War Front's best yet is all set for what could be a monstrous season
Air Force Blue was not favourite when he made his racecourse debut at the Curragh on Irish 1,000 Guineas day last May. Sent off a 4-1 shot, the plan was to drop him in, allow him to settle, to find his rhythm.
But Aidan O’Brien’s colt hit the gate so well that Ryan Moore allowed him stride along. He bagged the stands rail before they had gone a half a furlong from his draw in stall 11, just one off the rail and, after that, it never looked likely that he would lose.
He was challenged three furlongs out, there were actually four horses in a line, all disputing the lead, on the run to the two-furlong pole, but one by one the other three came under pressure as Moore sat relatively still. Then, when the rider gave his horse a squeeze, Air Force Blue came away nicely, put daylight between himself and his pursuers and, although he tired late on, he still held on nicely to win by a neck.
Maiden winners can go under the radar on big days. The headlines the following day were all about the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Pleascach’s gallant win, her half-length defeat of last November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf heroine Found.
Born to be good
There was also plenty of coverage of the other Group races on the card, the three-way finish between Al Kazeem, subsequent Champion Stakes winner Fascinating Rock and last month’s Dubai Sheema Classic winner Postponed. And there was some time and space given to Curvy’s victory, the subsequent Ribblesdale and EP Taylor Stakes winner’s defeat of Derby prospect Giovanni Canaletto in the Gallinule Stakes.
It was some day’s racing all right.
There was a little bit on the War Front colt who had won the opener, mind you, even with everything else that was going on. About his professionalism, about his pace, about his prospects of going to Royal Ascot, possibly for the Coventry Stakes, a race that Aidan O’Brien had won seven times previously.
Air Force Blue was born to be good, out of the stakes-placed sprinter Chatham – herself out of Circle Of Gold, a sister to 1994 champion juvenile filly Flanders – and by War Front.
War Front needs no explanation on this side of the Atlantic any more. A top-class performer on dirt over six and seven furlongs, the son of Danzig started his stud career on a fee of $12,500, but that has increased dramatically since 2012, with Grade 1 winners like Data Link and The Factor building their sire’s reputation.
Success with sons of War Front
Aidan O’Brien has done exceptionally well with sons of War Front in Europe. Ireland’s champion trainer won the Coventry Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes in 2013 with War Command, and he won the Queen Anne Stakes and the Juddmonte International the same year with Declaration Of War. Then last year, after winning a maiden at The Curragh and a listed race at Dundalk, the champion trainer took Hit It A Bomb back Stateside to Keeneland in October where, under another inspired ride from Ryan Moore, he landed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Air Force Blue is War Front’s best yet. It is not a coincidence that, the week after the Ballydoyle colt won the Dewhurst Stakes last October, Claiborne Farm announced that War Front’s fee for 2016 would be increased from $150,000 to $200,000.
Air Force Blue did run in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, but he didn’t win it. He was a little keener than ideal through the early stages of the race, but he travelled well through the middle section. A little tight for room at the two-furlong pole, he was brave in moving through a narrow gap and, when he hit the front a furlong out, he looked a likely winner. However, Buratino found plenty on the near side and went on to beat him by two lengths, with the pair of them two lengths clear of their field.
It was a high-class performance by the winner, but it was also a smart performance by the runner-up. Experience counted. Buratino had run five times before Royal Ascot, Air Force Blue was green with just one pillar-to-post victory under his belt. Also, the War Front colt obviously learned plenty from the experience.
He hasn’t been beaten since.
He took Buratino on again in the G1 Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh in August. It was understandable that they would send the Godolphin colt off as favourite, but it was also understandable that Air Force Blue’s rate of progress from Royal Ascot would be greater, given his relative lack of experience, and he won nicely. He beat his stable companion Washington DC by two lengths with another half-length back to Buratino in third.
It always looked like Air Force Blue would improve with time as he matured, as he grew into his significant frame and, a May foal, that proved to be the case last season. He put up a better performance in winning the G1 National Stakes at The Curragh in September than he had in winning the Phoenix Stakes, despite the fact that the softish ground would not have been ideal for him. He beat a good colt of Jim Bolger’s that day in Herald The Dawn, the G2 Futurity Stakes winner, with another good colt in Birchwood, the G2 Superlative Stakes winner, back in third.
On his final run at two, Air Force Blue won the Dewhurst Stakes. That race was billed as a match between the Ballydoyle colt and the Godolphin colt Emotionless, so it was disappointing that Emotionless did not run his race – he returned with a chip in his knee – but Air Force Blue could do no more than beat his opposition on the day, which he did, with ease.
Reports from Ballydoyle suggest that the War Front colt has wintered well, and he went nicely in a racecourse gallop at The Curragh under Seamie Heffernan on the first day of the turf flat season last month. Aidan O’Brien appears to be delighted with him, and consistent support in the market means that you can no longer back him at odds against for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday. He could be in for a monstrous season.