Leathery limbs of Upper Lambourne,
Leathery skin from sun and wind,
Leathery breeches, spreading stables,
Shining saddles left behind -
To the down the string of horses
Moving out of sight and mind.
IT’S not Lambourn on the sat nav this morning and the car displays 0ºC as it comes to life early on Monday for the annual pre-flat season media visit to Ballydoyle.
It’s 0ºC and dark. It’s still dark by the time we await outside the entry gates but as the 48 horses in first lot go through their warm ups – the blue sky moves in above the newly built arena, now wider and in the open air with a covered walk around the edge.
It’s been a re-think from the fully enclosed barn-type one after watching son Joseph use the open air high up in his training establishment. As the father trained the son, the father taketh back knowledge from the son.
Down the string of horses, little you think, moves out of sight and mind of Aidan O’Brien.
He’s been training here 30 years, he is told, that is longer than some of the younger press crew have been alive. “Clare Balding used to call me Harry Potter,” he remembers that younger, bespectacled trainer.
The first lot 48 warm up in circles and diagonals, all in perfect stride together, only The Antarctic performs a little dance of his own. Luxembourg, three-year-old star of last season, stands out, he is a fine-looking specimen now. It’s the dams names that you notice first, the continuation of excellence. Maybe, Immortal Verse, Alice Springs, Rhododendron, Seventh Heaven, Clemmie, Lillie Langtry, Marsha, Legatissimo, Winter.
Out on the gallops, they stride up twice, gallops rolled by three tractors and rollers before their second gallop, all riders giving the thumbs up as they pass by where Aidan waits. “All good, Aidan, ” multiplied many times.
“I see things through rose-tinted glasses, you see reality!” He says as he is asked for names that might the ones to watch for the season.
It has all the makings of a fine season, though. Strong on the older horses, a good crew of three-year-olds with top class form from last year.
Luxembourg, Point Lonsdale, Tenebrism, Emily Dickenson head the older horses in the unfortunate absence of Kyrios who has a nasty joint inflammation that has yet to settle down, robbing him of going on the Yeats route to four Gold Cups at Ascot.
The Caravaggio filly Tenebrism may bid for a famous double at Royal Ascot in the King’s Stand and Diamond Jubilee. Emily Dickenson could be Cup bound, “she grew another leg over the trip” when moved up in distance. Broome may not see out the Ascot marathon but there are other Cups to be won after his Dubai win. Bolshoi Ballet will step up in trip.
The legacy of Northern Dancer, through Sadler’s Wells, is never far away and still visible in the imposing statues of Nijinsky and Yeats, but time and bloodlines are moving on, Galileo is becoming less prevalent.
It takes a while to figure out who LK is on the list of sire names behind each horse. Multiple Group 1 winner Winter spent some winters in Japan and her daughter by Japan’s top sprinter Lord Kanoloa, Beginnings, gets a favourable mention. There’s many by No Nay Never and some Quality Roads among the sires. Last season Aidan was in Justify’s branded merchandise, today it’s Blackbeard.
A UK journalist went on record last summer to comment - “I haven’t been encouraged by Ballydoyle’s latest juvenile crop,” and continued “jury still out as to whether Aidan O’Brien juveniles can salvage a muddling season.”
It could have stood just behind Alan Hansen’s pre-season “You can’t win anything with kids” pronouncement about Manchester United back in 1995, in how wide of the mark it would subsequently look.
The ‘kids’ stepped up to the task in style. Blackbeard took the Middle Park, Auguste Rodin took the Vertem Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup raiding party came back with Victoria Road and Meditate adding to the Grade 1 haul as Juvenile Turf champions.
And all the while Little Big Bear rested on his laurels, having done enough in his three wins to take the top two-year-old award. File it alongside another more Irish sport statement. “What do ya think of that, Joe Brolly?”
Among the other two-year-olds of 2022, the unbeaten Justify filly Statuette, caught the eye visually and by her performances last summer. She is on the easy list, just cantering behind the string in the second lot but the colts are primed and getting ready. Meditate looks good among these too and will head to Newmarket.
Auguste Rodin is the obvious one to entrance his trainer, “he is some mover”, as he goes up the gallops. As always, Aidan is asked of a Triple Crown bid. “If we have a horse capable of doing the Triple Crown, he’s the one.” Wednesday’s winner Drumroll didn’t even get a mention!
Second lot may need to prepare for some fireworks at Epsom but they are well used to listening to TodayFM’s Dermot and Dave Show piped into the arena.
More knocking down and rebuilding is planned for this summer, the next set of two-year-olds are being named and one on the ball media man snaps the latest names list as Aidan looks though it. It’s a list of 10 No Nay Nevers. Alabama is the name that is taken away, a half-brother to Sioux Nation.
There’s one called His Majesty, might he be going to Britain in the summer to be crowned? A new King, but it’s the same challenges in this kingdom.
To the down the string of horses… the circle continues.