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Nassau Stakes: Donnacha O'Brien hopeful Fancy Blue will rise to challenge

Wed 29 Jul 2020

Click here to view our Qatar Nassau Stakes runner-by-runner guide.

Donnacha O’Brien is relishing having his first runner in Britain at the Qatar Goodwood Festival on Thursday when his French Oaks winner, Fancy Blue, will contest the Qatar Nassau Stakes.

The 22-year-old, son of multiple Irish champion trainer Aidan, had his first runners in January after retiring from race riding in late November after a short but highly successful career in the saddle.

Champion jockey in Ireland in 2018 and 2019, O’Brien’s major victories included successive wins in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas (aboard Saxon Warrior in 2018 and Magna Grecia in 2019) plus triumphs in the Investec Oaks (Forever Together in 2018) and Irish Derby on Latrobe (also 2018).

He’s had less than 50 runners as a trainer but has wasted no time making an impact at the highest level, with the Coolmore-owned Fancy Blue gaining Classic glory at Chantilly after previously finishing runner-up in the Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas at The Curragh. The filly was trained by his father last year before switching yards.

O’Brien watched Fancy Blue triumph in a thrilling finish while on home soil at Fairyhouse and will reluctantly not be travelling to Goodwood, either, because of complications caused by coronavirus regulations.

Watch how Deirdre landed last year's Qatar Nassau Stakes

He said: “I won’t be going over but hopefully, by that stage, my job will be done and it won’t make too much difference whether I’m there or not. It’s not ideal [starting training shortly before a global pandemic] but I was going to have a new routine anyway, so it was going to be different for me regardless. Some trainers will have been training for 20 years or more, and it might be more difficult for them than it is for me as I’m new to it all anyway.”

Fancy Blue prevailed by a short neck from Alpine Star, the easy Coronation Stakes winner, in France, with Peaceful, her conqueror in the Irish 1000 Guineas, another head away in third. The previously unbeaten and well-fancied Raabihah, the main hope of France, was another head further back in fourth.

O’Brien said: “In a tight finish between four horses you can usually mark it down a bit but they were definitely the right horses involved that day and they pulled clear of the rest of the field, so it looks like very strong form.

“Fancy Blue is very genuine, tries hard and takes her work well. She’s a very uncomplicated and talented filly who relaxes and is able to quicken. She gets a mile and a quarter very well and is closely related to High Chaparral (the 2002 Derby winner), so there’s plenty of stamina in her pedigree and she will probably get a mile and a half in time. I think she can probably be competitive in Group 1s anywhere from a mile to a mile and a half."

Click here to view our Qatar Nassau Stakes runner-by-runner guide.

On her ability to act at the Sussex track, he said: “You can’t be sure until you go there, but she’s quite easy to ride in a race and adaptable. I’d say she’s got a very good chance of handling it all and she’s been in great form since France.” Ryan Moore, successful in the Qatar Nassau Stakes aboard Minding (2016) and Winter (2017), takes the ride in a race that forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.

O’Brien is training out of the County Tipperary yard formerly occupied by David Wachman, who landed the 2015 Nassau Stakes with QIPCO 1000 Guineas heroine Legatissimo. He rode numerous high-profile winners before making the switch and admitted: “Of course, you miss the big days [riding]. I guess that’s going to happen for a while, but I’ll learn to get used to it.”

Nazeef is already an “absolute star”, however, in the words of owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s racing manager Angus Gold – who is optimistic that, following her Group One breakthrough in Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes, she will take this move up to 10 furlongs in her stride.

Nazeef landed her first Group One last time out

The four-year-old has extended her winning sequence to six, and Gold said: “She’s been an absolute star obviously this year – it’s lovely to see her not only fulfil the potential but exceed what we hoped. We were hoping to make her a stakes winner – and she’s won a Listed, Group Two and now a Group One. “It’s been a real thrill.”

He admits the extra two furlongs are a step into the unknown, but expects them to suit Nazeef. “Stepping up in trip now will be interesting, but everyone who has ridden her has always felt she would get it,” added Gold.

“Obviously you never know for sure until they try, but I’m very hopeful she will stay it – the way she has always finished off her races. There’s no pressure. She’s a Group One winner, and she’s done us and herself proud.”

Japanese runner Deirdre secured a famous victory in the race last year and will bid to follow in the footsteps of eventual three-times race winner Midday, who successfully defended her title in 2011.

The six-year-old warmed up for this race by finishing fifth in the Eclipse, with assistant trainer Yoshi Hashida believing the mare to have taken a step forward since that outing.

Watch what connections have to say about last year's winner Deirdre

He said: “I think she has improved since her last race, maybe it is the seasons – August is always her favourite season.

“We tried the Eclipse because Sandown has a long straight and with the Covid situation it has been a little bit tricky to train the horses. Sandown was proper timing for us.

“We found there that she might struggle with the uphill, now we are heading to the Nassau Stakes with the long straight and flat course. It is a beautiful racecourse, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

“We understand the great importance of the race, we have seen Midday win three times and we are the only horse to have a chance to win twice in a row (since) and I can’t wait.

“We won last year, so we are very excited. I can’t wait.”

Aidan O’Brien and Frankie Dettori team up with Magic Wand, an Australian Group One winner who has successfully plied her trade right across the world and was last seen finishing fourth in the Eclipse.

O’Brien said: “She’s a lovely filly who takes everything in her stride and this looks a nice race for her in the middle of the summer. She’s very straightforward and we’re very happy with her.”

The seven-strong field is completed by Sir Michael Stoute’s Queen Power, the Jessica Harrington-trained One Voice and Amanda Perrett’s Lavender’s Blue.

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