Just two runners at Naas on Sunday means Aidan O’Brien is adopting a low-key approach to the start of Ireland’s 2018 turf flat season although it could ultimately emerge as another dominant campaign for the world record-breaking trainer.

O’Brien dominates the looming classic picture with an overwhelmingly powerful team of three year old prospects including the 2,000 Guineas and Derby favourite Saxon Warrior.

Only the outstanding dual-Oaks heroine Enable prevented a Ballydoyle clean sweep of the British and Irish classics in 2017 and O’Brien is just 8-1 with one firm to win all five classic races in Ireland in 2018.

He is also just 5-2 to surpass 2017’s world record haul of 28 Group/Grade One victories while a 20th Irish trainer’s title in a row – and a seventh in Britain – are widely presumed to be near-inevitable.

However a possible first ever European victory in the Kentucky Derby in May would be new ground for the legendary trainer and Mendelssohn is set to go on trial for US racing’s most famous race in Dubai next weekend.

A UAE Derby clash with Gold Town presents the prospect of a classic Godolphin v Coolmore clash in the desert. Idaho (Sheema Classic) and Lancaster Bomber (Dubai Turf) could also make the journey to the Middle East where conditions will be very different to what’s in prospect at Naas.

Heavy ground will be a major test for horses that have had to be prepared in freezing conditions in recent weeks.

Dermot Weld endured a frustrating first half of 2017 when his yard was hit by a virus. His fortunes improved though towards the end of the season when he unearthed potential classic prospects including the promising maiden winner Contingent.

Step up

However Weld has admitted he expects his five runners at Naas to improve significantly from their first starts.

“We were pretty held up by the snow on the Curragh and we weren’t alone in that. I think my horses were more forward three weeks ago. It was very hard to exercise horses and it put us back. I think the runners on Sunday will step up considerably on their first starts,” he said on Friday.

Weld was keen to point out how his fortunes improved in the second half of 2017 and said: “I wouldn’t swap some of the two year olds I won with at the end of the year.

“We will review things with Contingency and the others later in the Spring. She [Contingency] is in great form but I’ve done nothing with her yet with the weather the way it’s been the last few weeks.”

Weld’s Sorelle Delle Rose is one of 21 declared for the €100,000 Tote Irish Lincolnshire as Naas continues to fill in for the Curragh which will again stage a curtailed programme this year due to redevelopment.

Top cross-channel based trainer Richard Fahey runs two in the Lincolnshire but considering he brings assured stamina and fitness from hurdling through the winter, On The Go Again could be a value option.

Making Light is the Weld runner in the Group Three Lodge Park Express Stakes and there’s just a short head between her and Elegant Pose on Garnet Stakes form over the course and distance in October.

Elegant Pose will operate in the conditions too however and could be more open to improvement under champion jockey Colin Keane.

O’Brien’s two runners, Hence and Full Moon, go in maidens and should prove tough to beat. The latter has course experience on soft ground while Hence is a full sister to no less than Alice Springs.


Article courtesy of:  Brian O’Connor. The Irish Times.