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Guineas weekend

If Saturday at The Curragh was the O’Brien and O’Brien show, then Sunday was just the O’Brien show as Aidan won the three Group races on the day, the Irish 1000 Guineas to go with the Irish 2000 Guineas that he collected on Saturday, and the opening maiden besides. If he had had a runner in the Arabian race, he probably would have won that as well.

You can get all sycophantic about these things, and you can argue that Aidan O’Brien has the best horses and access to the deepest resources and the bluest bloodlines in the business, but weekends like last weekend still don’t happen on their own. O’Brien’s work ethic is such that, even after big wins on the international stage, he is the first man on the next plane back to Ireland. Asked if he was going to celebrate on Sunday evening, he ventured that they might stop for something to eat on the way home. But even using the yardstick that lies against the back wall at Ballydoyle as a measuring tool, last weekend was an extraordinary one on many levels.

You believe the trainer when he says that his nerves were off the Richter Scale as he watched his son Joseph ride Roderic O’Connor in the Irish 2000 Guineas on Saturday. We have extolled the virtues of Joseph here before, but you forget how old he is when he see him on top of a thoroughbred and under a helmet. Joseph just turned 18 yesterday. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 18, but if I had been given a fiver and sent down to the shop for a bottle of milk when I was 18, I was only about a 4/6 shot to come back with the bottle of milk and the correct change.

Ability is a function of talent and confidence-engendering experience. Not many riders are in a position to gain the experience at the highest level that Joseph has gained at such a young age. The experience has honed his talent, but his talent determined that he gain the experience. The one begets the other.

You wonder what the thought process or the conversation was that prefaced Joseph’s date with Roderic O’Connor on Saturday. I think the kid is ready, why don’t we give him his chance? The fact that Ryan Moore was committed at Haydock and that Joseph rides the colt in all his work at home obviously helped, but it was still a brave call.

And the tactics that Joseph employed were even braver. When asked about tactics in the post-race interview, Aidan O’Brien was fairly non-committal. Joseph knows the colt well, he knew how to ride him. However, given that attention to detail is to Aidan O’Brien as sucking eggs is to your grandmother, it would be surprising if, despite the presence of two potential pacemakers, the plan all along had not been for Joseph to make the running.

Even so, it was a ballsey move. When you ride from the front, you set the speedometer, you determine the pace of the race. It is easy to criticise the rider of a beaten front-runner for getting the fractions wrong. However, Joseph proved on several occasions last season that he is a demon from the front, and he got the pace spot on again on Saturday.

By contrast, things didn’t pan out for Richard Hughes who finished second, beaten three parts of a length, on the well-backed favourite Dubawi Gold, but the criticism to which the rider has subsequently been subjected is mystifying.

Hughes told the whole world in his Racing Post column on Saturday morning how he would ride Dubawi Gold. “I would ideally like to jump the gate and position myself in second or third,” he wrote. “On this horse I can’t do that – if I did he would run away with me and blow his chance.” If the trainer was not happy with the intended tactics, surely the thing to do was to let the rider know before the horse had run, not after he had been beaten.

As it happened, Hughes did settle Dubawi Gold in last of the eight runners, and the horse dropped the bit and relaxed. First half of the job done. When Hughes pulled him out to challenge after they had passed the two-furlong pole, however, the horse seemed to stumble a little. When his rider asked him to pick up, he changed his legs and just took a stride or two to find top gear.

He closed on the leader all the way to the line, but the horse in front wasn’t stopping, and it isn’t certain that, had Dubawi Gold somehow found the three parts of a length by which he was beaten, Roderic O’Connor would not have found another neck or half a length. The winner was still in front at the pull-up. We will never know for certain, but it is probable that the best horse on the day won the race.

Derby next for Roderic O’Connor. But which one? And who will ride?

© The Racing Post, 24th May 2011