Irish training great Aidan O’Brien hopes to add another remarkable chapter to his career this weekend, beginning with a ninth victory in the English 2000 Guineas with Gustav Klimt on Saturday at Newmarket.
The 48-year-old is seeking not only his fourth Guineas double — he saddles the favourite Happily in Sunday’s 1000 Guineas — but also in a statement of intent his first-choice jockey Ryan Moore will bypass the 2000 Guineas to ride Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby as he bids to win that race for the first time.
Gustav Klimt owes his favourite’s tag to a win in the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas trial although O’Brien still doesn’t know how good he is.
“We were anxious to get a run into him (the Leopardstown race) as he had not run since Newmarket in the middle of the summer,” said O’Brien on Tuesday.
“We would have liked to have run him in the Dewhurst (last season) to find out a little bit more about him, so we’re a little bit in the dark. We think and hope he’s in good form.”
An indicator of how dominant O’Brien and the County Tipperary-based Coolmore Stud are, is that the greatest perceived threat to Gustav Klimt among his 13 rivals is another of their runners Saxon Farm, who will forever be a sentimental favourite for his trainer.
His win in last year’s Racing Post Stakes gave O’Brien the world record for Group One winners in a year — he was to go on to win two more to set a new mark of 28.
However, having been favourite for the Guineas he drifted in the market and some believe he is more suited to the longer distance (1 1/2 miles to Saturday’s mile) of the Epsom Derby.
O’Brien, though, is delighted with the manner in which Saxon Farm has matured over the close-season.
“He has become a massive colt, a big monster of a horse,” purred O’Brien.
If there is to be a gatecrasher with regards to O’Brien landing the first classic of the season it is likely to be the unbeaten Elarqam.
His breeding alone would suggest he is a contender, his sire being the legendary Frankel — who won the 2011 Guineas by an astonishing six lengths — while his canny trainer Mark Johnston landed the race in 1994 with Mister Baileys.
“We are very confident in our horse and we wouldn’t swap him for anything,” said Johnston’s son and assistant Charlie.
Whilst both O’Brien and Johnston have tasted Guineas success, for George Scott it would be a maiden classic winner and his James Garfield is not without a chance, having warmed up with a win in the traditional Guineas prep race The Greenham Stakes.
He will also have the considerable talents of Frankie Dettori on board with the exuberant Italian bidding for a fourth win in the race.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve and he will give you his all,” Dettori told the Racing Post.
“He’s not over-big but he’s all heart and he’s very tough and tries,” added the 47-year-old.
O’Brien’s chances of winning the 1000 Guineas for a third successive time with Happily on Sunday are most under threat from the fast improving Soliloquy, who was supplemented for the race by owners Godolphin.
However, the fairytale winner would be Dan’s Dream, who was also supplemented for the race by trainer and former England striker Mick Channon.
Part-owned by sporting legends Ian Botham and Gareth Edwards — who bought their shares in her at a charity auction — prize money will be donated to the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation.
She is named after Dan Nicholls, who broke his neck while swimming off Bondi Beach in Australia and dreams of being able to walk again.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits from Richard Barrett)