Donnacha O’Brien is relishing having his first runner in Britain at the Qatar Goodwood Festival on Thursday 30th July when his Prix de Diane (French Oaks) winner, Fancy Blue, will contest the Qatar Nassau Stakes, a race that forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
The 22-year-old, son of multiple Irish champion trainer Aidan, had his first runners in January after retiring from race riding in late November after a short but highly successful career in the saddle.
Champion jockey in Ireland in 2018 and 2019, O’Brien’s major victories included successive wins in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (aboard Saxon Warrior in 2018 and Magna Grecia in 2019) plus triumphs in the Investec Oaks (Forever Together in 2018) and Irish Derby on Latrobe (also 2018).
He’s had less than 50 runners as a trainer but has wasted no time making an impact at the highest level, with the Coolmore-owned Fancy Blue gaining Classic glory at Chantilly after previously finishing runner-up in the Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas at The Curragh. The filly was trained by his father last year before switching yards.
O’Brien watched Fancy Blue triumph in a thrilling finish while on home soil at Fairyhouse and will reluctantly not be travelling to Goodwood, either, because of complications caused by coronavirus regulations.
He said: “I won’t be going over but hopefully, by that stage, my job will be done and it won’t make too much difference whether I’m there or not. It’s not ideal [starting training shortly before a global pandemic] but I was going to have a new routine anyway, so it was going to be different for me regardless. Some trainers will have been training for 20 years or more, and it might be more difficult for them than it is for me as I’m new to it all anyway.”
Fancy Blue prevailed by a short neck from Alpine Star, the easy Coronation Stakes winner, in France, with Peaceful, her conqueror in the Irish 1000 Guineas, another head away in third. The previously unbeaten and well-fancied Raabihah, the main hope of France, was another head further back in fourth.
O’Brien said: “In a tight finish between four horses you can usually mark it down a bit but they were definitely the right horses involved that day and they pulled clear of the rest of the field, so it looks like very strong form.
“Fancy Blue is very genuine, tries hard and takes her work well. She’s a very uncomplicated and talented filly who relaxes and is able to quicken. She gets a mile and a quarter very well and is closely related to High Chaparral (the 2002 Derby winner), so there’s plenty of stamina in her pedigree and she will probably get a mile and a half in time. I think she can probably be competitive in Group 1s anywhere from a mile to a mile and a half.
“There are a great bunch of fillies around at the moment. Among the three-year-olds you have Love, who looks special, and then, of course, you’ve got Enable and Magical, and a few of the those turning up at Goodwood this week, including ours.”
On her ability to act at the Sussex track, he said: “You can’t be sure until you go there, but she’s quite easy to ride in a race and adaptable. I’d say she’s got a very good chance of handling it all and she’s been in great form since France.” Ryan Moore, successful in the Qatar Nassau Stakes aboard Minding (2016) and Winter (2017), takes the ride.
O’Brien is training out of the County Tipperary yard formerly occupied by David Wachman, who landed the 2015 Nassau Stakes with QIPCO 1000 Guineas heroine Legatissimo. He rode numerous high-profile winners before making the switch and admitted: “Of course, you miss the big days [riding]. I guess that’s going to happen for a while, but I’ll learn to get used to it.”
He remained passive watching Fancy Blue edge home at Chantilly, saying: “I stay pretty cool and there wasn’t much point shouting because she wasn’t going to hear me in France.”. It is a similar story with the jockeys he now employs. “I don’t see any point of giving out to jockeys – I wouldn’t be into that,” he said. “I think I have enough experience to know what they can and can’t do in a race. Sometimes the criticism of them from different places is completely unfair, and sometimes perhaps a jockey will do something where I wouldn’t agree, whereas others people wouldn’t pick up on it.”
Fancy Blue’s six rivals include the globetrotting Magic Wand, who is in the same ownership and is trained by his O’Brien Sr. Incidentally, he had to wait until he was 27 before training his first Classic winner (Desert King in the Irish 2000 Guineas of 1997). Donnacha was 21, having turned 22 last week.
Magic Wand landed a Grade 1 prize in Australia in November and gave a typically good account of herself when fourth to Ghaiyyath in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown this month.
One place behind Magic Wand in the Eclipse was Deirdre, who became only the second Japanese-trained Group 1 winner in Britain when winning last year’s Qatar Nassau Stakes and is back to defend her crown. The last back-to-back winner of the race was triple winner Midday (2009-2011).
Heading the home challenge is the John Gosden-trained Nazeef, who was extending her winning sequence to six when a game neck winner of the Group 1 Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket last time. She had previously won the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot by a head from Agincourt, with Queen Power (third) Lavender’s Blue (seventh) among the supporting cast. Thursday will be the first occasion she has raced beyond a mile.
Jim Crowley, her jockey, has confidence in her getting the trip and added: “She’s improved with every run and worked her way up the ladder. She’s a real gorgeous filly, as well, with plenty of size and scope about her. It’s nice when things come to fruition and a pleasure to ride her.”
There is a third Irish-trained contender in Jessica Harrington’s One Voice, who won the Group 3 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Blue Wind Stakes before getting no luck in running when fifth in Group 2 Kilboy Estate Stakes at The Curragh on her latest start.
Article and video courtesy of QIPCO British Champions Series. Photograph by Rachel Groom.
For tickets to QIPCO British Champions Day on Saturday 17th October go to britishchampionsday.co.uk