How Aidan O'Brien has faced up to Sea The Stars, Frankel and Stradivarius
As Aidan O'Brien prepares to take on Enable in the King George, we look back at his strategies when it has come to tackling three more superstars of the turf . . .
Sea The Stars (2008-09)
A half-brother to Coolmore's own super-stallion Galileo, there were sound commercial as well as sporting reasons to throw plenty of different horses at Sea The Stars.
Across seven Group races, O'Brien saddled 25 runners against Sea The Stars. They were all beaten, although some of them could be classed as outsiders acting as pacemakers.
With stamina a question mark against Sea The Stars heading into the Derby, O'Brien resisted the temptation to make it an end-to-end gallop – as evidenced by early leader Golden Sword finishing a close-up fifth – and was responsible for the next four home after the now dual Classic winner.
Derby fourth Rip Van Winkle made John Oxx's stable star pull out plenty in the Eclipse, while Mastercraftsman was sent in to bat at York in a four-runner race where O'Brien saddled three, much like this year's King George.
Derby runner-up Fame And Glory led the charge in both the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc, though ultimately the result remained the same.
Ballydoyle took a quite different approach when it came to the freakish Frankel, picking and choosing their fights carefully.
Having aimed two colts at the Royal Lodge Stakes – a race Frankel won by ten lengths – O'Brien became extremely selective.
Only the bit-part player Windsor Palace ever faced Frankel more than twice, while arguably the most telling statistic is that no Ballydoyle runners lined up in four of his nine races at three and four.
Coolmore's view of Frankel is best exemplified by their purchase of Excelebration, a colt he defeated three times as a three-year-old and would follow him home again twice at four.
His ability to even live in the same stratosphere ratings-wise as Frankel added value, a comment that also applies to St James's Palace Stakes runner-up Zoffany, who got closer than any of his stablemates when going down by three quarters of a length at Ascot in 2011.
O'Brien has so much middle-distance talent at his disposal that his presence as a major player in the leading staying races – a division loved by the Coolmore partners for sporting reasons as much as any other – is almost a given.
While Stradivarius is arguably the best stayer since O'Brien's own Yeats, it is as much a function of the fixture list and the opportunities available that mean he will invariably field serious rivals.
O'Brien has saddled 24 runners against Stradivarius at 1m6f+ and the winning tally is three, while Stradivarius has beaten 21 Ballydoyle opponents.
In 2017 both Capri (St Leger) and Order Of St George (Long Distance Cup) got the better of Stradivarius at three but it has been largely one-way traffic since then, with the nose of Kew Gardens interrupting the streak at Ascot last October.
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