December 10, 2018

O’Brien poised to break Frankel’s G1 record with potent team in Racing Post Trophy

Saxon Warrior is vying with The Pentagon for early Epsom Derby favoritism (Photo courtesy of The Curragh via Twitter)

If the market is right, trainer Aidan O’Brien will rack up a record 26th Group 1 win of 2017 in Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy (G1) at Doncaster courtesy of warm favorite Saxon Warrior. The master of Ballydoyle has three supporting players, chief among them The Pentagon, but it’s not exactly a formality that O’Brien will eclipse Bobby Frankel’s mark of 25 Group 1s in a single season here.

Verbal Dexterity, trained by O’Brien’s former boss Jim Bolger, and John Gosden’s Roaring Lion aren’t pushovers. Class-climbing bluebloods Gabr and Loxley represent complementary arms of the Maktoum family, and Chilean picks up the services of Andrea Atzeni, who’s won the past four runnings.

Although a points race on the newly minted “European Road to the Kentucky Derby,” the Racing Post Trophy is much likelier to be a pointer to the Epsom original. Saxon Warrior would consolidate antepost favoritism for next June’s Derby by extending his unbeaten sequence to three. By Deep Impact and out of European co-champion juvenile filly Maybe, Saxon Warrior was a smashing debut winner at the Curragh who added the Beresford (G2) (over next-out Zetland winner Kew Gardens). That was the first European scoring race, good for 10 points, and he can double his tally with Ryan Moore.

The Pentagon had vaulted into early Epsom favoritism when following up his Curragh maiden romp in the Tyros (G3) at Leopardstown. Unraced since that July 27 outing, the son of Galileo and Group 1 queen Vadawina is sure to prosper on the step up to a mile. He’s still prominent alongside Saxon Warrior in the antepost market for the Derby, and arguably the biggest threat to him Saturday, if not too ring-rusty off the break. Seamie Heffernan gets the plum pick-up mount. Rounding out the Ballydoyle squad are Champagne (G2) winner Seahenge, most recently third to Breeders’ Cup-bound U S Navy Flag and Mendelssohn in the Dewhurst (G1), and Futurity (G2) runner-up Coat of Arms, still a maiden after six starts.

Verbal Dexterity, who missed the Dewhurst due to a dirty scope, comes off a 3 1/2-length conquest of the Vincent O’Brien National (G1) on bottomless going at the Curragh. His debut romp likewise occurred on soft ground, while his lone loss was a second in the Railway (G2) on the cutback to six furlongs. Highly regarded by Bolger, Verbal Dexterity can answer the question if he’s as dexterous on proper good ground at Doncaster. Stablemate Theobald has been disappointing since chasing The Pentagon home in the Tyros.

Roaring Lion owns 10 points on the European scoreboard, via his victory in the Royal Lodge (G2) at Newmarket over O’Brien’s Nelson. The Kentucky-bred son of Kitten’s Joy is undefeated through three starts, but has drifted out noticeably, and can’t afford to get away with that versus Group 1 rivals.

Chilean has won two straight since dropping his debut for Martyn Meade, notably dominating the Ascendant at a heavy Haydock.

Sheikh Hamdan’s Gabr, a first-crop son of Intello out of Irish highweight Spacious, had been knocking on the door before opening his account third time out at Yarmouth. This is a greater order of magnitude, but Sir Michael Stoute isn’t one to throw his youngsters in above their heads either.

Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, who contemplated running Masar before dispatching him to the Breeders’ Cup, relies on Loxley. The well-named son of New Approach and Group 1 vixen Lady Marian broke his maiden, albeit in a dead-heat, at Goodwood, and connections decided to supplement him for this test.

Merlin Magic, from the first crop of past O’Brien celebrity Camelot, must keep moving forward from his Nottingham maiden in his fourth attempt. But trainer David Elsworth has been known to spring a surprise with a Jeff Smith homebred. Bryan Smart’s Alfa McGuire, twice a winner in modest company, has been put in his place versus better.