In a relatively short space of time, Joseph O’Brien
has achieved incredible things within the training ranks making his mark around
the world by winning on the biggest stage in Australia and America as well as
domestic Classic and Group 1 races.
Becoming an Epsom Derby-winning trainer to add to his successes in the famous
race as a jockey on Camelot and Australia is certainly high on the bucket list
and at Leopardstown on Saturday O’Brien will be hoping the P.W. McGrath
Memorial Ballysax Stakes can see him unearth a potential Derby contender.
Buckaroo is one of nine declared runners for Saturday’s Group 3 contest over 10
furlongs and the Qatar Racing-owned son of Fastnet Rock faces a tough early
Among his rivals are the some highly-rated colts with O’Brien’s brother,
Donnacha, saddling Piz Badile and Absolute Ruler, while his father Aidan runs
Bluegrass and Scriptwriter.
Joseph O’Brien is looking the blue riband of Flat racing with Buckaroo and
Leopardstown could prove the perfect springboard for that.
“We aim to go down the Derby path with Buckaroo all being well in the
Ballysax,” confirmed the trainer.
“He got himself in a bit of trouble on both of his last two runs by being a bit
lackadaisical early on in them. In France, it was a shocking messy race and he
was last or second-last most of the way and stayed on well but it was too late.
So that’s something that hopefully maturity will address.
“He would stay well but I don’t think he’ll go further than a mile and a half.
I’m not sure how far past a mile and a half he would stay but he’s out of
Roheryn, Johnny (Murtagh) had her, she was quite a good filly that stayed a
mile and half, mile and six so that would give him a chance.”
Buckaroo’s form got a boost as recently as last Tuesday as the Aidan
O’Brien-trained Stone Age was a nine-length winner of a Navan maiden.
“He’s a huge, big horse and he beat Stone Age in Galway, who won the maiden
well at Navan, and they pulled a long way clear that day. So hopefully he
breaks well enough and puts himself in a good enough position in his races this
year to give him a chance, starting at Leopardstown.”
Some of O’Brien’s aforementioned global success has come with horses carrying
the colours of Australian Lloyd Williams and those colours will be carried in
the Ballysax by Swan Bay.
“We think Swan Bay is a horse who will stay well and we’ll see how he goes in
the Ballysax and take it from there,” O’Brien commented.
Jim Bolger’s Manu Et Corde ran well in good company last season, while Dermot
Weld is hopeful of a good showing from Duke De Sessa and the field is completed
by the Henry de Bromhead-trained Vina Sena.
“Bluegrass was just a bit green at Newmarket, it took a while for the penny to
drop, he has a lazy way of going,” O’Brien senior said earlier this week. “He
didn’t run too bad in the Zetland after never travelling. Newmarket can be like
that if you don’t know your job.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, O’Brien will also be represented in the Ballylinch Stud
Priory Belle 1,000 Guineas Trial with Group 1 runner-up Agartha and also
Pennine Hills and Seisai, giving him three of the 12 declared runners.
Looking ahead to the card, O’Brien said: “Those races look tough at
Leopardstown at the weekend, which is good to see.”
“It’s a great way to start the season. And because the ground might be
yielding, or slightly better, people won’t be afraid to run good horses. When
it’s heavy it’s tough, because a lot of those horses, heavy ground isn’t their
thing. We’ve seen that time and time again so when the ground is nice, people
will run those nice horses early.
“When you look at the entries for the trials, they’re all the horses you’d have
in mind for the Classic races. They’re Group 3s in name but they’re probably
more like Group 2s and there’ll be Group 1 horses in there.
“It’s great. The racing in Ireland is so competitive. Every maiden you go to,
you could meet anything in it and that’s why people want to buy Irish horses.
And that’s why people want to have horses in training in Ireland and that’s
what makes it for us.”
O’Brien added: “Pennine Hills last run was in Leopardstown and she ran well at
that course and distance. She’s a decent, solid filly I’d say, a hardy filly.
She’s quick and she stays.
“Seisai ran well in most of those fillies’ races last year and she won a stakes
race. She’s a good, solid filly, while Agartha won over the course and distance
last year and would probably be looking at The Curragh rather than Newmarket
for her Classic target.”
Ger Lyons is also likely to have a decision to make regarding Newmarket or The
Curragh for his Classic contender Sacred Bridge who makes her seasonal debut on
The Juddmonte-owned filly is the highest rated of the dozen runners on 111 and
is one of two runners for the trainer with Lyons also set to saddle course and
distance winner Panama Red.
Homeless Songs is an intriguing runner for Dermot Weld, while Jessica
Harrington runs both Viareggio and Villanova Queen. Aidan O’Brien’s sole
representative in the fillies trial is Naas maiden winner Contarelli
The trials begin with the Ballylinch Stud Red Rocks 2,000 Guineas Trial in
which Lyons is once again represented by a 111-rated performer in Dr Zempf,
while Aidan O’Brien goes with a numerically stronger team of colts as
Glounthaune, Howth and The Acropolis go forward for the champion trainer.
Speaking earlier this week, Aidan O’Brien said: “Glounthaune is going very well
and showing plenty of pace.
"America (Breeders’ Cup) was probably too quick for him, Ryan said he
couldn’t get him organised and he was too green on the track but he’s going
well. We were playing catch-up all last season, he’s a big horse, but he could
be one for the French Guineas.”
Speaking after declarations, John O’Connor of Ballylinch Stud said: “All of us
at Ballylinch have been delighted with the quality of the Guineas Trials that
we sponsor at Leopardstown. Last year for example the ‘Red Rocks 2,000
Guineas Trial’ featured three subsequent International Group 1 winners, Poetic
Flare (2,000 Guineas and St and St James’s Palace), A Case Of You (Prix de
l’Abbaye and Al Quoz Sprint) and Laws of Indices (Prix Jean Prat).
“The ‘Priory Belle 1,000 Guineas Trial’ in 2021 attracted 2 subsequent Classic
winners in Empress Josephine (Irish 1,000 Guineas) and Joan Of Arc (Prix de
Diane). They joined the illustrious roll call of outstanding fillies to
contest this exceptional trial, including Alpha Centauri, Iridessa, Hydrangea
and Winter, all multiple Group 1 winners.
“We look forward to welcoming racegoers and television viewers to what is
always an intriguing day of racing and hope that the runners in both the
Ballylinch races on Saturday will go on to achieve as much success as those
that went before them.”
To celebrate Ballylinch Stud Classic Trials Day as the first Flat meeting of
the season at Leopardstown Racecourse, a series of talks will take place in the
all-new Legacy Lounge in between races with key figures from the industry.
MC Tom Nugent will get the thoughts of trainer Johnny Murtagh, Jessica
Harrington’s assistant trainer Kate Harrington, jockey Ronan Whelan, Bloodstock
& Nominations Manager at Ballylinch Stud Eoin Fives, and Shamrock
Thoroughbreds Syndicate Manager Stephen Thorne about their hopes for the season
and horses to look out for. It is free to attend and light refreshments will be