AIDAN O’BRIEN’S famed attention to detail was epitomised by the brilliant Capri’s vintage victory in the William Hill St Leger.
Even though the Irish Derby winner appeared to be in sound health before York’s Ebor meeting last month, a routine test suggested otherwise.
Yet, by missing the Great Voltigeur Stakes, this gallant grey was in perfect form for Yorkshire racing’s most prestigious contest.
And then the tactics, in a Classic which went awry five years ago when O’Brien’s Camelot famously failed to win the Triple Crown.
Even though Ballydoyle’s pacemaker The Anvil went off too quick, the hot pace meant the three other O’Brien runners, including the favourite Capri, were all prominent.
When the race unfolded up the long home straight, Capri was in perfect position to repel his classy opponents – the runner-up Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius, the eventual third, would have been worthy winners in any other year.
O’Brien’s fifth win in the world’s oldest Classic, he declined to compare Capri to his previous winners Milan (2001), Brian Boru (2003), Scorpion (2005) and Leading Light (2013).
Yet his enthusiasm for the race, and Doncaster, remains undimmed. “He’s very special. They all are, but he’s special,” a visibly elated O’Brien told The Yorkshire Post. “We were thinking of running him at York but he wasn’t quite right. He didn’t quite have a clean scope. He has a great deal of courage and stamina but also plenty of class.”
Fastidious in the extreme, O’Brien spends the anxious period before big races in the stable complex overseeing the final preparations of his horses rather than in the hospitality boxes.
He expects his jockeys to walk to the track beforehand. And, when he discusses future plans, he refers to “the lads” – the triumvirate of Derrick Smith, John Magnier and Michael Tabor who are O’Brien’s bosses at Ballydoyle and Coolmore Stud.
It’s deference, sometimes poker-like, rather than any lack of confidence. “The lads will decide, but he’s a very smart colt. A lot of class. He’s in the Arc and that is an option,” added the trainer.
Though the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly on October 1 is over a mile and a half, two furlongs shorter than Saturday’s stiff test on rain-softened ground, Capri would go there on merit if the race doesn’t come too soon.
Unlike O’Brien who relished the occasion – his whole career is measured by Classic and Group One successes because of the quality of bloodstock at his disposal – big race jockey Ryan Moore was non-plussed.
After joining an elite list of riders to have won every domestic Classic, he had to be persuaded to don – fleetingly – the traditional cap that is always presented to the victorious jockey.
“It was a very good performance in a very good St Leger,” he said succinctly.
Of the vanquished, Count Octave, a horse for the future, out ran his odds for jockey Oisin Murphy before fading into sixth.
Yet Murphy, a work rider at Ballydoyle five years ago before heading to Britain to further his career, showed his class with victory in the Group Two Park Stakes on Martyn Meade’s Aclaim before taking the finale on Saeed bin Suroor’s Game Starter.
The 22-year-old has now ridden Group winners on each of the last four weekends and Aclaim is set to line up in the Prix de la Foret at the aforementioned Arc meeting after taking this seven furlong contest once the gaps opened. “I got a lovely tow into it, it was a bit tight but when you are on a class horse I’d rather do that than waste ground and come out,” said Murphy. “He’s been very well prepared by connections. I haven’t won a Group One yet, but it would be lovely if I got the opportunity in France.”