Churchill central to O'Brien's plans as he chases down Frankel's record
Aidan O’Brien gave a sneak preview on Tuesday of his battle plans for Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday, when he is an even-money chance to establish a world record for Group 1 winners on the Flat in a calendar year.
Churchill, Cliffs Of Moher and Caravaggio look set to spearhead Ballydoyle’s star-studded team on a stage Betway rate favourite to provide the all-conquering trainer with a 26th top-level victory of 2017, which would surpass Bobby Frankel’s benchmark figure.
O’Brien, who currently has 24 Group 1 successes this year, boasts the market leader for Saturday’s Caulfield Cup in Johannes Vermeer, so could have drawn level with Frankel before the action kicks off at Ascot, where he will be strongly represented in all four Group 1s.
Which of those dual 2,000 Guineas hero Churchill contests remained in the balance on Tuesday, O’Brien saying: “It’s not definite yet whether Churchill will drop back to a mile in the QEII or run in the Champion Stakes. We'll be talking things over, keeping an eye on the ground and leaving a decision as late as possible."
Churchill remains on a recovery mission, having failed to win in three attempts since completing his Classic double at the Curragh in May.
He is 4-1 second favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes but a 12-1 shot for the Champion Stakes, likewise backed by Qipco, while Paddy Power make him 10-1 favourite to be the horse to achieve O’Brien's landmark.
While a decision on Churchill is awaited, O’Brien said Cliffs Of Moher and Highland Reel are likely runners in the Champion Stakes, which is shaping up to be one of the races of the year.
Caravaggio is set to return to the scene of his Commonwealth Cup victory in June, with O'Brien confirming him on course to clash with Harry Angel and co in the Champions Sprint.
“Caravaggio is in good form and will run in the Sprint,” said the trainer.
Hydrangea, winner of the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown last month and then beaten a head by stablemate Rhododendron in the Prix de l'Opera, will step up to a mile and a half for the first time in the Fillies & Mares.
O'Brien added: "The plan is to run Hydrangea in the Fillies & Mares. Rhododendron is in the same race and also the Champion Stakes, but we may keep her for the Breeders' Cup. Seventh Heaven is more likely to wait for the Breeders’ Cup Turf instead of running in the Fillies & Mares.
"Roly Poly is in the QEII but she too could wait for the Breeders' Cup."
Four-time Group 1 winner Winter was the most notable Ascot absentee at the forfeit stage on Monday, and O’Brien revealed plans are on hold.
"Winter hasn't been 100 per cent since running in the Arc and we're going to wait a bit longer before making plans," he said.
Order Of St George is not part of Ballydoyle's Group 1 quest on Saturday but is very much an intended runner at Ascot – he is general 6-4 favourite for the Group 2 Long Distance Cup.
Cliffs Of Moher, Highland Reel and Seventh Heaven, along with Idaho, featured in the nominations unveiled on Tuesday for the Japan Cup on November 26, as did Winx, although the Australian wondermare’s priority is a third Cox Plate later this month.
Where will Aidan O’Brien break Bobby Frankel’s Group 1 winners record?
Betway evens Ascot, 15-8 Doncaster, 11-2 Del Mar, 16 doesn’t break record, 20 Flemington, 33 any other venue
Which horse will be Aidan O’Brien’s 26th top-flight winner of 2017?
Paddy Power 10 Churchill, 18 Cliffs Of Moher, 28 Rhododendron, 33 Highland Reel, Seventh Heaven, 50 Hydrangea, 66 Roly Poly, Sir John Lavery, 80 Lancaster Bomber, 100 War Decree, Wild Irish Rose
Read exclusive previews from 6pm daily on racingpost.com