JOSEPH O’Brien feels Magician heads into today’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh as a relatively unexposed horse – despite him lining up for what will be his sixth race in the Classic.
Having only won one of his four starts at two, Magician turned up at Chester for the Dee Stakes rather unheralded compared with many of his contemporaries at Ballydoyle but he bolted up, prompting Derby quotes in the process. Rather than stepping up to a mile-and-a-half, however, he comes back to a mile but his young jockey, who is bidding for a hat-trick in the race after wins on Roderic O’Connor and Power, does not envisage that being a problem.
“He was impressive and showed plenty of pace at Chester,” said O’Brien. “Obviously the step back to a mile is an unknown but we’re hoping he’ll like the quicker ground and I think he’s certainly unexposed under these conditions. We always thought he was a real nice horse and he ran nicely first time out but he was very green, greener than we anticipated.
“Then he was unlucky not to win in Dundalk when again he was green and in another couple of strides I’d have won. He won real well at the Curragh but then he went to Leopardstown on bottomless ground when we really fancied him and he was running really well when he nearly got brought down, he was lucky to stand up. So it was a combination of things, with him improving over the winter and not having it go his way last season, that might have caught a few by surprise.”
Joseph’s trainer father, Aiden O’Brien, who has won the race eight times, also runs Flying The Flag, who will be ridden by Colm O’Donoghue, Seamie Heffernan’s mount Gale Force Ten and George Vancouver who will be partnered by Pat Smullen.
Richard Hannon ruled Olympic Glory out of the race earlier in the week but still holds a strong hand with Havana Gold, a close-up fifth in the French Guineas, and Van Der Neer, third to Dawn Approach at Newmarket. Van Der Neer is owned by Saeed Manana and his racing manager, Bruce Raymond, said: “Immediately after the Guineas, there was a temptation to step him up to ten furlongs as he finished very strongly.
“We were thinking Dante originally, but if you win a Dante you would feel obliged to run in the Derby and being by Dutch Art, a mile-and-a-half would maybe be too far for him at this stage.
“We’ve always thought a lot of him and William Buick loved the horse at Newmarket. He’s going there as second-favourite and he’s got a very good winning chance.”
Hannon’s son and assistant, Richard jnr, also feels Van Der Neer will run a big race while not discounting Havana Gold.
“Van Der Neer’s third in the Guineas was an extremely good run. We’ll ride him a little bit handier than at Newmarket. He needs at least a mile, if not ten furlongs, and he’ll run very well,” he told At The Races.
Johnny Murtagh sorted his trainers’ licence just in time for this weekend and hopes for a dream start with Fort Knox, bought by Sheikh Mohammed after winning a trial for this race. Murtagh also runs the Andrew Tinkler-owned Ask Dad, who was supplemented.