Wednesday, July 30, 2008

O'Brien Invasion

I'm sure most of you have heard by now that Aiden O'Brien recorded his 16th Group 1 win of the season a few hours ago with Henrythenavigator. O'Brien has always been one of Europe's top trainers but his stable is in unbelievable form lately. Frankel's record of 25 G-1's in a season is surely under threat. Here is a list of his G-1 wins so far.

April 27: Duke Of Marmalade - Prix Ganay, Longchamp
May 3: Henrythenavigator - 2000 Guineas, Newmarket
May 24: Henrythenavigator - Irish 2000 Guineas, Curragh
May 25: Duke Of Marmalade - Tattersalls Gold Cup, Curragh
May 25: Halfway To Heaven - Irish 1000 Guineas, Curragh
June 6: Soldier Of Fortune - Coronation Cup, Epsom
June 17: Haradasun - Queen Anne Stakes, Royal Ascot
June 17: Henrythenavigator - St James's Palace Stakes, Royal Ascot
June 18: Duke Of Marmalade - Prince of Wales's Stakes, Royal Ascot
June 19: Yeats - Gold Cup, Royal Ascot
June 29: Frozen Fire - Irish Derby, Curragh
July 5: Mount Nelson - Coral-Eclipse, Sandown
July 13: Moonstone - Irish Oaks, Curragh
July 26: Duke Of Marmalade - King George, Ascot
July 27: Mastercraftsman - Phoenix Stakes, Curragh
July 30: Henrythenavigator - Sussex Stakes, Goodwood

Ten different horses have combined to capture these 16 G-1's and aside from Haradasun and Halfway to Heaven all of them are still active and in search of more G-1 contests to plunder.

As many of you know among European trainers Aiden O'Brien is one of the most eager and frequent to ship horses to America. His first invasion of this year will come in the Arlington Million and it's quite possible that he'll have a horse in most major Turf events in the fall. He often tries the Keeneland Mile and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic but with the abundance of stars he's got he may send even more this year.

Let's look at a breakdown of some of his stars who might be contesting races in America.

Duke of Marmalade - I wrote about him in my BC Turf Future Look. On that occasion he was still somewhat under the radar but I always thought he was the best horse in the stable. Now he's won 4 G-1's on the trot and is the hottest older horse in Europe. This horse is tough as nails and he acts on any ground although firm seems to be his favorite. I think he'd appreciate American courses very much. He has the making of an odds on favorite for the Turf. My only concern with him is that he is likely to come to America after a long and strenous season which coupled with the travel could leave him susceptible to a bounce like Dylan Thomas. If O'Brien gives him a break this summer or fall he could be unstoppable.

Soldier Of Fortune - He began the year as the stable #1 and has lost that title more through the brilliance of the Duke rather than poor efforts on his part. He is not as quick as Duke of Marmalade, he accelerates gradually. He also appears to prefer a bit of cut in the ground. To me he looks like more of a Canadian International horse than a BC Turf horse. The course and weather should suit him better but he is absolutely top drawer and may well be the Arc winner if he can overcome the Aga Khan's duo.

Henrythenavigator - He is the horse of the hour with a recent win in the Sussex. Four G-1's in a row and he's drawing favorable comparisons to Rock of Gibraltar. I personally believe that he is every bit as good as the Rock. He is more suspect on soft ground but on the firm he is unbelievable. He deserves to be odds on in any Turf mile event he contests. I doubt we'll see him in the Keeneland Mile but he'd surely have it at his mercy as well as the BC Mile is he chooses to go. I know Rock of Gibraltar lost the BC Mile but let's be real. He was the best horse in the race and deserved to win. Henrythenavigator will also be the best horse in the race if he chooses the Mile. Unfortunately for those looking for a single he seems more likely for the Classic. In the Classic he's a total crapshot. We have no indication of how he'd like it. Kingmambo does decently with his European synthetic progeny but really we know very little. At this point I would not take him in the Classic. He has never been beyond a Mile and coupled with the new surface it's too much all at once.

Mount Nelson - He is set for the Arlington Million and is possibly the weakest of all O'Brien's G-1 winners. His last start, a win in the Eclipse was not only his first G-1 win in open company it was also his first win since he was a 2yo. He looks like a horse who slightly prefers soft ground. Overall I think he is a bet against on American soil.

Frozen Fire - He is slightly second tier but exactly the type to contest a race like the Joe Hirsch or the Canadian international. Ballydoyle often sends a horse with his profile for one of those races. I think he's good and developing but inconsistent. He'll likely be a nice 4yo but for now you need to take each race on a case by case basis. I think he'll take another G-1 but he is by no means certain to love America. I'd demand a price on him.

Moonstone - We really don't know much about her at this point. With just 4 lifetime starts and a single win she would seem to have plently of scope for improvement. The interesting thing about her is that she finished second as a maiden in the Epsom Oaks, then broke her maiden next time with a win in the Irish Oaks. There aren't many fillies who do that. Her pedigree suggests a slight preference for soft ground but she is closely related to L'Ancresse who of course finished second in the BC FM Turf at Santa Anita. She might be a horse who really needs 12f to show her best so I'd be leery about the FM Turf until we see more from her.

Mastercraftsman - He is O'Brien's youngest G-1 winner and after handling Art Connoisseur so easily in the Phoenix he seemingly has the world at his feet. He looks bred to be a miler and given the speed and acceleration he's shown already I'd say a mile will eventually be perfect for him. It's tough to say whether or not Coolmore would want their best 2yo coming to America. They did send Tomahawk, Hold That Tiger and of course Johannesburg but those horses had American pedigrees. Mastercraftsman is not nearly as American but there is now the Juvenile Turf on offer. I still suspect they won't send him. They'll have some second stringers to contest that race.

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