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Monday, 19 November, 2018

Fourteen and counting: can O'Brien beat Frankel's Grade 1 record?

Aidan O'Brien: plenty of ammunition to hit record of 25 Group or Grade 1 wins in a year
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Fourteen down, 12 to go. Bobby Frankel's record of 25 Group or Grade 1 wins in a year is once again under pressure from Aidan O'Brien, who is 5-2 with Paddy Power to achieve the feat this year. David Jennings assesses the Ballydoyle trainer's chances


There are 17 Group 1s remaining in Britain and Ireland this season and Aidan O'Brien has won 14 of them before, the exceptions being the Haydock Sprint Cup, British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes and, surprisingly, the Champion Stakes.

There are 12 Group 1s still up for grabs in France too, while there are opportunities in Hong Kong and Australia, not to mention a glut of Grade 1 targets in North America. The races are there – it is simply a case of finding horses to win them. 

Irish Champions Weekend, you sense, will be pivotal. Churchill is favourite for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, while globetrotting Highland Reel could provide back-up. Paddy Power quote 2-5 that O'Brien wins the race for an eighth time.

O'Brien has the option of pitching Winter in against the boys in that race, but the dual 1,000 Guineas heroine is 4-7 to win the Matron Stakes the same day, which would look a more appropriate target. She has already contributed four top-flight victories this term.

Winter (centre), seen winning the Nassau Stakes, is an odds-on shot for the Matron Stakes

There are three Group 1s up for grabs on day two of Irish Champions Weekend. O'Brien won all three in 2015, with Minding (Moyglare), Air Force Blue (National Stakes) and Order Of St George (Irish St Leger), and it is not fanciful to think he could complete the same treble.

Unless Big Orange contests the Irish St Leger, Order Of St George should have it all his own way as he looked back to his brilliant best in a trial for the race this month.

O'Brien has a host of exciting juvenile fillies to throw at the Moyglare, most notably Clemmie, Happily, Magical and September. He would be a very skinny price to win that contest. 

It is a similar story in the National Stakes, a race O'Brien has won 11 times, including for the past three years with Gleneagles, Air Force Blue and Churchill.

That could be the next port of call for the exciting Gustav Klimt, who did well to steal the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last month having suffered traffic problems. 

There are five Group 1s over the two days of Irish Champions Weekend and O'Brien is likely to have the favourite for each one. If he takes them all, Bobby Frankel's record will be under serious threat. Four would do nicely. Three, you feel, is the minimum he would need to stay in contention for a new record. 

Order Of St George: looks back to his best and goes for the Irish St Leger

The Sprint Cup at Haydock – the same day as the Irish Champion and Matron – looks out of O'Brien's reach with Caravaggio not certain to line up. Even if he does, he would have it all to do to reverse July Cup form with Harry Angel. 

Irish Derby winner Capri has topped the St Leger market ever since that gutsy Curragh win and looks the number one hope of providing O'Brien with a fifth success in the Doncaster Classic.

There is sure to be a decent B team from Ballydoyle too, with the likes of Venice Beach, Sir John Lavery and Yucatan looking ideal types. 

Five Group 1s remain at Newmarket and O'Brien looks sure to have runners in all of them – not only runners, but genuine contenders. 

The Ballydoyle maestro sent out Brave Anna to win the Cheveley Park last year and has the likes of Clemmie and Magical to aim at the fillies' event this time around. Roly Poly won the Falmouth and could return to Newmarket for the Sun Chariot, Sioux Nation has Middle Park written all over him, and September could bid to restore her reputation in the Fillies' Mile. 

Qipco Champions Day at Ascot on October 21 is another hugely important date in the calendar. Winter and Churchill are entered for both the Champion Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, a race the trainer won last year with filly Minding. 

Amedeo Modigliani looked special when galloping away from his rivals in a Galway maiden and could lead O'Brien's assault on the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. The Pentagon is another potential runner, and an eighth O'Brien win in the race is a distinct possibility. 

There is plenty to play for in France and Paddy Power make O'Brien a 7-1 shot to win a third Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, while there are six other Group 1s on Arc weekend, most of which Ballydoyle will have runners in. 

Later in October comes the Criterium International, a race O'Brien has won with Mount Nelson (2006), Jan Vermeer (2009), Roderic O'Connor (2010) and Johannes Vermeer (2015), and The Pentagon could have it on his radar this time around. 

Further afield, O'Brien will be hoping − and needing – to do better than he has managed in the US so far this year, with Idaho last weekend his seventh runner of 2017 to be beaten on the other side of the Atlantic. Last year the trainer bagged two Grade 1 winners stateside courtesy of Deauville and Highland Reel. 

O'Brien's previous best annual Group 1 tally is 23, set in 2001 and 2008, while he managed 22 in 2016, when at this stage of the year he had netted a dozen top-flight winners. 

Given that he is ahead of that this time round and appears to have more autumn ammunition this year, 5-2 looks a decent price about Frankel's 2003 record being broken.

REMAINING GROUP 1s IN 2017

IRELAND

MATRON STAKES 
Leopardstown, September 9
O'Brien's previous winners: Lilly Lantry (2010), Alice Springs (2016)
O'Brien's possible contenders: Winter, Roly Poly, Alice Springs, Rhododendron, Rain Goddess
O'Brien's best chance: Winter

IRISH CHAMPION STAKES
Leopardstown, September 9
Previous winners: Giant's Causeway (2000), High Chaparral (2003), Oratorio (2005), Dylan Thomas (2006, 2007), Cape Blanco (2010), So You Think (2011)
Possible contenders: Churchill, Winter, Highland Reel, Rhododendron, Deauville, Cliffs Of Moher
Best chance: Churchill

MOYGLARE STUD STAKES
Curragh, September 10
Previous winners: Sequoyah (2000), Quarter Moon (2001), Necklace (2003), Rumplestiltskin (2005), Misty for Me (2010), Maybe (2011), Minding (2015)
Possible contenders: Clemmie, Happily, Magical, September, Actress, Sizzling, Ballet Shoes
Best chance: Clemmie

NATIONAL STAKES 
Curragh, September 10
Previous winners: Desert King (1996), King Of Kings (1997), Beckett (2000), Hawk Wing (2001), One Cool Cat (2003), George Washington (2005), Mastercraftsman (2008), Power (2011), Gleneagles (2014), Air Force Blue (2015), Churchill (2016)
Possible contenders: The Pentagon, Saxon Warrior, Gustav Klimt, Amedeo Modigliani, Sioux Nation
Best chance: Gustav Klimt

IRISH ST LEGER
Curragh, September 10
Previous winners: Yeats (2007), Septimus (2008), Order Of St George (2015)
Possible contenders: Order Of St George, Idaho, US Army Ranger
Best chance: Order Of St George

BRITAIN

SPRINT CUP
Haydock, September 9
Previous winners: None
Possible contenders: Caravaggio, Spirit Of Valor, Washington DC, Cougar Mountain, Intelligence Cross
Best chance: Caravaggio

ST LEGER
Doncaster, September 16
Previous winners: Milan (2001), Brian Boru (2003), Scorpion (2005), Leading Light (2013)
Possible contenders: Capri, Venice Beach, Sir John Lavery, Yucatan, Orderofthegarter, Douglas Macarthur
Best chance: Capri

CHEVELEY PARK STAKES
Newmarket, September 30
Previous winners: Brave Anna (2016)
Possible contenders: Clemmie, Happily, Magical, September, Actress, Sizzling, Ballet Shoes
Best chance: Clemmie

MIDDLE PARK STAKES
Newmarket, September 30
Previous winners: Minardi (2000), Johannesburg (2001), Ad Valorem (2004), Crusade (2011)
Possible contenders: Sioux Nation, Gustav Klimt, US Navy Flag 
Best chance: Sioux Nation

SUN CHARIOT STAKES
Newmarket, October 7 
Previous winners: Halfway To Heaven (2008), Alice Springs (2016)
Possible contenders: Winter, Roly Poly, Alice Springs, Rhododendron, Rain Goddess
Best chance: Roly Poly

FILLIES' MILE
Newmarket, October 13
Previous winners: Sunspangled (1998), Listen (2007), Together Forever (2014), Minding (2015), Rhododendron (2016)
Possible contenders: Clemmie, Happily, Magical, September, Actress, Sizzling, Ballet Shoes
Best chance: Happily

DEWHURST STAKES
Newmarket, October 14
Previous winners: Rock Of Gibraltar (2001), Beethoven (2009), War Command (2013), Air Force Blue (2015), Churchill (2016)
Possible contenders: The Pentagon, Saxon Warrior, Gustav Klimt, Amedeo Modigliani, Sioux Nation
Best chance: Gustav Klimt

BRITISH CHAMPION FILLIES & MARES STAKES
Ascot, October 21
Previous winners: None
Possible contenders: Alluringly, Pocketfullofdreams
Best chance: Alluringly

QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES
Ascot, October 21
Previous winners: George Washington (2006), Rip Van Winkle (2009), Excelebration (2012), Minding (2016)
Possible contenders: Churchill, Winter, Rhododendron, Deauville, Cliffs Of Moher, Alice Springs 
Best chance: Winter

CHAMPION STAKES 
Ascot, October 21
Previous winners: None
Possible contenders: Churchill, Winter, Rhododendron, Deauville, Cliffs Of Moher,
Best chance: Churchill

BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES
Ascot, October 21
Previous winners: Bianconi (1998)
Possible contenders: Caravaggio, Spirit Of Valor, Washington DC, Cougar Mountain, Intelligence Cross
Best chance: Caravaggio

RACING POST TROPHY 
Doncaster, October 28
Previous winners: Saratoga Springs (1997), Aristotle (1999), High Chaparral (2001), Brian Boru (2002), St Nicholas Abbey (2009), Camelot (2011), Kingsbarns (2012)
Possible contenders: The Pentagon, Saxon Warrior, Gustav Klimt, Amedeo Modigliani, Sioux Nation
Best chance: Amedeo Modigliani

There are 17 Group 1s remaining in Ireland and Britain and O'Brien has won all but three of them before
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