Elusive City, supplemented to Thursday's Middle Park Stakes.

Elusive City, supplemented to Thursday's Middle Park Stakes.

Trevor Jones

With Stable Under Pressure, O'Brien Loads Up in Middle Park Stakes

By Richard Griffiths
The pressure is building on the Ballydoyle juvenile team. Just one winner from 20 runners in Britain this season is an appalling record, especially compared to the smash and grab successes of last year.

Sure, some of those runners have only been "sighters" for the better quality 2-year-olds. Others, such as the world's most expensive yearling Van Nistelrooy -- beaten without excuse at Ascot on Saturday -- have not. Besides, even if it is only the "sighters" that are beaten, it does not reflect well on the higher class horses they precede.

It could just be that Aidan O'Brien's team has been scuppered by the virus that brought his yard to a virtual standstill in the summer. Maybe that has inevitably knocked his juveniles out of kilter, and that the best is yet to come.

Thursday's Shadwell Stud Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I) should tell us more. Typifying his blanket policy, O'Brien will saddle four of the 11 runners, in a race that promises no hiding place. The O'Brien quartet is headed by Tomahawk, whose defeat at odds of 1-2 in the Chesham Stakes provided the shock of Royal Ascot. This will be his first run since that short head second.

Likewise, Irrawaddy has also not been seen since the Royal meeting where he had little luck in running in the Norfolk Stakes. Runner number three, Ontario, who was fourth in his chosen Royal Ascot assignment, went on to win the Anglesey Stakes (Ire-III) at The Curragh, but he was only fifth when he returned there for the Phoenix Stakes (Ire-I) in August.

"All our horses lost a lot of ground with the cough in the middle of the season and they need experience," O'Brien told racingpost.co.uk.

"These four are horses who always showed plenty of pace and they all seem to be in good form. In addition to Mick Kinane, we have booked Kevin Darley, Jamie Spencer and Johnny Murtagh. I would say it will be Wednesday before we decide who rides which horses."

O'Brien's fourth runner, Miguel Cervantes, was fourth to Zafeen when sent to Newbury for the Mill Reef. Zafeen will be one of the favorites for the Middle Park, with his trainer Mick Channon expecting improvement from the son of Zafonic.

Mind you, Kieren Fallon believes there has been significant improvement in Elusive City since his success in the Prix Morny in August. The Thoroughbred Corporation-owned colt is one of two supplementaries for the race at a cost of £12,000, the other being Godolphin's Gimcrack Stakes (Eng-I) winner Country Reel.