O'Brien does bit for Frankel factor
It was a weekend that reflected the glory of Frankel, without actually borrowing a great deal of it.
The colt he beat in the Greenham Stakes a year ago, Excelebration, certainly confirmed his own quality when making his first start for Aidan O'Brien at the Curragh yesterday. And Frankel's younger brother, Noble Mission, had made it plain that he will also win good races when breaking his maiden at Newbury the previous day. In adding his name to the Greenham roll of honour, however, Caspar Netscher did little to alter the fairly pedestrian profile of the Guineas trials this time round.
Testing ground has certainly been a factor, and it was a similar story at the Curragh, where O'Brien had earlier seen Nephrite spurn the last remaining opportunity to throw a new hat into the ring for the Guineas.
Unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, Nephrite was as short as 8-1 for Newmarket before his reappearance in a listed race. After travelling smoothly, however, he failed to pick up under pressure and had to settle for third, behind his front-running stablemate, Requisition. O'Brien, who felt that Nephrite "was just found out on the ground", admits he has now run out of reasons not to run Camelot on Saturday week. He confirmed Camelot and Power are "both working towards the Guineas" and Ladbrokes have the unbeaten favourite as short as even money.
With Excelebration, everything went according to plan. Cheerleaders for the new Champions' Day at Ascot last autumn chose not to dwell on the reality that Frankel beat this same colt, by exactly the same margin, in his first and last races of the season. In the meantime, however, Excelebration achieved enough to be acquired as a stud prospect by O'Brien's patrons at Coolmore. Transferred to Ballydoyle, he gave notice that O'Brien will build on the foundations laid by the skilled hands of Marco Botti, outclassing five inferiors in a Group Three race over seven furlongs. Always cruising under O'Brien's son, Joseph, he stretched three lengths clear under hands and heels, and will now be aimed at next month's Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
That may yet entail another meeting with Frankel, who has missed a couple of pieces of work with what proved a minor setback but lacks obvious alternatives before Royal Ascot.
O'Brien might never get a better chance of taking the most prized scalp of all. "We might meet Frankel there and everyone knows what he is, an incredible horse," he said. "But we're delighted with the way this fellow ran and look forward to the next day. He's lazy at home and we weren't 100 per cent sure, but he was doing well in his half-speed work. Joseph said he gave him a proper feel, travelled and quickened very well. Physically he's very well made. He's done well over the winter."
That seemed unlikely with Caspar Netscher, after no fewer than 10 starts at two. So while his Guineas prospects might be limited, not least with another furlong to run, this win was a genuine endorsement of a young trainer with limited resources in Alan McCabe.
Another stable to amplify its merit on Saturday was that of Andrew Parker, who saddled Merigo to win the Scottish National at Ayr. First and second in the previous two years, Merigo is no Frankel – his jockey Timmy Murphy affectionately describes him as "a plough horse, the ugliest racehorse I've ever seen" – but had been artfully targeted by his Borders trainer and landed a patriotic gamble with sheer heart.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Snow Hill (6.55 Windsor) Beaten by only one rival in three handicap starts and returns off a mark just 4lb higher than when idling in front at Haydock last time.
Parisian Pyramid (3.15 Pontefract) On a feasible mark and with conditions to suit, will come on for spin over a seventh furlong at Musselburgh, only fading late on.
One to watch
More Than Words (Richard Hannon) failed to land short odds in both starts at two but made eye-catching midfield return midweek at Newmarket.
Where the money's going
French colt Abtaal is 10-1 from 12s with Hill's for the 2,000 Guineas.