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‘He could do anything!’ – Aidan O’Brien outlines targets for Classic crop

Aidan O’Brien is eyeing up a Grade 1 contest on dirt for City Of Troy as part of a blockbuster campaign for the Ballydoyle star.

The ante-post favourite for the 2000 Guineas and the Derby was the outstanding two-year-old of 2023, unbeaten in three starts including taking the Group 2 Superlative Stakes by six-and-a-half lengths and the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes by three-and-a-half lengths.

He’s set to return on the Rowley Mile for the first Classic of the season in May before taking in the Derby at Epsom in June and then a switch of surface Stateside at Saratoga later in the summer.

And Aidan said he was ‘particularly happy’ with how well the son of US Triple Crown winner Justify, who is as low as 8-13 for the 2000 Guineas and 6-4 for the Derby, has wintered.

“Everything is going really well with him, and the plan is to go straight to Newmarket for the 2000 Guineas. We are particularly happy with how well he has wintered. He’s working away on bad ground at the minute as they all are obliged to,” explained O’Brien.

“He seems to handle it and handled a good cut in the ground in the Dewhurst, but as anyone can see he is a particularly beautiful mover which is what makes it so exciting to see what he does when he meets firmer ground. The better the ground, the better he’ll be.

Ryan Moore takes in the adoration of the Newmarket crowd
Image: Ryan Moore takes in the adoration of the Newmarket crowd

“He’ll go away for a gallop in the next week or 10 days that is always an important step for the Guineas horses. It was great for him to get the experience of the undulations of both the July Course and the Rowley Mile at Newmarket last season. That will all stand to him in the 2000 Guineas.

“We’ll play it race-by-race, but you’d have to be made of stone not to be dreaming of the Derby if all goes to plan at Newmarket. After that, he could even go to somewhere like Saratoga for a Grade 1 on the dirt.

“He’s that type, he could do anything, but we’ll take it one race at a time. We have an unbelievable group of three-year-olds this year, but he has always been the leader. Horses like him are very rare.”

Opera Singer may miss the 1000 Guineas
Image: Opera Singer may miss the 1000 Guineas

Opera Singer expected to miss 1000 Guineas

Ballydoyle is home to several other leading Classic contenders including OPERA SINGER, who may miss the first fillies’ Classic at Newmarket, but is still the bookmakers’ favourite for Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh plus the Oaks at Epsom over four furlongs further.

“Opera Singer had a little setback that led to her missing two weeks. She’s back cantering now, but that missed time might just stop her being ready in time for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. She could well end up starting back in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

“We think she’s a very good filly. She’s big and powerful. A mile-and-a-quarter shouldn’t be any problem to her. She could even get a mile-and-a-half. We are excited about her.”

Ylang Ylang back for Newmarket glory

At the head of the market for the 1000 Guineas is now YLANG YLANG, winner of the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile at Headquarters in October.

The daughter of Frankel will line up on the Rowley Mile without taking in a trial and could step up in trip later in the campaign.

“We are very happy with her, and she looks likely to go straight to the 1000 Guineas. She could be one to step up in trip in time and might even get a mile-and-a-half, but we are very happy with her at a mile for now.

“She lost her way a little bit for a couple of runs prior to the Fillies’ Mile, so it was great to see her do what she did that day and get right back on track. She’s a good mover and nice ground will always suit.”

Longfellow’s Mile mission

HENRY LONGFELLOW is the joint-favourite for the Irish 2,000 Guineas and second-favourite for the Epsom Derby after winning all three starts as a juvenile, culminating in the Group 1 Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh.

The Dubawi colt out of Minding could be kept at eight furlongs for the time being, with the trainer looking at the Poule d’Essai des Poulains at Chantilly or its equivalent at the Curragh before a trip to Royal Ascot.

“He could be one for the French Guineas or possibly the Irish Guineas. The St James’s Palace Stakes is another obvious race that will be in the mix for him. I wouldn’t rule out him stepping up in trip, but as of right now we are viewing him as a miler.

“He handles a good cut in the ground, but don’t think firmer ground will be an issue. His dam was obviously one of the very best fillies we ever had here, and we’re excited to see how this fella progresses.”

Royal Ascot on agenda for River Tiber and Unquestionable

Coventry Stakes hero RIVER TIBER could be back at Royal Ascot in June for the St James’s Palace Stakes on his second start of the season.

The son of Wootton Bassett was third in two Group 1 contests, the Prix Morny at Deauville and the Middle Park at Newmarket, before being scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita.

O’Brien feels River Tiber was not at his best on those two starts but is ‘delighted’ with how he has wintered. “We are delighted with him.

Ryan Moore looks across to see River Tiber has just edged out Army Ethos in the Coventry
Image: Ryan Moore looks across to see River Tiber has just edged out Army Ethos in the Coventry

He did great over the winter. We view him as a miler, so he’ll go away for that same bit of work with all the Guineas horses, and we’ll see where we are with him after that.”

“He’s very pacey, very fast. His work is always very good. It was tough with him last season as we didn’t feel he was absolutely 100% for Newmarket or Deauville, but we felt he needed to run as part of his education and progression.

We thought he was back to himself for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but that obviously didn’t work out there and we couldn’t run.

Bucanero Fuerte (far) holds off Unquestionable to win the Railway Stakes
Image: Bucanero Fuerte (far) holds off Unquestionable to win the Railway Stakes

“Ryan was going to ride him rather than the eventual winner Unquestionable. We’ll see about his starting point, but we’d love to get him the St James’s Palace Stakes after that.”

UNQUESTIONABLE took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, where he was set to meet River Tiber, but could now face him at Royal Ascot after taking in a version of the Guineas beforehand.

“He’s a very uncomplicated, straightforward horse and we were delighted with what he did last season, said the trainer.”

Diego Velazquez and Ryan Moore win for trainer Aidan O'Brien
Image: Diego Velazquez and Ryan Moore win for trainer Aidan O’Brien

Diego to bounce back

DIEGO VELAZQUEZ is also being considered for a shot a Classic glory in France after taking in a Derby trail and O’Brien believes the Group 2 KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes winner will bounce back after disappointing in the Group 1 Kameko Futurity Trophy.

“We’re not quite sure where he’ll start yet, but I’d say a Derby trial looks most likely at this stage. He could be one for the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly.

“Looking back at it, we probably should have withdrawn him prior to the Futurity Trophy Stakes at Doncaster. Our horse in the stall next to him went down and Diego got very upset. We shouldn’t have run him. We are happy to put a line through it and consider it a non-event. He’s a lot better than that and he’s a horse we like.”

Adams out for UAE Derby bid

HENRY ADAMS, fourth in both the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and the Dewhurst Stakes, is set to tackle the UAE Derby at Meydan on Saturday week with targets to be formulated after that run on a dirt surface.

“The plan at the minute is to send him to Dubai for the UAE Derby on dirt if his work this week goes well. He’s a No Nay Never and it’ll be very interesting to see how he gets on. We don’t have any plans set in stone for him after that and will be guided by how he handles the surface there.”

O’Brien team on Derby trail

Aside from the headline horses, O’Brien is likely to have the customary strength in depth in the Epsom Derby, as well as the Curragh version. He has won the Derby a record nine times and the Irish Derby a record 14 times.

Aidan has earmarked a trial at Chester for CAPULET, the Ballysax at Leopardstown for GROSVENOR SQUARE whilst other interesting three-year-old middle-distance colts include LOS ANGELES, OCEAN OF DREAMS and THE EUPHRATES.

Sky News
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