European Report: O'Brien Horses Dominate in Classic

Published in the June 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
Trainer Aidan O'Brien dazzled his home fans when he dominated the Entenmann's-sponsored Irish Guineas races May 26 and 27. On May 26, Black Minnaloushe led a one-two-three sweep in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) for the 31-year-old, and 24 hours later Imagine, also owned by Susan Magnier, led a one-three-four result in the One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I).

Seamus Heffernan, second in line to Michael Kinane when riding assignments at Ballydoyle are handed out, got the biggest win of his career on the 16-1 Imagine, while Johnny Murtagh, coming off a dozen group/grade I wins last season, came in for the ride on 20-1 Black Minnaloushe. Kinane finished third in both mile events, on 2-1 favorite Minardi in the Two Thousand and aboard Toroca, 11-2 second-choice behind 9-2 Crystal Music in the One Thousand.

Heffernan-partnered Mozart held a six-length lead after a half-mile in the Two Thousand and looked ready to steal the race late when Minardi failed to mount a serious challenge. But Black Minnaloushe charged up the rail to win by two lengths over Mozart with Minardi three-quarters of a length back in third. Principal English hope Tamburlaine, second to Golan in the Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) at Newmarket where Minardi was a troubled fourth, could finish only fifth.

Black Minnaloushe, a half-brother to Two Thousand winner Pennekamp, won both his starts as a juvenile but had been winless from three 2001 outings prior to the Irish Two Thousand, most recently seventh behind Noverre in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (Fr-I, Two Thousand Guineas equivalent). Both are now headed for Royal Ascot's St. James's Palace Stakes (Eng-I).

Imagine, a half-sister to Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner Generous, was an equally impressive going-away winner of the Irish One Thousand, coming late to collar Crystal Music inside the final furlong to claim the £126,675 ($138,438) prize by two lengths with the same distance back to Toroca, who was third in the One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) at Newmarket where Crystal Music was fourth. This was a second Guineas success this year for O'Brien after 14-1 Rose Gypsy collected the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (Fr-I) at Longchamp.

"This weekend has been a great result for us and also taught us a lot about where we'll be going from now on," said O'Brien.

Bookmaker Ladbroke cut Imagine, who was winning her first race from three 2001 starts in the Curragh classic, to 3-1 favorite for the Epsom Oaks (Eng-I) behind the Queen's Flight of Fancy. Her Majesty won the 1989 Arlington Handicap (gr. IT) with Unknown Quantity but hasn't won a group I race in Europe since Dunfermline took the Oaks and St. Leger (Eng-I) in 1977.

Golan remains a general 2-1 favorite for the Epsom Derby, but several bookmakers tightened the price on O'Brien's second-choice Galileo after the trainer's Irish Guineas fireworks. He had previously completed the Irish Two/One Thousand double with Desert King and Classic Park in 1997.

Also on the Curragh card was the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-I) over an extended 10 furlongs. This featured the return to action of the Aga Khan's Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner Kalanisi, but the globetrotting Fantastic Light, winner of last year's Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) in September, stuck to his guns to claim a neck victory over Golden Snake. Kalanisi was three lengths back in third in the field of six.

Fantastic Light, 5-4 favorite to Kalanisi's 7-4, won the Emirates World Series last year but will be campaigned more in Europe this season, his major goals being the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. (Fr-I).

"He won as we expected him to," said jockey Frankie Dettori. "He perhaps likes a bit firmer ground but I was always holding the runner-up."