Evaluating the O'Brien Nominees to the Triple Crown

Evaluating the O'Brien Nominees to the Triple Crown
By Dick Downey

Nine Irish-based, Aiden O'Brien-trained colts, led by ONE COOL CAT and GRAND REWARD, were nominated to the 2004 VISA Triple Crown Challenge. Only one of them, TUMBLEBRUTUS, has raced in the United States.

O'Brien's prior starters in the Kentucky Derby were Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo in the 2002 running. Johannesburg, the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, came into the Derby off only one prep race at age three and finished eighth after drawing post position one. Castle Gandolfo ran 12th.

All nine of these nominees were bred in the United States. Here's a review of the performances of the "O'Brien Nine" to date.

ANTONIUS PIUS. Danzig/Pursuit Of Love mare Catchascatchcan. His first outing was back on May 14 when he was easily the best of only three starters on the Gowran Park turf at seven furlongs, going in 1:35. He won by six lengths. On June 29 he won the group II Anheuser-Busch Railway Stakes over six furlongs at The Curragh when he was fifth after three furlongs, was challenged and repelled that about three sixteenths out, then won with aplomb. He failed to follow through, though, when he was eleventh of 12 in the Group I Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on October 18. He got away slowly but then was pulling. Within striking position, he faded in the final of seven furlongs.

BOOK OF KINGS. Kingmambo/Honfleur. He is unraced.

CALL THE CAT. Storm Cat/Phone Chatter. He has yet to distinguish himself on the track.

GRAND REWARD. Storm Cat/Rahy mare Serena's Song. He won his debut over 13 others on May 17 in a six furlong race at Newbury when he gained command in the final furlong, getting there in 1:14 1/2. He ran third of nine in the group II Scottish Equitable Gimcrack Stakes at York on Aug. 20. Actually, he was fourth but encountered rough interference in the final stages of the six furlong race and was moved up. He "stayed on well" inside the final furlong. BALMONT won the race in 1:11.70. On Sept. 19 he competed in the Group II Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury, where BYRON got his revenge of sorts--for his was the disqualification that moved GRAND REWARD up in his previous race. GRAND REWARD did get second placing, however. While he was not a serious threat to the winner, he did show the willingness to stay off the pace and pass horses at the end. That affair went in 1:12 3/5. He had his worst outing, placement-wise, on Oct. 3 when he was sixth of 12 in the group I Shadwell Stud Park Stakes at Newmarket. He didn't act the part that day. He was unruly at the gate and dwelt at the start, but he again showed some late kick, just not enough. The prize went to THREE VALLEYS, who got the six furlongs in 1:10 3/5.

KING HESPERUS. Kingmambo/Exbourne mare Victorica. On June 1 at Gowran Park he was good enough for second by a half length to ALL IS FORGIVEN in a seven furlong. He broke his maiden second time out when he defeated five others at Leopardstown, going six furlongs in 1:16.70 on yielding turf. He hasn't raced since July 10 when he was third in the group III Weatherbys Superlative Stakes at Newmarket. On good to firm turf he couldn't get by KING'S POINT, who raced seven furlongs in 1:24 2/5.

OFFENBACH. Danzig/Alydar mare Aquilegia. He is the most recent to race among these, having broken his maiden in his first and only 2003 start at Leopardstown on November 8. He must be game because he was the best in an 18 horse field. He got the seven furlongs in 1:29.70.

ONE COOL CAT. Storm Cat/Mr. Prospector mare Tacha. After breaking his maiden at York in his second start, on July 13 he won the 1200 meter, group III Dubai Duty Free Anglesey Stakes at The Curragh in 1:17 3/5 on good turf.

He followed that with a win in the group I Independent Waterford Wedgewood Phoenix Stakes, run over six furlongs at The Curragh on 8-10, defeating stable mate OLD DEUTERONOMY and THREE VALLEYS and going in 1:11 and change. "This is basically a seven-furlong or a mile horse so to do what he has done over six furlongs says a lot about him," O'Brien told The Racing Post. "He is a unique colt and a very relaxed one. The moves he makes in the middle of his work would knock you dead." He then ran his stakes record to three-for-three by winning the group I Dunnes Stores National Stakes, this one run on September 14 over seven furlongs at The Curragh. He was timed in 1:23 1/5 and then put up for the winter. In November this U. S.-bred colt was named winner of the Cartier Award for best juvenile in Europe.

THE MIGHTY TIGER. Storm Cat/Deputy Minister mare Clear Mandate. He broke his maiden at The Curragh in his second start but failed to win in his next two efforts, running second to LUCKY STORY in the seven furlong, group II Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes at Goodwood on July 30, followed by a third place finish to PEARL OF LOVE and TUMBLEBRUTUS on August 23 in the Group II Galileo E.B.F. Futurity Stakes.

TUMBLEBRUTUS. Storm Cat/Rahy mare Mariah's Storm. A full brother to Giant's Causeway, he broke his maiden in his third start. Next out, as we have noted, he ran second to PEARL OF LOVE in Ireland's grade II EBF Futurity Stakes on August 23. He was flown to the U.S. to compete in the one mile, grade I Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park on September 14. He was rank at the post and came away awkwardly. It just never got any better after that, and he was last of six, beaten 25 lengths by CUVEE.

Note: O'Brien trained OLD DEUTERONOMY as a juvenile and pre-entered him in the 2003 grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but the colt was pulled from the race and was not sent over from Ireland. However, the colt is now owned by trainer Niall O'Callaghan and is stabled at Payson Park where he's put in two works at three furlongs. He is also nominated to Triple Crown.

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