Aidan O'Brien spoke at length this morning about the talent at his disposal, including star Saxon Warrior, who heads the betting for the G1 Investec Derby, Britain's greatest and richest race, on Saturday, June 2, during a media trip by Epsom Downs Racecourse and Investec to the iconic Ballydoyle stables in County Tipperary, Ireland.
Unbeaten in four starts, Saxon Warrior returned to action this year with a decisive success in the first British Classic of the season, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 5, providing the trainer with a ninth victory in the mile Classic and a first British Classic success for O'Brien's jockey son Donnacha.
The three-year-old son of Deep Impact, a first British Classic winner for the Japanese-based stallion, followed up a striking maiden (1m) victory on debut at the Curragh in August last year, with wins in both the G2 Beresford Stakes (1m) at Naas in September and the G1 Racing Post Trophy (1m) at Doncaster in October.
Saxon Warrior is the 4/5 favourite with Unibet, official betting partner of the Investec Derby Festival, for the premier Classic, the Investec Derby (1m 4f), staged at 4.30pm on Saturday, June 2 at Epsom Downs Racecourse.
The imposing colt worked in front of O'Brien and media this morning, and despite a hair-raising moment when he nearly pulled off a shoe while being paraded in front of photographers, the master of Ballydoyle is delighted with his charge, with less than three weeks to go until the Investec Derby, which is worth at least £1.5 million.
O'Brien has won the Investec Derby on six occasions courtesy of Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012), Ruler Of The World (2013), Australia (2014), and Wings Of Eagles (2017) and will become the joint winning-most trainer in the Classic's long history alongside Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling, were he to succeed again this year.
Britain and Ireland's champion Flat trainer revealed: “Saxon Warrior is in very good form at home and has come out of the 2000 Guineas very well. He is a good traveller and a very well-balanced colt.
“He didn't have any problem with the dip at Newmarket and he wears his head low, so we'll see what happens at Epsom.
“We were always looking forward to stepping him up in distance, but in the 2000 Guineas, he travelled like a miler and quickened like a miler. However, we have always thought he was going to be a middle distance horse – he is very good.
“He got headed in the Racing Post Trophy and got headed again so you would have to be very happy with how everything panned out at Newmarket.
“We were very happy with the 2000 Guineas as that was his first run of the season and he was going to progress from it. There is a nice gap between Newmarket and the Derby so usually if they can handle the dip at Newmarket like he did, then hopefully they should be able to handle the contours of Epsom.
“Ryan Moore will ride Saxon Warrior in the Derby and is our number one rider. They (Moore and Donnacha O'Brien) went through the 2000 Guineas beforehand and discussed the race. There are so many variables in races that you cannot control, such as horses around you and position. Obviously, if we are lucky enough to get him to Epsom in good shape, hopefully the rest will fall into place.”
Camelot, also trained by O'Brien, was the latest of 37 horses to complete the Guineas-Derby double in 2012. He missed out on becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970, trained by O'Brien's predecessor at Ballydoyle, Vincent O'Brien (no relation), when second to Godolphin's Encke in the St Leger at Doncaster.
Saxon Warrior, who like Camelot runs in the colours of Derrick Smith, Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor and also inhabits the same box at Ballydoyle, could bid to emulate Nijinsky, with O'Brien intimating that connections are targeting a tilt at the Triple Crown, if all goes well in the Investec Derby on June 2.
The trainer continued: “We viewed him as a Camelot and Australia (2014 Investec Derby winner) type of horse and that is the way we have done everything with him.
“Donnacha rode him well and he really quickened up impressively (at Newmarket). Donnacha rode the horse work and knew him very well, so it was a special moment.
“Saxon Warrior has a very strong blend of Danehill, Galileo and Deep Impact in him. Those three strong traits make him a horse that we haven't had before so he is very different.
“He is very strong and powerful. He is built like a miler, but we always thought he would stay. He went like a horse who would love going middle distances. You can see all of those strong traits in him, so he is very interesting.
“I think the lads (the owners, plus Coolmore supremo John Magnier) would think long and hard about the Triple Crown. If the opportunity arose for that to happen, I think the lads would think about doing it. They won't think about it until after the Derby, but obviously it would be unbelievable to have a horse who was able to do it.
“We would be delighted if he could win the Triple Crown. It is a tough thing to do to win those three races. We were delighted with Camelot, having won a 2000 Guineas and a Derby. We didn't win at Doncaster, but with all those things, we analyse what went wrong and if a horse did come along to put us in that position again, then we would be delighted.
“Life is life and things happen for a reason, we don't understand sometimes why these things happen, but they are out of our control so we accept them and defeat gracefully and move on.
“We were always hopeful after Camelot that perhaps another horse would come along who could run in all three races and that was part of the reason that Saxon Warrior started in the 2000 Guineas. We could have gone to the Dante with him, but we thought if there was a chance we had a Triple Crown horse, he was going to be the horse, so that's why we started him off at Newmarket. The way it worked out, we were delighted so we are still alive and kicking after the first round.
“It would be interesting to see if he would stay further after the Derby and targeting the Triple Crown and going for races like that is something that the lads have started to think a lot more about, such as if a fast horse comes along which they don't think will stay, then they won't go that way.
“The lads have changed a lot since we came here. The commercial notion is not as important anymore as exposing the horses. They have a big broodmare band and a big team of stallions so they are exposing horses to different races to see what their limitations are.”
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