Winter upsets Rhododendron as O'Brien domination continues
Aidan O'Brien's astonishing dominance of the top-tier of Flat racing continued at Newmarket on Sunday as his second-string Winter stormed to 1,000 Guineas victory to give rider Wayne Lordan a first Classic victory, coming home ahead of favourite and stablemate Rhododendron.
O'Brien, who captured the colt's Classic with Churchill on Saturday, has established what in racing terms is akin to a virtual stranglehold over the British Classics in recent years. With this victory he took his record in the last five runnings of the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks and Derby to 10 wins from 20 races.
This is not the first time in that period that a second- or even third-string has done the business for O'Brien – think of 50-1 Oaks winner Qualify in 2015 – but there was ample support for Winter, who had been backed from 33-1 on Monday to a starting price of 9-1. The rumour mill, on this occasion, was spot on.
One person who was certain not to underestimate Winter was her former trainer, David Wachman, who won this race with Legatissimo in 2015 but quit training at the end of last season. Just 45 when he retired, having enjoyed worldwide success, he left fully aware of the burgeoning talent then nestled in his County Tipperary yard.
"David knew what he had in this filly and he was happy with his decision," said Lordan. "I was talking to him over the week and he was asking me how she was going but he wouldn't have any grudges, he'd probably be delighted that I rode the filly and she went on to win because he told Aidan when he got her that she was a filly that will probably come this route."
Winter surged to the front more than two furlongs from home, a vigorous, powerful move that swiftly left her rivals chasing her heels. Meanwhile, Ryan Moore, bidding for a Guineas double on Rhododendron, found his path momentarily impeded by a back-peddling Hydrangea and was forced to switch inside.
Daban and Talaayeb made progress to challenge inside the final furlong and Rhododendron, having found her feet and open space again, hoisted every scrap of canvas to fly home, but in truth there was little unfair about the final placings - even without the horticultural tangle two furlongs from home she was always struggling to match Winter.
"Wayne gave her a great ride," said O'Brien. "She's a big powerful mare isn't she? She gets a mile very well and you'd say she'd get a mile and a quarter all right, she could get further as well. Ryan's filly ran a very good race too so we'd be delighted with her as well."
With a question mark over Winter's participation, Rhododendron remains the Investec Oaks favourite and was cut to a general 5-2 (from 4), while the 1,000 Guineas winner is widely available at 8-1.
While O'Brien lands Classics like most people take buses, Lordan was celebrating his first and a dream start to his new job, having only joined Ballydoyle in January. "Any time you win an English Classic or an Irish Classic it's very special – and it's my first," said Lordan. "It's even better as I've started the new job with Aidan, so it's starting off very smoothly."
Lordan, a prominent and highly regarded rider, has enjoyed great success in his career, notably with the likes of Slade Power and Legatissimo (whom he partnered before and after her 1,000 Guineas win), so the fact this was nevertheless his first Classic hammered home just how remarkable it is that O'Brien almost farms these races.
Much of that is owed to supersire Galileo, who completed a clean sweep of the Guineas with this win. "He's an incredible stallion," said O'Brien. "It's what he puts into them mentally. They're genuine, they've got a will to win. It's a total extreme in animals."
Likewise, what O'Brien is achieving now is a total extreme in racing. This present period of domination, with a 50 per cent win rate in the four major Classics over their past five runnings, is surely unprecedented in racing history.
Asked by a journalist to speculate on what he might feel if positions were changed, and he was looking on as another trainer was exerting unparalleled domination over the sport, he struggled to answer. "I'm very happy for everyone . . . life is. . . you're asking me a very difficult question!"
That was more than forgivable. This is, after all, a domination which confounds the imagination and defies description.