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Tuesday 13 November 2018

Master O'Brien looks to be back on track

HOME CLEAR: Ten Sovereigns and Donnacha O’Brien win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden at the Curragh on Saturday. Pic: Racing Post
HOME CLEAR: Ten Sovereigns and Donnacha O’Brien win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden at the Curragh on Saturday. Pic: Racing Post

A rare enough quiet weekend in Irish racing offers a time for reflection but it was Saturday's fixture that spoke volumes about the current state of the Irish flat season.

Aidan O'Brien endured a 'Ballydoyle bug' at an important stage of the season. It was close to being season-defining - and defining the season to the complete contrary of his record breaking year of 2017.

Saturday was probably the vital piece of evidence that we needed to prove that the champion trainer has turned it around again.

It is testament to the likes of O'Brien and Willie Mullins that such a virus so rarely takes them down.

The money invested outside their back doors obviously brings about a very high standard and an utmost care and responsibility but sometimes horses can be affected in different ways and such is the fragile nature of the beast, sometimes it is simply unavoidable.

Look at Dermot Weld last year. It was certainly a season to forget for Roswell House.

Gordon Elliott had a Punchestown Festival to remember, but not for all the right reasons and in May he shut up shop for a couple of weeks.

These are just a few examples of yards suffering from what can often be like an equine equivalent of human 'flu and in this instance, O'Brien's key word seemed to be patience.

With a Curragh four-timer on Saturday and 18 winners in the last 21 days I think it is fair to say that the bug that rattled the most successful racing operation in the world has passed and we should probably brace ourselves for a storming finish to the year from O'Brien.

From this point until the end of the season last year, O'Brien trained 13 winners at the highest level.

It would be fair to say, with no record in sight this time, he may not have the same desire or even fire-power to travel for the second half of this year.

But with Irish Champions Weekend, British Champions Weekend, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend and of course the Breeders' Cup all still to come, we should not lose sight of the fact that O'Brien has a big year ahead yet.

From his rather low return - by O'Brien's high standards - of eight Group Ones so far this season, reaching 20 might be a stretch but we would probably take for granted if he got to 15 again.

Remarkable

Considering O'Brien went from mid-July to probably mid September without any Group One success, even getting 15 Group Ones this year would be a remarkable achievement.

Ten Sovereigns is likely to be one of those now.

He'll head for the Middle Park Stakes after romping home on successive weekends at the Curragh.

It's rather unusual for an O'Brien juvenile to win on debut, let alone by an emphatic seven lengths, but then to turn around seven days later and win again in Group Three company is a mark of his potential.

Ten Sovereigns now has the 2,000 Guineas favourite tag and success in the Middle Park Stakes would certainly see him go into the winter with the weight of expectation, something that not every two-year-old lives up to. But this son of No Nay Never does look someth ing special.

"You'd have to be happy with that" O'Brien said afterwards.

Indeed you would. O'Brien has yet to wax lyrical as he can but while he may not have an older horse to act as flag-bearer for what has been a frustrating season, Ten Sovereigns could ultimately prove to be the highlight by the time this season comes to a close.

And for what it is worth, O'Brien often mentions Sue Magnier's time and effort to naming the Coolmore horses and we have another prime example.

The origin of how Ten Sovereigns' name came about was pointed out on Saturday.

By No Nay Never, words of course famous in The Dubliners' song The Wild Rover, lyrics later in the song are "I took from my pocket ten sovereigns bright".

The Ten Sovereigns we saw on Saturday has a bright future indeed.

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