Monday 26 September 2016

Gurkha leading charge on Ascot

O'Brien still chasing Frankel record and has assembled a serious team for Champions Day

The Gurkha is being rested before his Ascot assignment. Photo: Patrick McCann
The Gurkha is being rested before his Ascot assignment. Photo: Patrick McCann

In a year when Aidan O'Brien must be considered to have at least a small chance of breaking Bobby Frankel's record for the most Group or Grade One victories in a single year, it was no surprise to see Ballydoyle make a host of entries for British Champions Day following some eye-catching nominatons earlier in the week for Melbourne's Spring Carnival.

O'Brien has won 12 top races so far in 2016 and still has a fair way to go until he closes in on Frankel's record of 25, which was set back in 2003, but with so many Group One' remaining, O'Brien shouldn't be ruled out of coming close just yet.

Total

In total, O'Brien has made 52 entries for the five early closing races on Champions Day in October at Ascot, four of which are Group Ones, and all the big names like Minding, The Gurkha and Order Of St George are included.

The Gurkha is set to have a little break after winning the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and thus bypass a possible engagement at Deauville next week according to his trainer.

"The Gurkha doesn't run in France. He's had two quick runs and he had a tough one at Sandown. It wouldn't be fair to go again," said O'Brien.

The Gurkha got the better of English 1,000 Guineas winner, Galileo Gold, and the fast-finishing Ribchester and Richard Fahey is looking forward to Ribchester having another go at those two colts.

"It was a fantastic race and Ribchester ran a blinder," said Fahey. "I've looked at the race a few times since and nobody did anything wrong - it's Goodwood and you need a bit of luck there. He's progressing all the time and has come out of the race in good order. I'm not saying we would beat them (The Gurkha and Galileo Gold), but you wouldn't be afraid to take them on again."

Minding is one that O'Brien will make a later decision on, concerning future targets. Saturday's Nassau Stakes winner has now claimed six Group One wins to date and the Oaks winner may well take on the colts for the first time in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, prior to going to Ascot in October.

O'Brien added: "She has a lot of options. She could have York (Juddmonte Stakes or Yorkshire Oaks) or the Irish Champion Stakes. All those things are open to her."

Reflecting on last Saturday's narrower than expected win at Goodwood, he said: "The race was a bit tactical and rough, but she's turned into a real professional. She seems to be fine."

This weekend, O'Brien will be hopeful of adding a 15th Keeneland Phoenix Stakes to his portfolio as Royal Ascot winner Caravaggio looks likely to head the line-up for the Curragh's feature on Sunday.

The Coventry Stakes winner has been inserted as the massive 1/5 favourite for the race, with Ger Lyons' Medicine Jack next at 7/2, although it is currently unclear as to who will ride Caravaggio with Ryan Moore taking a family holiday this week.

O'Brien is also aware of a niggle that Moore was complaining of, but isn't in a rush to make any jockey arrangements.

"He was having trouble with a hip, I knew that the last while.

"I'll speak to Ryan before making a decision on who rides Caravaggio - the plan is to run him."

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