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O'Brien expects '20 to 30 per cent improvement' as Luxembourg survives scare

Luxembourg and Ryan Moore (left) fight off Insinuendo at the Curragh
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Saturday: Royal Whip Stakes, Curragh

It was not a performance that demonstrated his brilliant best, but Luxembourg delighted trainer Aidan O'Brien with a hard-fought win on his return from injury in the Royal Whip Stakes, setting up an exciting Irish Champion Stakes clash with Eclipse winner and French ace Vadeni.

The official victory margin of a neck at odds of 2-9 does not tell the whole story of the one-time Derby favourite's Curragh comeback, as he was pushed to the limit having traded as big as 28-1 in-running when headed by plucky mare Insinuendo.

Serious questions were asked, but Luxembourg had the answers when it mattered to get up close home, getting back on track for next month's Royal Bahrain-backed Group 1.

Plenty of improvement will be required on the bare form of what he achieved in this Group 3, but O'Brien estimated he would improve "20 to 30 per cent" from his first start since finishing third to Coroebus in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.

"We're very relieved as we didn't think he'd ever get here – we thought that he had no chance of running [this year] after what happened to him," said O'Brien, referring to a muscle injury in his Epsom preparation.

Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore debrief after Luxembourg's successful comeback

"Everyone did a great job to get him over his first mishap, he was off for a long time. Then he came back and it wasn't smooth with him.

"Our eye was on the Irish Champion Stakes and obviously we knew you couldn't go there without a run, and this was the only place we could run. The track was beautiful. In this heat it's very difficult to have ground the way it is so hats off to the Curragh."

Paddy Power were unimpressed by the performance, pushing the three-year-old out to 5-1 (from 4-1) for the Irish Champion, but O'Brien was more than happy with what he saw from Luxembourg, and winning rider Ryan Moore.

"I can't tell you how delighted we are," said O'Brien. "He can go a very high tempo and quicken off it, and he quickened today off a slow pace. A strong tempo hopefully brings out the best in him.

"Ryan was very good. He had to wake him up, make him get down and do it without being too serious on him. He was brilliant at that and he found when he had to find. Going to the line, he was coasting again."

O'Brien added: "We came here with High Chaparral before [winning] the Irish Champion, and he came on lovely from it. This horse had a lot more to come on because he had a big setback, but we could not be happier with that. I thought he would improve 20 to 30 per cent from today."

Group 2 winner Insinuendo, representing Willie McCreery and Billy Lee, enhanced her reputation in defeat as she returned from her own muscle issue that had kept her sidelined since March.

She is now firmly on track for the Moyglare Blandford Stakes at the Curragh on Longines Irish Champions Weekend, having traded as low as 1.03 in running on Betfair here.

McCreery said: "She ran a great race. They did a great job on the ground at the Curragh and Billy said she handled it well. Hopefully it's onwards and upwards."

Read this next:

'When two-year-olds have taken Nunthorpe chance they're usually in the shake-up'

The return of Luxembourg: can the forgotten horse emerge as a new Arc contender?

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We were up against it and I'm so relieved because we had an eye on the Champion Stakes, but we were on the back foot coming into the race
E.W. Terms