St Mark’s Basilica swoops for French Classic glory
It is 19 years since the Ballydoyle handler first landed the French 2000 Guineas with Landseer in 2002, subsequently adding to his tally with Aussie Rules (2006), Astronomer Royal (2007) and The Gurkha (2016).
Making his first appearance since winning the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October under Frankie Dettori, St Mark’s Basilica was a 9-4 chance in the hands of Ioritz Mendizabal, who initially settled his mount in midfield.
Some early scrimmaging meant he got shuffled back in the back, but he began to make inroads on the pacesetters rounding the home turn and was switched wide to deliver his challenge.
Once asked to extend fully, St Mark’s Basilica showed a sizzling turn of foot to charge to the front and he was well on top at the line.
Jim Bolger’s 2-1 favourite Poetic Flare – bidding to double his Classic tally following success in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket a fortnight ago – was stuck behind a wall of horses early in the home straight. He was staying on at the finish and passed the post in sixth.
St Mark’s Basilica was due to contest last year’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, but he had to sidestep the engagement due to an issue with suspected contaminated feed, with the colt then rerouted to the Dewhurst.
A second French visit could now be in prospect for next month’s Prix du Jockey-Club over 10 furlongs, although the St James’s Palace Stakes at Ascot provides an alternative over a mile.
O’Brien said: “The plan last year was that he would go to the Lagardere and then on to there.
“He quickens very well. He has an option to go to Ascot or go back for the French Derby. The original plan was that he would go there and back for the French Derby.
The original plan was that he would go there and back for the French Derby
“He’s been working lovely and you saw the way he progressed through last year.
“They all couldn’t go to Newmarket and when he was to go to France last year, we said we’d stick that way.”
Mendizabal was teaming up with St Mark’s Basilica for the first time and O’Brien added: “He gave him a good ride and rode for us before when second on Lope Y Fernandez at Deauville last year.”
The jockey was thrilled to ride for the Ballydoyle handler again.
He said: “It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to ride for Aidan O’Brien. As he is able to successfully tune a colt to win a Group One race first time out, that’s why he’s the best trainer in the world.
“It took me a little while to get a position. I was able to get on the tail of Sealiway, who was one of the leading fancies. He gave us a tow to the 300-metre mark. My mount really was a cut above the rest.”