Donn's Articles » Colm O’Donoghue

Colm O’Donoghue

Colm O’Donoghue remembers when he saw Alpha Centauri for the first time.  She was at The Curragh doing a piece of work and trainer Jessica Harrington pointed her out to him: an as-yet unraced strapping daughter of Mastercraftsman from a top Niarchos family, a granddaughter of French Guineas and French Oaks winner East Of The Moon.  He didn’t sit on the filly though until May Day last year, on her racecourse debut at Naas.  O’Donoghue kicked her off in front that day, and they never saw a rival.

“She’s such a big imposing filly,” says the rider.  “She’s so powerful.  She’s got such a hind leg, that force, that push.  On that day at Naas, when I gave her a squeeze, she just picked up, she demolished them.” 

Alpha Centauri progressed.  They stepped up her work at home, and she lapped it up.  She went back to Naas three weeks later for a listed race, and won it by five lengths.  That run confirmed her Royal Ascot booking.

“We were all the while thinking that she might be an Albany Stakes filly,” says O’Donoghue.  “She ran a big race in the Albany too.  When I sent her, Different League arrived up with me very quickly, she had that turn of foot.  Next thing, I was in top gear and we just didn’t get there.  It was frustrating to go down by a neck, to be beaten by such a short margin in an Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, but she ran a massive race, and we knew that she would improve with time.”

Alpha Centauri ran just once after that last year, she was beaten on soft ground in the Moyglare Stud Stakes, after which Jessica Harrington left her off for the rest of the year, focused on this season, her Classic season.  Her first run this term does not read well: 10th of 13 in the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial, but O’Donoghue was not downbeat.

“We were drawn in Foxrock that day.  We were wide all the way.  I just left her where she was comfortable.  The ground was too soft for her and we met trouble in running.  But we had to get her started, we had to get her going for the year.  Otherwise you’re having your first run of the year in the Guineas.” 

Alpha Centauri progressed from that run, as her trainer and rider expected her to.  Ten days before the Irish 1000 Guineas, she went back to Leopardstown for a piece of work, got on some better ground, and she zinged.

“That gave us a lot of confidence going to the Irish Guineas.  She had her good ground there, and Jessie had her in top form.  But she still had to do it.  Donnacha went clear (on Could It Be Love), we must have had about seven lengths to make up on him, but she made them up and she was strong at the line.  That was a great day.”

It was a landmark day for Jessica Harrington, a Classic on the flat to add to all her National Hunt accolades.

“I was delighted for Jessie.  I was delighted to be able to repay her for giving me the opportunity.  She has achieved so much over jumps, so to achieve at the highest level on the flat as well.  She’s unbelievable.” 

To win a Classic this year was one objective, to win at Royal Ascot was another.  They had gone so close last year.  Alpha Centauri was sent off as favourite for the Coronation Stakes at this year’s Royal meeting, but nobody could have expected her to put up the performance that she put up in the end. 

“I was always confident in the Coronation Stakes,” says O’Donoghue.  “We were drawn wide, but I was able to track Frankie and James Doyle.  This filly has such a good stride, I didn’t want to block it.  She has such a good temperament, you can put her anywhere in a race.  I was always happy with my position.  They just had to get me down to the two-furlong marker.  Then when I went for her, she picked up impressively.”

She came clear of her field, won by six lengths and broke the track record.  It was a scintillating performance, one of the most impressive of the 2018 season so far.  It was another addition to Jessica Harrington’s CV, a first Royal Ascot winner, and it was O’Donoghue’s second, after Sword Fighter in the Queen’s Vase in 2016.

Colm O’Donoghue is no stranger to big-race success.  He has won an Irish Derby on Treasure Beach, an Epsom Oaks on Qualify, an Irish Oaks on Bracelet and a French Guineas on Astronomer Royal, as well as other Group 1 races – a Criterium International on Jan Vermeer, a Phoenix Stakes on Spartacus.  All for Aidan O’Brien.  The decision to leave Ballydoyle was not easily made.

“I got to ride some great horses at Ballydoyle, Aidan was very good to me.  Mick Kinane was first rider there when I started, and he has always been great.  I’m still in close touch with Mick.  I speak with him most days.  I always ask him for advice before I ride in a big race.  There is nobody who has a better insight into race riding.”

Alpha Centauri took another step at Newmarket last month when she took on the older fillies for the first time in the Falmouth Stakes, and she beat them well.  This afternoon, she takes another step into the unknown when she takes on the colts for the first time in the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard Jacques le Marois at Deauville.  And, as in all her eight races to date, Colm O’Donoghue will be on board again.  There is every chance that the pair of them will be up to the challenge.

© The Sunday Times, 12th August 2018