Irish trainer Aiden O’Brien says that Auguste Rodin Is Triple Crown horse.
With 10 victories in the one mile 2000 Guineas to his name, no trainer has won the first Classic of the season more times than O’Brien and he is set to be double-handed with Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear both lining up in what is also the opening contest in the 2023 QIPCO British Champions Series.
The pair are both already Group One winners, with Auguste Rodin having taken the Futurity Stakes at Doncaster and Little Big Bear the winner of the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.
For all his extraordinary achievements, one thing O’Brien has not done is saddle a winner of the English Triple Crown – a horse to win the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, Betfred Derby at Epsom Downs and St Leger at Doncaster.
There have been 12 winners of the Triple Crown but none since Nijinsky in 1970, trained at O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stables by his predecessor – the unrelated Vincent O’Brien.
O’Brien did train the most recent horse to attempt the Triple Crown, Camelot in 2012, who won at Newmarket and Epsom Downs before finishing second in the St Leger.
Speaking during a press conference hosted on Zoom by British Champions Series today, O’Brien said: “If we had a horse that could go for the Triple Crown this year, he was going to be it and we didn’t want to take away the chance from him if he was going to try it.
“The Guineas is a great race and there is only one Guineas. We are going to learn a lot about him but if it goes well the plan has always been to go to The Derby next and if that goes well – let’s see what the lads want to do.
“It’s a very hard thing to do and some time it would be great to do it – if you don’t try, it won’t happen. You need class to give them the stamina and the speed that they need. He fits into that bracket at the moment and while it’s a dream, if you have a horse with a chance we don’t want to take that chance away from them.
“He is by Deep Impact and they stay well and out of one of the best Galileo mares we ever had (Rhododendron). He’s already a collector’s item being one of the last horses sired by Deep Impact – I think there are only five or six in his generation and it was a great call by the boss to send her over to him. Then to have all the attributes he has shown us is a very rare thing.
“Although the breeding is different, he shares a lot of similarities with Camelot in that they both have the class that gives them the combination of speed and stamina. This horse always exuded class from the first time he worked. He has a long stride and is very relaxed. He is a very slick horse with a slick body – unusual really.”
O’Brien insists that this year’s 2000 Guineas is set to be extremely competitive and that to win it he will need a horse with a turn of pace who also boasts stamina.
He explained: “The Guineas are very important prestigious races. They always have been and are the first test of the Classic generation. The mile is where the real quality horses are – you kind of need a sprinter that stays and on the other hand it can be won by a horse that leads on to The Derby afterwards. They are seriously important races.
“The 2000 Guineas looks competitive this year but it always is and is not ever a race you take for granted or any horse in it. You have a handle on horses that have run in trials but it’s first time out for many of them and we just don’t know.”
Asked how he decides who will ride his contenders in the big races, O’Brien replied: “We leave Ryan (Moore, jockey) to make up his own mind as late as possible.
“We never put him under any pressure and when he decides what he is going to ride then usually the rest falls into place. We think at the moment that it will be Auguste Rodin but Ryan will want to see the race, draw and everything else so we just have to wait until then.
“We are lucky that both horses came through the winter well and have taken their training well in the spring. It was possible that they were both going to run even though they have different profiles. They will probably go their separate ways afterwards with Auguste Rodin going up in trip and I would imagine Saturday will tell us a lot about Little Big Bear – whether we stay at a mile or go back in trip. It’s going to be very informative for us and everyone.
“We were a little bit worried about going Auguste Rodin at Doncaster on that ground as it got very soft and he is a beautiful-moving horse and definitely not a soft ground horse. That’s why we were so delighted with the way he won.
“We don’t know if a mile will be too short for him on Saturday but we are very happy with what he has done and what he is doing at the moment. He is a horse with loads of class and we are going to learn a lot about him and he is going to learn a lot.
“He has always showed a lot of class in his work from the start – Ryan loved him when he sat on him as two year old in February/March last year. He was already showing loads then which is a hugely good sign.”
On Little Big Bear, O’Brien added: “Little Big Bear is by No Nay Never who is a big influence for speed. There is stamina on his dam’s side but No Nay Never is definitely a big influence for speed and he is a big, powerful horse.
“He is a horse that has won over five and six furlongs including the Windsor Castle over five furlongs at Royal Ascot and we know what kind of precociousness that takes. He then looked like he would get six and when he won the Phoenix Stakes he looked like he would get seven standing on his ear.
“We are going to learn a lot on Saturday as he hasn’t run in a long time but he’s been doing everything right really. When he had a setback we didn’t have any choice but to give him time. He got over it by the end of the season and didn’t miss any time over the winter and spring which is a big help. He’s a very laidback horse and only uses the petrol he needs to, so his temperament is a big advantage.”
Meanwhile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf heroineMeditate is likely to be the sole Ballydoyle representative in Sunday’s QIPCO 1000 Guineas and O’Brien added: “We weren’t sure going to America whether she would stay and it was going round a bend but we took our chance and she won very easily.
“We rode her very forward on very soft ground at the Curragh in the Moyglare and Dermot’s filly (Tahiyra, who is also engaged in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas) came and got her. It was up in trip going to America but Ryan relaxed her and she came home very well.
“It’s going to be interesting as obviously America and Newmarket are very different but again we are going to learn a lot about her. She is a very lazy worker at home and only shows you what she has to – unless you stoke her up, she stays in second gear. But we are very happy with her work.
“We felt we might have rushed her a bit last year in the Cheveley Park after the Moyglare, where we perhaps made a bit too much use of her in the ground so we think we have two legitimate excuses for her. But it is her first run of the year and we are going to learn a lot about her.
“All the good fillies should be there on Sunday and that’s what we all like to see.”
O’Brien’s record 10 QIPCO 2000 Guineas winners are King of Kings (1998), Rock of Gibraltar (2002), Footstepsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012), Gleneagles (2015), Churchill (2017), Saxon Warrior (2018) and Magna Grecia (2019).
His seven QIPCO 1000 Guineas winners are Virginia Waters (2005), Homecoming Queen (2012), Minding (2016), Winter (2017), Hermosa (2019), Love (2020) and Mother Earth (2021).
The dozen Triple Crown winners are West Australian (1853), Gladiateur (1865), Lord Lyon (1866), Ormonde (1886), Common (1891), Isinglass (1893), Galtee More (1897), Flying Fox (1899), Diamond Jubilee (1900), Rock Sand (1903), Bahram (1935) and Nijinsky (1970). Pommern (1915), Gay Crusader (1917) and Gainsborough (1918) also all won the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger when the Classics were all run at Newmarket in World War I.