Joseph O’Brien admits he is “very excited” about the prospects of Thunder Moon in this Saturday’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, as he bids to become the first person for 67 years to have ridden and trained a winner of the Classic.
After winning the mile contest as a jockey aboard Camelot for his father Aidan O’Brien back in 2012, the now-retired rider hopes the son of Zoffany can strike gold for him in his second career as a trainer.
Should O’Brien score with Thunder Moon, who claimed Group One glory in last year’s National Stakes at the Curragh, he would become the first person to have both ridden and trained a winner of the first Classic of the season since Harry Wragg, who rode the 1944 winner, Garden Path, before saddling Darius to glory in 1954.
Although Thunder Moon finished third in last year’s Darley Dewhurst Stakes on the same track, one place behind ante-post favourite Wembley who is trained by his father, Joseph feels a return to a sounder surface and a more favourable draw in stall 10 offers him a fantastic chance to turn the tables. Thunder Moon is 9-2 second favourite with official betting partner Betfair.
O’Brien said: “He is really good and he has wintered very well. He had a really good season last year. He won very well at the Curragh twice, then ran a great race at Newmarket in the Dewhurst.
“The ground was as slow as what we feel he would have liked but he has wintered well and this race has been the plan. We are getting there in good shape and we are happy with the draw and hoping he can run a big race.”
Referring to the last time Thunder Moon was seen on a racecourse in October last year, Joseph added: “From our point of view we would have much preferred better ground and a higher draw (in the Dewhurst) but the horse came out the race well and with a lot of credit.
“We thought it was a great run and we thought with conditions more in his favour that we would get closer to the principles on the day and that is what we are hoping might happen at the weekend.
“He always showed us a lot of pace and he has got a big turn of foot which he showed us last year on the track and he is a good traveller.
“We are excited and we think he is the right type of horse for the race as he is a mature pacey type. We think a mile is going to be a good trip for him so we are excited and looking forward to the race.”
Assessing the potential dangers O’Brien rates Wembley, one of three runners in the race for his father alongside Battleground and Van Gogh, as the chief rival to Thunder Moon.
He added: “You could make a strong case for any one of them but Wembley is probably the obvious one going back to his run in the Dewhurst.
“He performed consistently well to a high level last year and he is probably the obvious one. Battleground is a high class colt and Van Gogh showed himself high class also.
“They are three legitimate colts but Wembley is the obvious main danger.”
Although Thunder Moon surrendered his unbeaten record on the Rowley Mile on his final start of the campaign, O’Brien believes getting experience on the track was important going forward if he was to be treated as a QIPCO 2000 Guineas prospect.
O’Brien said: “He travelled very well through the run down to the furlong marker and quickened up well and just got run out of it in the last half a furlong or so.
“It definitely helps to have that course experience in particular at somewhere like Newmarket and I’m happy that three runs is more than enough experience for him if he is good enough.
“He has been working very satisfactorily at home and please God he can be a high class colt this season.”
Although Joseph O’Brien never won the QIPCO 1000 Guineas during his time in the saddle he holds strong claims of winning it as a trainer with Pretty Gorgeous, who signed off last season with victory over course and distance in the Group 1 bet365 Fillies’ Mile. She is 4-1 second favourite with official betting partner Betfair.
He added: “She had a very good season last year and always worked very well at home. She finished off with a career best at Newmarket over the course and distance winning a Group One. We’ve been very pleased with her.
“She is a big strong mare that has matured well over the last season and we’ve been very happy with her. The 1000 Guineas was always an obvious starting point for her.
“I can see her going a bit further but I’m not sure if she will be an Oaks type filly. I think somewhere between eight and 10 furlongs will be her optimum distance. We will take it step by step and race by race.”
With an appreciation of the significance both contests play in the Flat racing calendar, O’Brien admits that, having experienced both riding and training horses on the big occasion, it is the latter which proves a bigger test of character.
He added: “I’ve always seen the two Guineas growing up and it is always the first big test for the three year olds. The history and the big horses that have won Guineas in the past, everybody knows and appreciates it as the top three year olds and top horses of their generation and crop meeting there.
“The winners tend to be the best horses and that is the long and short of it. It is exciting to have two horses, a colt and a filly, with legitimate chances in each race. I’m just hoping they can do us proud.
“There is no doubt that training is more nerve-racking and you are certainly more tense as a trainer as there is an awful lot more that goes into training a horse to get there in one piece. There is no doubt that on this side of the railing you are considerably more nervous.”