St Mark's Basilica ends testing week for O'Brien in glorious fashion in Dewhurst
A week spent soul searching and questioning events ended in the way it so often does for trainer Aidan O’Brien — with a Group 1 victory in one of Europe’s most prestigious races.
So rarely do things go wrong at Ballydoyle that the events of the last ten days stand out as especially turbulent for O’Brien and his team, as first he was forced to withdraw his powerful squad from Arc day due to concerns over contaminated feed, before the embarrassment of the saddling mix-up of his two runners in the Fillies’ Mile.
St Mark’s Basilica had been among those horses who had been due to run in France. He was denied that chance, but was rerouted to Newmarket for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes and swept through stylishly as the horses parted in front of him to challenge favourite Thunder Moon before forging clear to take the prize under Frankie Dettori from stablemate Wembley.
“It was one of those weeks but that’s the way the cards have fallen for us all week,” O’Brien said. “That’s the way it is. We do our best to try to make it happen but there are things that happen that are beyond our control.
“Things happen and you wonder and say ‘why couldn't I control that’ and ‘why didn’t I do something different’, and there are always things you’d do differently and you look back and you would do things differently if you could. You have to accept it but it was a funny week.”
St Mark’s Basilica was reversing the National Stakes form with Thunder Moon and Wembley having finished behind the duo at the Curragh, and O’Brien expects the trio to be clashing again on the Rowley Mile next spring.
“You’d think the first three look like they are proper Guineas horses, don’t they? They have speed and were getting seven furlongs well,” he said. “Frankie gave him a lovely ride and he’d run a lovely race at the Curragh when Ryan [Moore] said he was a bit green and babyish. He thought he was going to come forward a good bit. He’s genuine, tough and has class as well.
“I felt we had a better draw than Thunder Moon today as the closer you've been to the stands' rail the better. Thunder Moon ended up getting there very early and it worked better for us. They're three very good horses and the Curragh form stood up 100 per cent today.”
He added: “We were delighted with Wembley as well. He ran a stormer at the Curragh and did so again today.”
St Mark’s Basilica was cut to 8-1 joint-favourite (from 33) alongside stablemate Battleground for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, with Thunder Moon eased to 12-1 (from 7) and Chindit, who lost his unbeaten record when trailing in ninth at Newmarket, pushed out to 20-1 (from 8) for next season’s Classic.
O’Brien was capturing the Dewhurst for a seventh time while Dettori scored in the contest for a second occasion having steered Too Darn Hot to success in 2018. Dettori felt fate had been particularly kind to him during the race and also praised the application of the winner.
“They went fast,” he said. “I was in the middle of the group and I got all the splits. In fairness, when I asked him to go he went and he never stopped. He didn’t put a foot wrong.
“His form is good and he didn’t have much to find on the second and third and it all worked out well. He would get a mile no problem.”
Thunder Moon’s rider Declan McDonogh and Pat Dobbs, who partnered Chindit, pointed to the ground being less than favourable for their mounts.
McDonogh said: "Thunder Moon ran a great race but the ground was quite deep for him and he couldn't pick up on it. Hopefully he'll be better on better ground.”
Dobbs added: “He hung right in the race which is not like him. The ground was very deep and I wasn’t happy at any stage.”
In this strangest of years, and following the oddest of weeks for Ballydoyle, the Flat season is nevertheless ending as it often does with O’Brien and Coolmore dominating the betting for next year’s 2,000 Guineas. Some hope that normality will return for everyone when St Mark’s Basilica and co return to Newmarket next May.
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