It wasn’t quite the wonder weekend for Aidan O’Brien it might have been, but you’d never know that from looking at the latest update in the world rankings - or from the results of the latest round of Breeders’ Cup qualifiers in Europe.
The biggest races on Irish Champions Weekend may have gone to the ‘wrong’ horses, but most of them were still trained by the world’s #1 trainer, who went even further clear at the top of the standings. Naturally, of course, that meant Coolmore Partners strengthening their huge lead at the top of the owners’ rankings too, even though it was a fine week for second-placed Godolphin as well.
To recap, the five G1s went like this:
Matron Stakes (Leopardstown, Saturday) - a 1-2 for O’Brien, with 20-1 shot Hydrangea getting up to confound hot favourite Winter by a head. Winter is said to have had an interrupted preparation.
Irish Champion Stakes (Leopardstown, Saturday) - 25-1 chance Decorated Knight (trained by joint world #52 Roger Charlton in England and ridden by world #16 Andrea Atzeni) swept by them all late as Ryan Moore on Churchill, odds-on to win for O’Brien, got horribly hemmed in on the inside and ended up coasting in to finish a frustrated seventh four lengths back, just behind Seamie Heffernan on Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher, who suffered a similar fate having waited for gaps on the inside that never materialised.
Some have said that Churchill would have been able to get through had he been the horse the world once believed. That may be a little harsh. The ground was actually pretty slow, and Churchill was jostled sideways by the already-in-full-flow Moonlight Magic as Moore finally had sight of the opening.
Moyglare Stud Stakes (Curragh, Sunday) - a 1-2-3 for O’Brien, although Moore was frustrated again as his choice, Magical, was short-headed by Happily, the least favoured of the trio, under O’Brien’s son Donnacha (now up to #95 in the world jockeys’ rankings).
National Stakes (Curragh, Sunday) - more frustration for Moore as O’Brien opted to withdraw the favourite, Gustav Klimt, when the going turned heavy. Moore switched to the Frankel colt Rostropovich, who ran as well as could be expected but was a well beaten third behind the impressive Verbal Dexterity, trained by Jim Bolger, who has also moved up to joint #52 in the rankings.
Irish St Leger (Curragh, Sunday) - it was all terribly easy for 2/5 favourite Order Of St George, who handed out a nine-length obliteration to what was in reality an ordinary field of stayers. At last a G1 win for Moore! Order Of St George could now be his ride in the Arc in 17 days’ time, although that’s also the target of illustrious stablemate Highland Reel. The Irish Leger winner, however, is much the more effective of the pair on the kind of soft ground that so often prevails on Paris racetracks in early October.
Order Of St George was O’Brien’s third G1 of the week, taking his total to 17, now just eight short of Bobby Frankel’s world record total for a calendar year.
Three of the weekend’s Irish G1s were ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup - the Matron ( it will be no surprise if Hydrangea is in the gate for the Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar), the Irish Champion (Decorated Knight may well go to the Breeders’ Cup, but Charlton is favouring the Mile rather than the Longines Turf, for which the 5-year-old has an automatic berth after Saturday) and the Moyglare (O’Brien has yet to win the Juvenile Fillies Turf, but Happily, a Galileo full sister to Gleneagles out of a full sister to Giant’s Causeway, is a quality filly who would have an outstanding chance of correcting that).
There were two other Breeders’ Cup qualifiers on Irish Champions Weekend - and O’Brien won them both.
G3 Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile Stakes (Leopardstown, Saturday) - another 1-2-3 for Ballydoyle, but again Moore was on the wrong one, his pick, Delano Roosevelt meeting trouble in running before finishing strongly to be a close third behind the Frankel colt Nelson - another win for Donnacha on a Moore reject. Nelson would be a fascinating first Breeders' Cup starter for his sire if lining up for the Juvenile Turf.
G2 Derrinstown Stud Flying Five (Curragh, Sunday) - an O’Brien 1-2 again, with Moore on the right one in Caravaggio (he could hardly have not been, as the runner-up, Alphabet, was an unconsidered 50-1 shot). It was a satisfying return to prominence for the Scat Daddy colt after a couple of surprise reverses, but whether he turns out to be the superstar he looked to be at Royal Ascot remains to be seen. He is now qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but the suspicion is that he is more effective over further than five furlongs, so the British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot may be a more realistic target than Del Mar.
All this - three G1 wins, a G2 and a G3 - meant just a three-point week-on-week gain for O’Brien in the trainers’ rankings. It’s tough at the top, as Moore’s total in the jockeys’ standings illustrates. He may have won a G1 and a G2 and been placed in five other Group races, but you have to do better than that to make any gains in the rankings when you’re already the world’s top-ranked rider. At least he didn’t lose any points!
The biggest gainer of the Coolmore quartet of world number ones was, of course, Galileo. The supersire was responsible for four of the Irish G1 winners - Hydrangea, Decorated Knight, Happily and Order Of St George - as well as no less than eight horses who were placed in Group races. He now has five ranking points more than he had this time last week.
For once, though, he failed to extend his lead at the top of the stallion standings. Spearheaded by a 1-2-3 in the G1 Prix Vermeille at Chantilly on Sunday (won by Bateel), second-placed Dubawi’s four Group wins over the week meant a six-point gain. He’s still 24 points adrift of Galileo, but every little helps.
Godolphin’s good week (they gained three points, one less than Coolmore) was due mainly to two quality G1 victories - Harry Angel in the Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday and Ribchester in the Prix du Moulin at Chantilly on Sunday.
Harry Angel’s was rated the performance of the week by Racing Post Ratings (127), although it should be remembered that wide-margin wins on heavy ground are often not quite what they seem. Nevertheless, the 3-year-old has proved extremely effective on fast ground too, so is certainly a force to be reckoned with wherever he goes next.
Click here for a list of last week’s biggest TRC Global Rankings points gainers.
Click here for a list of the week’s Group and Graded winners.