Wembley heads O’Brien trio chasing Guineas glory
It is 23 years since the Ballydoyle maestro first landed the Rowley Mile Classic with King Of Kings, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of Rock of Gibraltar (2002), George Washington (2006), Camelot (2012) and, most recently, Magna Grecia (2019).
Each of the trainer’s three candidates this year boast strong credentials, with Ryan Moore preferring Wembley over stablemates Battleground and Van Gogh.
Wembley makes his first appearance since being narrowly beaten by another O’Brien-trained colt, St Mark’s Basilica, in the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.
“The plan with Wembley was always to come back here after the Dewhurst last year,” said the trainer.
“Everything went well with him during the winter and through the spring. Ryan knows him well and we’re very happy with him really.
“He got caught in bad ground in a few races last season and really progressed as he went on. Our horses were a little bit slow to hand last year, with the season being a bit messy, and it all happened a little bit too quick for some of them.”
As a son of his Arc heroine Found, O’Brien has always had a soft spot for Battleground, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori.
Winner of the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last summer, the War Front colt rounded off his juvenile campaign by finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.
O’Brien said: “Battleground is a big, long-striding horse who ran very well in America. He just got caught in a little bit of traffic early and was maybe a bit further back than Ryan would have liked, but he ran home very well.
“He’s by War Front, so he should like the ground. He seems in good form and we think he’s ready to start off.
“Found was a big mare and very genuine. Battleground is a big horse, too – he’s a very high cruiser, which she was as well.
“Frankie is a great rider and we’re delighted to have him.”
You can make very strong cases for them all - they all have their plusses and minuses
Van Gogh, the mount of Seamie Heffernan, is the only one of the trio to have already struck Group One gold, having landed the Criterium International in testing conditions at Saint-Cloud last autumn.
O’Brien does not expect the forecast fast ground at Newmarket to be an issue, adding: “Van Gogh ran on fastish ground early on and finished at Saint-Cloud on very soft to heavy ground. I think it’s just the way the season worked out and the way the ground was.
“He’s a good-moving horse and we always thought he’d get further than a mile. We’re hoping that he’ll be OK (on the ground).
“You can make very strong cases for them all – they all have their pluses and minuses.
“I’d say it would be a very hard one to split.”
Aidan O’Brien’s son Joseph, who won the 2000 Guineas as a rider aboard Camelot, has high hopes of breaking his duck as a trainer in the first Classic of the season with Thunder Moon.
The son of Zoffany had Wembley behind him when winning last season’s National Stakes at the Curragh, but that form was reversed in the Dewhurst, with Thunder Moon having to settle for third place.
O’Brien junior feels the prevailing soft ground contributed to that defeat and is delighted with how his charge has progressed since.
He said: “Thunder Moon is really good, wintered very well and had a really good season last year. He ran a really good race in the Dewhurst when the ground was as slow as he would have liked.
“This race has been the plan, he’s going in good shape, we’re happy with the draw (stall 10) and we’re looking forward to the race.
“In the Dewhurst, we would have preferred better ground and a better draw. He travelled well and quickened up well, but just got run out of it. We thought better ground and a better draw would have helped us get closer and we’re hoping that might happen at the weekend.
“He’s always shown a lot of pace, he has a big turn of foot, which he showed on the track last year, and he’s working satisfactorily at home. Please god, he can prove himself a high-class colt this season.
“We’re excited, we think he’s the right type for the race – he’s a mature, pacey type and we think a mile is a good trip for him.
“Wembley is probably the obvious danger as he was very consistent last season.”
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