, by Tricky Creek.
Rated 116, he won a maiden at The Curragh and the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar as a juvenile. He made a winning return to action in the Listed Patton S. at Dundalk in March.
“He came out of Dundalk well and the plan is to run him in the [G2] UAE Derby at Meydan next,” O’Brien said. “We’ll learn more about him there, particularly about how well he stays, as he’s a strong traveller and you couldn’t be sure how well he’ll stay. If all goes well there, he’d go on to the Kentucky Derby if he got in there.”
MERCHANT NAVY (AUS)
b, c, 3, Fastnet Rock (Aus)-Legally Bay (Aus), by Snippets (Aus).
Rated 117, he formerly raced in Australia where he won the G1 Coolmore Stud S. at Flemington in November. He finished third in the Mar. 10 G1 Newmarket H. and will ship to O’Brien to prep for the G1 Diamond Jubilee S.
“He hasn’t arrived here yet, but he’ll be an exciting horse to train,” O’Brien said. “They say he’s straightforward and we’re looking forward to getting him here. The hope will be to run him in one of the sprints at Royal Ascot and we’d ideally like to get a run or two into him before then to learn about him, but we’ll see how we go when he arrives.”
b, c, 3, Scat Daddy–Mostaqleh, by Rahy.
Rated 107, he won a maiden at Tipperary in May and went on to finish third in the G2 Coventry S. at Royal Ascot and in the G2 Railway S. at The Curragh.
“He’s going nicely at home,” O’Brien said. “He’s a big horse and I might have just run him back a bit quick in the Railway. I didn’t want to push him much more after that, so I left him off. He should get seven furlongs and might get a mile, but he has plenty of pace. We might start him off in the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial and that will give us an idea of whether we should try him at a mile or not.”
b, c, 3, Frankel (GB)–Moonstone (GB), by Dalakhani (Ire).
Rated 112, he won a maiden at Leopardstown and a Group 3 at Leopardstown prior to finishing second in the G2 Royal Lodge S. at Newmarket.
“He looks like a horse that will stay middle distances and maybe even further,” O’Brien said. “He’s doing everything well at the moment and will probably start off in a Derby trial. I think he’ll prove versatile with regard to ground.”
ORDER OF ST GEORGE (IRE)
b, h, 6, Galileo (Ire)–Another Storm, by Gone West.
Rated 123, he is a two-time winner of the G1 Irish St Leger at the Curragh and won the G1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2016.
“He’s in good shape and everything seems well with him,” O’Brien said. “We’ll look to give him a similar sort of campaign as last year leading up to the Ascot Gold Cup and we’ll see what happens there before we make any more plans for him.”
b, f, 4, Galileo (Ire)–Halfway To Heaven (Ire), by Pivotal (GB).
Rated 116, she won the G1 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket as a juvenile and the G1 Prix de l’Opera at Chantilly last year.
“We’re happy with her and she’s in good shape,” O’Brien said. “We might have run her back a bit quick after the Oaks in the [G1] Prix de Diane in France, but for her to burst a blood vessel so badly was a freak thing really. We weren’t sure that she’d ever come back after that, but she did and it was great to see her go back to France later in the season and win as she did. We entered her for Naas this Sunday and she might start off there, but she’s only just ready to start back and will improve a lot from it. The thought is that we have the [G1] Prix Ganay in mind for her and if she was going to go for that, we’d like to get a run into her before it. I don’t think she quite gets a mile-and-a-half, so I think a mile-and-a-quarter on nice ground is probably her optimal conditions, but she could come back to a mile at some stage.”
b, f, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Thai Haku (Ire), by Oasis Dream (GB).
Out of a mare that won a listed race, she made a winning debut in a maiden at Leopardstown in October.
“She’s a grand filly and won nicely at Leopardstown,” O’Brien said. “She was badly drawn that day and Michael gave her a good ride to win on her. We’ll go gently with her and might start her off in a Guineas trial.”
SAXON WARRIOR (JPN)
b, c, 3, Deep Impact (Jpn)–Maybe, by Galileo (Ire).
Rated 119, he is unbeaten in three starts including the G2 Beresford S. at Naas and the G1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
“He’s a big, powerful, relaxed horse and has physically done really well over the winter,” O’Brien said. “I was really happy with what he did in the Racing Post Trophy. In an ideal world, Ryan would have liked to have waited a bit longer with him, but the way the race fell he ended up getting there early enough and he had to come back again after being challenged. Really, he had to win the race twice and it’s rare to see a horse come back like that again in a Group 1. We are very much looking at the [G1] 2000 Guineas with him and I’m not sure if he’ll run in a trial or not just yet. He looks like one that will progress a lot with racing. He’s going through all his work in second gear at the moment. I don’t think he’s short of pace, even though we think there’s a chance he will stay a mile-and-a-quarter or even a mile-and-a-half. It’s very possible that he could be a Derby horse. He has a lot of class and I think he’ll be versatile with regards to ground.”
b, c, 3, Scat Daddy–Fools In Love, by Not For Love.
Rated 111, he won a maiden at Naas and the G2 Champagne S. at Doncaster last year. He made a satisfactory reappearance when third in the Listed Patton S. at Dundalk in March.
“He ran a good race at Dundalk and just didn’t help himself by being slowly away,” O’Brien said. “We are looking at going to Dubai with him and while he has an option in England too, if he is going to go to the Kentucky Derby afterwards then Dubai is probably the better stepping stone for him. We always thought that he’d stay a mile-and-a-quarter and he’s a big rangy horse that should improve with age.”
b, f, 3, Deep Impact (Jpn)–Peeping Fawn, by Danehill.
Rated 112, she won the Listed Chesham S. at Royal Ascot prior to finishing in the frame in the G1 Moyglare Stud S. at The Curragh, the G1 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket and the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar.
“We’re happy with where we are with her. We are looking at the 1000 Guineas for her and she might run in a trial before it. I think she’ll stay further than a mile later in the season and there’s every chance she could be an Oaks filly. She isn’t overly big, but she has a big pedigree and a big personality. I don’t think her size will hold her back.”
b, c, 3, Scat Daddy–Dream The Blues (Ire), by Oasis Dream (GB).
Rated 115, he won the G2 Norfolk S. at Royal Ascot and the G1 Phoenix S. at The Curragh.
“He’s doing everything right at the minute,” O’Brien said. “I’m not sure whether he’ll get a mile, but we might start him off in the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial. There’s every chance he could end up being a five or six furlong horse. He’s a big horse and should be better at three than he was at two. He enjoys good ground.”
THE PENTAGON (IRE)
b, c, 3, Galileo (Ire)–Vadawina (Ire), by Unfuwain.
Rated 113, he won the G3 Tyros S. at Leopardstown prior to finishing third in the G1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
“He had a bit of a small setback after winning the Tyros and we had to go gentle with him for a while,” O’Brien said. “We were lucky to get a run into him at the backend of the season in the Racing Post Trophy as we thought it was important for his progress that we did and Seamus was very happy with him there. We have left him in the 2000 Guineas even though he probably looks more of a middle-distance horse. If he doesn’t go there, he’ll go for a Derby trial. He’s a good mover that should handle fast ground well.”
b, c, 3, War Front–Liscanna (Ire), by Sadler’s Wells.
Rated 111, he won a maiden at Fairyhouse prior to finishing fourth in the G1 Dewhurst S. at Newmarket. He made a promising reappearance when second to Mendelssohn in the Listed Patton S. at Dundalk in March.
“He ran a very good race at Dundalk,” O’Brien said. “It probably wasn’t ideal to make the running on him and he was green enough, so he should improve from it. We are looking at the [G2] UAE Derby at Meydan for him and we are hopeful he’ll stay a mile-and-a-quarter, but we can’t be sure of it until we try him over it.”
U S NAVY FLAG
b, c, 3, War Front–Misty For Me (Ire), by Galileo (Ire).
Rated 122, he was crowned European champion 2-year-old colt after winning the G1 Middle Park S. and the G1 Dewhurst S. at Newmarket.
“We are looking at the 2000 Guineas for him and he might run in a trial,” O’Brien said. “He’s doing all the right things in his work. He’s relaxing well and we’re happy with him. The Breeders’ Cup was a bit of a non-event for him on the dirt, they went hard up front and he was below his best. He’s not short of pace, but we’ll probably give him a chance to show us if he gets a mile. He seems versatile with regard to ground as long as it isn’t very testing.”
b, c, 4, Galileo (Ire)–Six Perfections (Fr), by Celtic Swing (GB).
Rated 110, he finished second in the G1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster as a juvenile and went close in two Derby trials at Leopardstown prior to picking up an injury that kept him off the track for the rest of the season.
“He had a setback after running in his second Derby trial and he never got back to the track,” O’Brien said. “He’s a nice middle-distance horse that should be back on the track fairly soon. We always thought he’d get a mile-and-a-half, but we’ll go gently with him and see where he ends up.”
CAPRI – Two-time Classic winner that will take high rank amongst the older horses.
HYDRANGEA – Top-class filly that will be tough to beat in open Group 1 company.
SAXON WARRIOR – Unbeaten Group 1 winner that is a 2000 Guineas and Derby prospect.
GUSTAV KLIMT – Group 2 winner that looks sure to compete in the 2000 Guineas.
CLEMMIE – Exciting filly that looks a leading contender for the 1000 Guineas.
HAPPILY – Top-class juvenile that should compete in the fillies’ Classics.
DIFFERENT LEAGUE – A new recruit that could be a high-class sprinter.
This piece first appeared on attheraces.com and has been reproduced here with their permission.