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Fancy that! Donnacha's not Blue after first British runner takes Group 1 glory

Fancy Blue (Ryan Moore, left) beats One Voice in the Qatar Nassau Stakes
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Anyone who thinks Aidan O'Brien is simply keeping the Ballydoyle seat warm for his youngest son, Donnacha, was given visible evidence to support the claim following a Glorious Goodwood showpiece in which two outstanding young talents, one a man, the other a horse, combined for a famous triumph.

Just 30 minutes after Aidan took part in a Zoom press conference in a Ballydoyle room now familiar to racing fans all around the world, Donnacha was sitting in the same chair in the same room, explaining how it felt to win the Qatar Nassau Stakes.

Never before had the 22-year-old sent a horse to race in Britain but nor had he ever won a Classic as a trainer until Fancy Blue carried Michael Tabor's silks to capture the Prix de Diane earlier this month. She did her trainer proud at Chantilly and did so again under Ryan Moore at Goodwood.

In a short but stunning riding career, O'Brien plundered a host of crown jewels, including back-to-back 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks, Irish Derby and Champion Stakes. That latter success was achieved aboard Magical at Ascot in October. Six days earlier he had also trained Fancy Blue to win her second career start – albeit unofficially.

Fancy Blue has a neck in hand over One Voice at the end of the Nassau Stakes

Knowing where and when to dish out praise out in this story is complicated, for when Fancy Blue took that Curragh contest she was ridden by Seamie Heffernan and officially trained by Aidan O'Brien, although actually in the care of Donnacha O'Brien, who on that occasion finished second for brother Joseph O'Brien on A New Dawn.

The sun was then setting on his riding career but dawn has risen magnificently on his career as a licensed trainer, one who was happy to talk about Fancy Blue potentially meeting his father's Love in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Due to quarantine requirements in Ireland, Donnacha was missing from France on Diane day and he was missing from Britain on Nassau day. That in no way diminished his joy, nor the smile on his face as he spoke from the seat in which his father had not long since been analysing Mogul's Gordon Stakes win.

"It's a bit weird but it's a weird world at the minute," said O'Brien. "If you had told me what was going on now in the world I wouldn't have believed you. Everything is a bit strange, and I certainly wasn't expecting this, but we'll take it."

One Voice chases Fancy Blue but to no avail

It was clear, though, that he was expecting Fancy Blue to go close here. A filly whose only defeat came at the hands of Ballydoyle's Peaceful in the Irish 1,000 Guineas sat second behind Ballydoyle's Magic Wand – sent off 9-4 favourite – until grabbing the lead over a furlong from home. 

Compatriot One Voice threw down a challenge but 11-4 shot Fancy Blue was always in command and scored by a snug neck.

Nazeef ran on for third – John Gosden argued the track was her undoing – but Japan's Deirdre, the heroine of 2019, was this time at the other end of the result. It may have been some consolation that Fancy Blue was sired by Japan's late stallion sensation Deep Impact, while she herself could be considered for a valuable prize in Japan at the end of the season.


Jul 2020: Trains Fancy Blue to win the Nassau Stakes
Jul 2020: Trains Fancy Blue to win the Prix de Diane
Oct 2019: Rides Magical to win the Champion Stakes
Oct 2019: Rides Kew Gardens to beat Stradivarius at Ascot
May 2019: Rides Magna Grecia to win the 2,000 Guineas
Jun 2018: Rides Latrobe to win the Irish Derby
Jun 2018: Rides Forever Together to win the Oaks
May 2018: Rides Saxon Warrior to win the 2,000 Guineas

"I got her as a yearling but you don't expect these kind of things," explained O'Brien. "I was looking after her and I was responsible for her but she was under Dad's name. I didn't have my licence but she was with me and the yard was a satellite yard.

"It's unbelievable to get a filly like this in my first year. People go lifetimes without getting anything like her. I'm under no illusions as to how lucky I am. I just have to do the best I can with her now we have her."

His best is proving more than good enough. So is Fancy Blue's. She will next head to the Irish Champion Stakes or Matron Stakes but thereafter a crack at the Arc is a possibility.

"With a filly's allowance in the Arc I wouldn't be writing her off," insisted O'Brien. "Love has run to a higher rating but my filly has already showed in France that she is suited to that style of racing. She relaxes and has that kind of 'scoopy' action that allows her to quicken.

"Although she might not have been as impressive as Love I think she has shown attributes that maybe Love hasn't just yet."

Donnacha O'Brien's attributes as a trainer are becoming increasingly obvious – he even sounds as unassuming as his father.

"When you're riding you're nearly thinking of yourself," he said. "When you're training I feel pressure for the guys who are working with her in the yard every day. You want her to achieve her best for them."

So far, so very good on that front.

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Although she might not have been as impressive as Love I think she has shown attributes that maybe Love hasn't just yet
E.W. Terms