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Aidan O'Brien: Saxon Warrior tackled Guineas with Triple Crown bid in mind

Aidan O'Brien, pictured with the Investec Derby favourite Saxon Warrior
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A relaxed and at times philosophical Aidan O’Brien did little to ease Saxon Warrior’s Investec Derby rivals’ fears on Monday, when he revealed that the brilliant 2,000 Guineas winner had been identified as a potential candidate for the Triple Crown long before toying with his opposition at Newmarket.

As the dual Group 1 winner cantered under regular exercise rider Richellea Carroll, the studious six-time Derby-winning trainer stressed he expected an “awful lot of improvement” from his first Classic winner of 2018.

Given Saxon Warrior is a shade of odds-on for Epsom glory and it is 12-1 bar, that in itself might have been enough to dishearten those charged with preventing a 13th Derby winging its way to Ballydoyle, where the grass gallops have yet to be utilised this year because of the wet spring.

O’Brien’s legendary predecessor and namesake Vincent also saddled six winners of the premier Classic during his founding tenure in Rosegreen, and the current incumbent confessed that the prospect of emulating Nijinsky’s seminal 1970 feat with Saxon Warrior has been firmly on the mind.

“It’s never the be-all and end-all,” he said of the possibility of a historic Triple Crown venture, “but every horse is taken individually. I would imagine if it did come to pass, the [Coolmore] lads would think very hard about doing it.”

Saxon Warrior cools down after exercise at Ballydoyle
In 2012, Camelot was foiled by Encke in his bid to add the St Leger to his Guineas and Derby triumphs under the master trainer’s son Joseph.

Encke was subsequently one of the Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained horses to test positive for steroids, but O’Brien insisted there was no sense of injustice from that defeat, or that it would be a motivating factor should Saxon Warrior prevail at Epsom.

“Obviously on the day we didn’t win, and we felt that it wasn’t for us on the day,” he reflected of Camelot’s failed quest.

“We hoped a horse might come along so we could try it again, and that’s part of the reason why Saxon Warrior started in the Guineas. We could have gone for the Dante but we thought if there was a chance we had a Triple Crown horse this year, it was going to be him. We're still alive and kicking after the first round.”

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O’Brien’s tendency to emphasise his star colts’ speed and capacity to be effective over shorter trips is often scoffed at as being commercially motivated. But the opposite is true on this occasion.

“He travelled and quickened like a miler at Newmarket,” O'Brien said of Saxon Warrior, who was guided to victory by his son Donnacha. "But we’ve always thought he was a middle-distance horse rather than a Guineas horse.

"We’ve always viewed him as a Camelot or Australia type of horse. I suppose the difference with what he did at Newmarket was the way he quickened. He really accelerated from the three-pole, which we were very pleased to see, and he's come out of the Guineas very well.”

Should Saxon Warrior earn the chance to emulate Nijinsky, it would be a fitting zenith to Ballydoyle’s second coming – although O’Brien doesn’t believe the manner in which his Coolmore employers seem to be embracing the concept is necessarily to do with legacy.

“I’m not sure, because they're business people, but they're at an age where they're enjoying their racing, and they get a great kick out of it,” he mused of the John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smyth triumvirate. “Wherever they are in the world, racing is their focus."

O'Brien, playing host to the media at Ballydoyle, continued: “Camelot didn’t win at Doncaster, and that doesn’t make it any more of a thing for us, but the lads would have been around in Nijinksy’s time.

"The first thing you see when you drive in the gate here is the statue of Nijinsky, so the Triple Crown is something always thought about.

“It would be a romantic thing if it did happen, but we have to get the second leg out of the way first. If we are lucky enough to get him to Epsom in good shape that’s all we can do, and hopefully the rest will happen.”

Aidan O'Brien takes questions from the press at Ballydoyle

While plans have still to be finalised – and James Cook and Zabriskie will get the chance to book a place on the Epsom team in Thursday’s Betfred Dante Stakes at York – O’Brien suggested he expects to run at least three others in the Derby, which he landed last year with 40-1 shot Wings Of Eagles.

“Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon ran well at Leopardstown on Sunday, and Kew Gardens pulled a shoe off at Lingfield – he could still be a very good mile-and-a-half horse," said O'Brien.

"Nothing has been decided by the lads, but I'd imagine we'll have more than one runner and, if that's the case, we'll try to make it as level a pace as possible for everyone. The Derby tends to sort out which road everything goes down for the rest of the season.”

O’Brien on . . .

Mendelssohn’s objectives

The plan is to go back to Churchill for the Breeders' Cup Classic and give him a prep run on dirt in America about two months before the race. The Kentucky Derby was a disaster, but we need to learn from it.

It's life or death in America when the gates open. You cannot miss it. It becomes so mad, it's everyone for themselves. It was a different world, very aggressive.

Bob Baffert told me before the race he had told his driver if his fellow missed the break he’d be in the car before the horse had got to the first bend. When he said that, I thought to myself, 'What chance have we got?' It was the most brutal thing I've ever seen anywhere in the world.

The team’s evolution

Ryan [Moore] is number one so he'll ride Saxon Warrior at Epsom, but Donnacha is a big part of the team and has been for a long time. He has a lot of experience for a 19-year-old but it will be hard for him to last – he's every bit as tall as Joseph. What he's doing now is incredible and a great experience that will stand him in good stead.

All of our roles change here on an annual basis. Ana rides two lots in the morning, and it's a big help to me that we're so close and that she's so interested.

Last year’s Derby-winning rider Padraig Beggy’s prospects of a mount this time

There's always a chance for everybody. Every chance. It will depend on what the lads decide they want to run, and so on. We don’t ever set out something has to happen. We take it as it is. If it happens for someone like Padraig, then it's unbelievable really.

Padraig Beggy with O'Biren after landing last year's Derby on Wings Of Eagles

The Oaks contenders

Nothing is decided, but we’re thinking maybe the two fillies from Chester [Cheshire Oaks 1-2 Magic Wand and Forever Together] will run. Magical could go straight to Epsom.

Happily might go for the Irish Guineas and we might then look at the French Oaks – she’s not guaranteed to get a mile and a half. Clemmie is going to start in the Irish Guineas because she had a little setback. If she runs a nice race there we’d look at Ascot.

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He travelled and quickened like a miler at Newmarket but we've always thought of him as a middle-distance horse
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