Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien runs two horses at Belmont Park on Friday. This morning the former Irish champion flat rider and now successful handler spoke to Past The Wire about his two runners.
The twenty-eight-year-old handler has Thundering Nights representing him in the $750,000 Grade 2 New York Stakes while Baron Samedi contests the $400,000 Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup.
Both Thundering Nights and Baron Samedi travelled to New York last week and have had a gallop around the Belmont Park racetrack.
O’Brien’s travelling foreman Gary O’Connor has reported to him that “the horses have travelled well and they seem to have settled in well.”
The four year old filly Thundering Nights, a daughter of Night Of Thunder out of the Cape Cross mare Cape Castle is a three-time winner. She has been campaigned in races between a mile and a mile and a half in Europe.
Last season she won twice in five starts and was an impressive winner of the Group 3 Snow Fairy Fillies Stakes at The Curragh defeating the 2019 Group 1 Qatar Prix Marcel Boussac – Criterium des Pouliches winner Albigna.
She ended her 2020 season with a third place finish behind Cayenne Pepper in the Group 2 Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes at The Curragh on Longines Irish Champions Weekend in September.
This season the Shapoor Mistry-owned filly opened her campaign when half a length second to Broome in the Group 3 Holden Plant Rentals Alleged Stakes over 1 mile 2 furlongs also at The Curragh.
Thundering Nights’ young handler was impressed with her 2021 season opener, disclosing:
“She ran very well on her first run of the season. It looked a very good race and we’re hoping she can run a very good race. She’s come off the back of a really good run at The Curragh and if she can bring that run to the States she has a strong chance of hopefully getting a good share of prize-money at least.”
Baron Samedi, the Carriganóg Racing representative in the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup over 2 miles is on a six race winning streak, having taken victories at Cork, Down Royal, Navan, Longchamp and Navan again since he was gelded last August. He began his winning streak off an official rating of 65 and is currently rated 112.
His best career result to date was arguably the Group 2 Prix de Conseil de Paris win over one mile three furlongs at ParisLongchamps last October. His 2021 season opener, a win in the Group 3 Vintage Stakes at The Curragh, augurs well for this season as last year’s Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby victor, Santiago, and Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup Stakes runner-up Stratum finished behind him on the day.
“He has been very progressive since he was gelded,” O’Brien said of the son of Harbour Watch. “He has really got better and better. He’s a horse that has just got better with age and time and will hopefully continue to do so.”
A previous winner of races between a mile and one mile 6 furlongs, his conditioner, when asked about his horse’s chance today, offers:
“We think he has good chance. It’s a competitive race but if he can bring his Irish form and European form over we think he should have a chance. We think this race is his limit (in terms of distance).”
When suggested that this gelding could potentially be a Cup horse in Europe, the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf-winning handler concedes: “We haven’t looked much further than this weekend really. We’re having a go at a good prize. He certainly is a horse that we will consider for all the top middle to long distance races.”
The Pilltown, County Kilkenny-based handler explained that the valuable purses available at Belmont Park were noted by connections and that it is one of the reasons for competing in New York.
“About four to six weeks ago (we decided to contest the races). Obviously both horses had performed well in their reappearance runs this year. Then we saw that there were a couple of suitable races with good prize-money. We discussed it with the owners and they were happy to have a go at the races,” the dual Melbourne Cup-winning trainer said.
With “things a little bit more awkward (due to the Coronavirus) than they would be under normal circumstances”, the son of champion Irish flat trainer Aidan O’Brien praised the effort of his team in getting the horses to the USA, stating “I have a good team here that were able to work things through.”
With John Velazquez booked to ride both horses, Joseph O’Brien is thankful for managing to secure a man he describes as “a top class rider.”
“We’re very lucky to get him,” says Joseph. “I know John well from when I was riding. I met him a number of times. He’s very experienced and one of the top riders in America so we’re lucky to have him onboard.”
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