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Donn McClean: O'Brien primed to continue his outstanding record at Royal Ascot

Hermosa and Ten Sovereigns top of the list for the Ballydoyle maestro.

Hermosa: An emphatic winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Hermosa: An emphatic winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ROYAL ASCOT, JUST one week to go. One of the headlines in the Racing Post on Tuesday morning suggested that the bookmakers were worried about the Ballydoyle horses there all week.

That’s understandable. Aidan O’Brien’s record at Royal Ascot is outstanding. He has been leading trainer at the meeting nine times, including in each of the last four years. He had five winners at the meeting in 2015, six in 2017, and seven in 2016, which equalled the late Sir Henry Cecil’s all-time record.

He has dominated certain races. He has won the Coventry Stakes eight times and he has won the St James’s Palace Stakes seven times. He has also won the Gold Cup seven times, four times with the redoubtable Yeats, who stands in bronze in Ascot’s parade ring.

It all began in 1997 with Harbour Master, who was ridden to victory by Christy Roche in the Coventry Stakes, the first of his eight. O’Brien had no winners at Royal Ascot in 1998, but he had two in 1999, Fasliyev in the (same) Coventry Stakes and Bach in the Chesham. Since then, only once, in 2003, has Aidan O’Brien not trained at least one winner at Royal Ascot. So it’s 15 Royal Ascots in a row now, no blanks.

That’s 65 Royal Ascot winners in total, 10 behind Sir Henry Cecil’s 75 and 14 behind Sir Michael Stoute’s 79.

Aidan O’Brien could reduce that gap even further next week. Best chances according to the market? Hermosa in the Coronation Stakes. Ten Sovereigns in the Commonwealth Cup.

Hermosa has been a warm order for the three-year-old fillies’ contest ever since Aidan O’Brien suggested that she would go to Royal Ascot instead of going to France for the Prix de Diane. The Galileo filly has been a little bit of a surprise package this season. A little under the radar and allowed go off at 14/1 when she was driven to victory by Wayne Lordan in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she was on the radar all right, centre stage, when she returned to The Curragh for the Irish 1000 Guineas. Sent off as favourite that day, she made all the running under Ryan Moore and ran out an emphatic winner. She was even more impressive at The Curragh than she had been at Newmarket.

There has been a feeling for a while now that Hermosa will be even better when she steps up in trip than she is over a mile – by Galileo, goes the hypothesis, and a full-sister to Hydrangea, who won the Group 1 British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes over a mile and a half. And that may well still be the case. But she is very good over as mile. It looks like she is the best of her gender and her generation over that trip. Ascot’s stiff mile should suit her well, and you can understand why she is favourite for the Coronation Stakes.

You can also understand why Ten Sovereigns is favourite for the Commonwealth Cup. The No Nay Never colt went three for three last season. He won his maiden by seven lengths, he won the Group 3 Round Tower Stakes by almost four, and he beat a talented rival in Jash by a comfortable half-length in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, the pair of them clear.

Those three races were all over six furlongs, and the worry going into the 2000 Guineas last month was that a mile would stretch his stamina. In the end, while he ran a fine race to finish fifth, he weakened through the final 150 yards. He raced like he would be more effective back in trip. He will be very interesting now in the Commonwealth Cup, back over a stiff six furlongs.

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Le Brivido will also be very interesting in the Queen Anne Stakes, the curtain-raiser on the first day. Runner-up in the French Guineas and winner of the Jersey Stakes for Andre Fabre at Royal Ascot in 2017, when he raced out in the centre of the track, he has raced just twice for Aidan O’Brien.

He shaped well on his Irish debut at Naas in April when he stayed on well to finish a close-up third in the Group 3 Gladness Stakes. Then last time, in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, he didn’t have a lot of luck in-running, but he finished best of all once in the clear to finish fifth.

The son of Siyouni has four lengths to find with Mustashry on their Newbury running, and that is not going to be easy, but there is every chance that he will improve on his Newbury run. That was only his second run for his new trainer and, in recent years, Aidan O’Brien was able to bring both Haradasun and Declaration Of War back from defeats in the Lockinge Stakes to win the Queen Anne.

Counting down the days now.

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Donn McClean

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