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Longines Irish Champions Weekend: 11 things we learnt on Zoom from Aidan O'Brien

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Wed 2 Sep 2020
 O'Brien watches his horses exercise at Ballydoyle on Wednesday (Pat Healy)
O'Brien watches his horses exercise at Ballydoyle on Wednesday (Pat Healy)

No trainer has been in demand on Zoom this summer as Aidan O’Brien and the master trainer was again generous with his time and thoughts when running through his many contenders for Longines Irish Champions Weekend on Wednesday afternoon.

Magical, Japan, Peaceful, Lope Y Fernandez, Vatican City, Tiger Moth, Sovereign, Passion, Battleground and Divinely are set to feature among his star-studded squad at Leopardstown and the Curragh.

O’Brien also gave updates on such as Love, Serpentine and Santiago in a call organised by the Ireland Horseracing Board plus gave an insight into what Ryan Moore is experiencing in quarantine.

Here are 11 things we learnt about Aidan’s aces via Zoom.

MOORE’S MEALS ON WHEELS

Aidan O'Brien talks to Gary O'Brien about Longines Irish Champions Weekend

Ryan Moore is having to sit and suffer ‘home’ alone as he fulfils his two weeks of isolation in order to ride Aidan O’Brien’s equine superstars on Longines Irish Champions Weekend.

O’Brien admits it is not an ideal scenario having his No 1 rider left twiddling his thumbs – “it’s like a soccer player being put in a house, and then expected to turn out and go play a match after sitting there for two weeks” - but the hope is it will all be worth it when the multiple champion trainer unleashes a battalion of star performers at Leopardstown and The Curragh next weekend.

“It was always the plan that he would come over,” O’Brien said. “I haven’t seen him actually – I’ve spoken to him on the phone.” Then, with a smile, he added: “I see his dinner’s going off to him every day, the poor fella.”

It’s not clear what culinary delights are heading in Moore’s direction and, in fairness, he is getting some evening entertainment sent his way. “He gets the work videos and the work reports,” O’Brien revealed.

MARVEL MAGICAL LEADS WAY

Take a look at some of Aidan's aces for Longines Irish Chamoions Weekend

Magical will seek to retain her Irish Champion Stakes crown at Leopardstown on Saturday week and O’Brien will be anything but disheartened if Ghaiyyath, her conqueror in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York last month, is among her rivals.

“We’d be delighted if he (Ghaiyyath) did come over. It was Magical’s first run back for an autumn campaign (at York). We’d be looking forward to the race and it would be great for everyone if he did come,” O’Brien said.

Magical will be seeking a seventh Group One success and her trainer is full of admiration for her. He said “She’s a hardy lady and she gives it all. She ran in York and Ryan (Moore) was very happy with her and thought she might progress for it. We regroup, see if we can improve things or do little tweaks.”

Ghaiyyath is the general 5-4 favourite, with Magical quoted at 7-2.

JAPAN’S SHOE PROBLEM AT ASCOT

Japan is set to join Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes line-up. He was a big disappointment when trailing home a distant last of three runners in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes at Ascot in July but returned home hurt.

O’Brien said: “He came back with very sore feet. He was lame for a few days after and then we took the shoes off completely and rode him out barefoot for ten days and he came back 100 per cent sound.

“Maybe we had the wrong shoes on him, or uncomfortable shoes, or whatever. It might be like you in a new pair of shoes, thinking they were OK but finding out in the race that they weren’t.

“Ryan [Moore] said he turned in and gave a big gasp. He was a fit horse going there and usually horses don’t do that unless they are feeling some bit of pain somewhere. We feel it was coming from his feet.”

Japan has apparently been moving well in his work and is a best-priced 14-1 with BetVictor to bounce back with a bang in the Irish Champion Stakes. Vatican City, also pencilled in for the race, is a general 33-1.

 O'Brien reports that Japan has recovered from his sore feet (Pat Healy)
O'Brien reports that Japan has recovered from his sore feet (Pat Healy)

BATTLEGROUND’S NATIONAL AIM

Vincent O’Brien scooped the Goffs-sponsored National Stakes, now named in in his honour, no fewer than 15 times and Aidan, no relation, has high hopes of increasing his own tally in the feature to 12.

Battleground is his principal hope having landed the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood on his latest start after previously landing the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot. “He’s a big, powerful horse and has done very well physically. We’re looking forward to him – he’s a horse to look forward to, we think,” O’Brien said:.

“There are others who could run with him, but the plan was to go there with him after Goodwood.”

Four of O’Brien’s previous National Stakes winners have gone on to land the Qipco 2000 Guineas. Battleground is a top-priced 8-1 for that Classic.

SOVEREIGN AND PASSION FOR IRISH ST LEGER

The Comer Group International Irish St Leger, unlike it’s English counterpart run at Doncaster 24 hours earlier, is open to older horses. O’Brien has already taken advantage through such as Yeats, Septimus and Order Of St George and will hope to do so again via Sovereign, who won last year’s Irish Derby and chased home Enable in the King George on his latest start.

“He had a lovely run in the King George. We think he’ll get a mile and six and if the ground is slow it shouldn’t bother him either,” O’Brien said.

He also intends running his three-year-old filly, Passion, runner-up in the Irish Oaks on her latest start, in the 14-furlong contest. “She ran a big race in the Oaks and we felt she’d be happy stepping up to a mile and six, as she showed at Naas. We thought we might run her with him.”

 O'Brien multi tasks at Ballydoyle (Pat Healy)
O'Brien multi tasks at Ballydoyle (Pat Healy)

BRITISH RIDERS SET FOR PLUM ST LEGER MOUNTS

It seems like a lifetime ago that Ryan Moore would ride in the St Leger at Doncaster before jumping in a plane to ride at Leopardstown a couple of hours later.

That’s not going to be happening any time soon – the rider is this time spending two weeks in quarantine just so he can ride at Leopardstown and the Curragh – and it seems none of O’Brien’s usual squad of riders will be journeying to Doncaster.

It means the ride on the St Leger favourite, Santiago, is going spare with Frankie Dettori seemingly in pole position. O’Brien’s ‘B Team’, which could include the likes of Dawn Patrol and Mythical, will also need riders.

“We have spoken to Frankie [Dettori], and he’s going to be there for the Leger – which is great for us – so hopefully he will ride some of ours,” O’Brien said. “We haven’t really discussed it, but I’d imagine that (using British-based riders) is what will happen because we’ll probably have a lot of runners here (for Longines Irish Champions Weekend) and we’ll need the lads here.

“I’d imagine we’ll probably need them at home for that weekend, and we have Frankie and William (Buick), James (Doyle), Adam (Kirby) and Oisin (Murphy) – they’ve all ridden for us, and we’re delighted they’ve agreed to do that whenever we have needed them.”

TIGER MOTH UNDER THE RADAR

Santiago fends off Tiger Moth in the Irish Derby

Tiger Moth is approaching the autumn much as he began the season – under the radar.

The Galileo colt has not been seen in action since being beaten a head by Santiago in the Irish Derby in June on only his third start.

He is only 10-1 for the Pertemps St leger and is also entered in the Irish equivalent plus Irish Champion Stakes.

Instead, he seems likely to return in the shallower waters of the Group Three Kilternan Stakes. “I’m not sure he’d get a mile and six, so we probably won’t go to the Leger with him,” O’Brien said.

FLYING FIVE FOR FERNANDEZ

Lope Y Fernandez is 9-2 with the race sponsors for the Betfair Sprint Cup on Saturday but is also a likely runner in the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five at The Curragh eight days later.

It will be the first time that the colt has run over the minimum trip in his career. He began this campaign by finishing third to Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas and on his latest start filled the same position behind Space Blues in the LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.

“Whether five is too tight or not we are not sure. It will be interesting,” O’Brien said. “He’ll learn a lot because he looks like a horse we are going to have next year and sprinting will be his job.”

SERPENTINE WORK LOAD TO INCREASE

 Serpentine is apparently a little heavier than ideal (Focusonracing)
Serpentine is apparently a little heavier than ideal (Focusonracing)

Plenty of waist lines have increased during lockdown and it seems a few horses at Ballydoyle have also put on some condition – including the Derby winner, Serpentine, who has been off track since his shock all-the-way win at Epsom.

He is likely to reappear in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on September 13 provided his homework in the interim goes to plan.

O’Brien revealed: “He needed a little bit of time after the Derby and he has done very well. Physically, he’s really rounded off and is a little bit heavier than ideal but he has a busy ten next days and it will be interesting how it goes.

“If we run him in Paris, it will be a run to get him started back and see where we go after that. The Arc is possible but either way we are hoping we will have him for next year. He’s a solid horse, a relentless galloper who will not surrender.”

LOVE BLOOMING

Love will not be among O’Brien’s squad for Irish Champions Weekend but the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe favourite has apparently taken her latest exploits, when running away with the Yorkshire Oaks, in her stride.

O’Brien said: “Everything is well with her. We had it spaced out that there was a six-week gap from York to France – and that’s what we were very happy with. “We got the chance to give her a couple of easy weeks, and then her programme would start building up again, and she’s back into her programme already – she’s very fresh. She’s doing nice canters at the moment, which she has to do to keep her right, because she gets very well and fresh in herself.

KIPLING EXCEEDINGLY WELL-HANDICAPPED?

It is not just the big pattern prizes that O’Brien has got his eye on at the Longines Irish Champions Weekend. His handicap runners are set to include Kipling in the final race of the weekend - the Irish Stallion Farms EBF "Northfields" Handicap at The Curragh.

The three-year-old Galileo colt has had only four runs and belatedly got off the mark in a 17-runer handicap at Navan on his latest start. A mark of 91 for his handicap bow catches the eye.

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