Donn's Articles » Irish 2000 Guineas

Irish 2000 Guineas

Joseph O’Brien probably doesn’t remember this weekend 14 years ago when his father Aidan sent out his first Classic winners, Classic Park in the Irish 1000 Guineas and Desert King in the Irish 2000 Guineas. When you are three years old, almost four, your priorities are usually at odds with your father’s. Yesterday, however, in the Abu Dhabi Irish 2000 Guineas, on the rain-soaked Curragh plains, the goals of father and son converged in Classic harmony, as it was the turn of O’Brien the Younger to come of Classic age.

The Ballydoyle jockeys’ turntable has been revolving since the end of last season, when Johnny Murtagh decided to vacate his role as prime disc jockey. Ryan Moore has been snapped up this season when he has been available, like today, while Kieren Fallon, Christophe Soumillon and Jamie Spencer have all been employed at varying junctures. In the absence of a foreign-based ‘name’ jockey, the rides have been dispersed among the top home riders Colm O’Donoghue, Seamie Heffernan and Joseph O’Brien. Joseph rides Roderic O’Connor at home, ergo Joseph was in prime position to ride the son of Galileo in the first Irish Classic of the season.

It was a big decision to entrust one so young with such massive responsibility. You can easily understand why a father would want to leg his son up on a horse with a big chance in a Classic, but Aidan O’Brien being Aidan O’Brien, you know that he wouldn’t argue the case for so doing if he did not think that his youngster was up to the job. Furthermore, Roderic O’Connor is owned in partnership by Mrs John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and the Sangster Family. This is business. A colt gets a handful of opportunities, no more, to win a Classic. When those opportunities come up, you do all you can to maximise your chances of winning it, including having the right man on board.

Joseph lapped the occasion up, allowed it rest easily on his 17-year-old shoulders, 18 tomorrow. Not that you expected anything less. Throughout last season, as he made his way to a three-way tie for the apprentice jockeys’ championship with Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis, Joseph’s coolness in the saddle was continually in evidence. Specifically, his ability to judge the pace of a race from the front belied his lack of experience.

He bounced Roderic O’Connor out of the gate, took up pole position on the inside rail, and judged the pace to a nicety. The colt was on a recovery mission of sorts. Second to the monster that is Frankel in the Dewhurst Stakes last October, and winner of the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud two weeks later, he had disappointed in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks ago when he just didn’t sparkle.

It was a different story yesterday. Although not overly strong in the pre-race market, as the money came for Newmarket runner-up Dubawi Gold, Roderic O’Connor always looked comfortable on the pace. When Joseph asked him to pick up at the two-furlong pole, he quickly had all his rivals in trouble. Dubawi Gold finished well from the back of the field, but it never really looked like he was going to reel the leader back in, he was never close enough to give himself a chance of landing a blow on a leader who was galloping on as opposed to desperately seeking the respite that the winning post would provide. At the line, the winner still had three parts of a length in hand over the Richard Hannon-trained runner-up, with the two other Ballydoyle colts in the line up, Oracle and High Ruler, finishing third and fourth.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this,” said the winning trainer, who was landing his seventh Irish 2000 Guineas. “We are so grateful to the boss and to everyone for giving Joseph a chance. He rides Roderic at home every day, so he knows him well. He gave him a lovely ride, he got the pace just right, but my nerves had gone off the Richter Scale!”

“He travelled nicely the whole way,” said the winning rider, “and he handled the track very well. I didn’t mind making the running, and I never saw another rival, although I did hear Richard (Hughes)’s horse coming at me late on.”

For Richard Hughes on Dubawi Gold, it was a case of what might have been. The plan was always to drop the favourite in at the rear of the field, as he can be a bit free in his races, but things didn’t fall right for him.

“I had to switch him out for his run,” said Hughes, “and when I asked him to go he changed his legs three or four times on the ground. I did get going, but not in time.”

Roderic O’Connor will now go either for the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly or for the Epsom Derby. O’Brien was typically circumspect about future plans.

“He’s a strong possible for either.”

© The Sunday Times, 22nd May 2011