Aidan O’Brien is bidding for a fifth straight leading trainer award at Royal Ascot next week – and with a powerful array of talent among his team once again this year, he is odds-on favourite for a 10th title in all.
The Ballydoyle trainer enjoyed his first Royal meeting success with Harbour Master in the Coventry Stakes of 1997, and his current total of 65 winners is bettered only by Sir Michael Stoute of those still training.
O’Brien has leading contenders in the Queen Anne Stakes, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Commonwealth Cup and Gold Cup – all forming part of the Qipco British Champions Series, which has eight races under its umbrella during the week, each carrying at least £500,000 in prize-money.
The Gold Cup is a race close to O’Brien’s heart, having won it four times alone with the incredible Yeats – whose last Ascot triumph came 10 years ago.
“It’s amazing to think it’s 10 years since the last of his Gold Cups – time does fly,” said O’Brien.
“He was an incredible horse, to win four Gold Cups was out of this world – for a horse to do that was incredible.
“Another great thing about him is that he’s now a very successful National Hunt stallion for Coolmore.”
The meeting always kicks off with a bang in the form of the Queen Anne Stakes, and O’Brien’s big hope is Le Brivido – who looked unfortunate not to be closer than fifth in the Lockinge last time out.
“Le Brivido ran a very good race in the Lockinge, Ryan (Moore) just said that he got caught up in traffic at a bad time when the race was just getting going,” said O’Brien.
“We felt he ran a very good race and we’ve been very happy with him since then. In an ideal world you’d just like nice ground for him – he’s got a lovely action, so as long it’s nice ground he’d be fine.”
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes is the highlight of Wednesday’s action and is shaping up to arguably be the best contest of the entire meeting, with Magical lining up for Ballydoyle.
A winner on British Champions Day, the Galileo filly pushed Enable close at the Breeders’ Cup and has won three times this season, without being extended.
“Magical has done everything right so far this season and has won three races – we’re looking forward to running her,” said O’Brien.
“Last year we were getting her ready for the Investec Oaks, but she had a setback which meant we just had to go gentle for a lot of the year with her.
“She just started to get it together before Ascot when she won the Fillies’ And Mares’, and then she went to America – where she was just beaten by Enable.”
A star so far this year for O’Brien has been Hermosa – winning the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Tattersalls-sponsored equivalent at the Curragh, particularly emphatic in the latter.
It was initially expected she would step up to 10 furlongs for the Prix de Diane, but the decision was made to keep her at a mile.
O’Brien said: “I suppose she was a very good filly last year, a top-drawer filly because she was only just beaten in the Fillies’ Mile. She has progressed physically over the winter, so it was always possible that she would improve.
“Obviously we were delighted with what she did at Newmarket, and to win the way she did again at the Curragh. We’re looking forward to running her and decided to keep her at a mile for now.”
Ten Sovereigns was unbeaten in three races in a short period of time last season, culminating in success in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.
Sent off favourite for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, he ran well before his stamina appeared to possibly give way – and he reverts to sprinting for the Commonwealth Cup on Friday.
“We were delighted with Ten Sovereigns in the Guineas – and we were always thinking in our mind that we would run him in the Guineas and then bring him back for this race,” said O’Brien.
“We’ve been delighted with him since Newmarket and we’re looking forward to getting him back over six furlongs.
“He travelled so well in the Guineas – he ran a great race – but this was the trip he was very comfortable at last year, so you’d imagine he’ll be happy.
“He was still in front on his side in the Guineas until late on, having been up there all the way, so we were actually delighted with him in the Guineas.”
For many the Gold Cup is still the highlight of the week – and given O’Brien has won it more times than anyone (seven), it is safe to say he targets it.
This year he runs two Classic winners, Capri (2017 Irish Derby and St Leger) and last year’s St Leger winner Kew Gardens.
O’Brien feels class, as much as stamina, is crucial to winning the race.
“You can never be sure about a horse getting two and a half miles, but we always thought Kew Gardens had a chance of getting the trip,” he said.
“You can’t ever be sure a horse will stay – it’s an extreme distance, and you never gallop them over that far, obviously – but we’re looking forward to running him in it.
“Kew Gardens has a very similar profile to Yeats. He was favourite for the Derby before he got injured, of course, and both of them ran in the Coronation Cup as a four-year-old before going on to run in the Gold Cup. So we always thought Kew Gardens might be a horse for the Gold Cup.
“While they obviously have to have stamina, they won’t win it if they don’t have class – and Capri won an Irish Derby and Kew Gardens the St Leger, so hopefully they have that.”