Aidan O’Brien may have provided the odds-on favourite, Aesop’s Fables (8/13) in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at The Curragh on Sunday, but it was his two sons, Joseph and Donnacha, who dominated proceeding at the end of the Group 1 contest.
Joseph O’Brien beat his younger brother Donnacha as Al Riffa held off Proud And Regal by a length-and-a-quarter in the seven-furlong race, with Shartash third for handler Johnny Murtagh.
Al Riffa, a son of Coomore Stud stallion Wootton Bassett, was second to Hans Andersen at The Curragh on debut, before winning a 7-furlong maiden at the same track three weeks’ later. Connections were clearly impressed by that performance as they supplemented the two-year-old colt for this race.
The winner, ridden by Dylan Browne McMonagle, for whom it was a first Group 1 success, showed bravery and determination when challenged by Proud And Regal, under jockey Gavin Ryan.
“Dylan won on this horse (previously) so he was entitled to keep the ride on him (today) and he has a big future,” winning handler Joseph O’Brien admitted.
The French-bred Al Riffa was sold as a foal at Arqana December Breeding Stock Sale in 2020 for €31,000 before being later offered as a yearling at Tattersalls October Yearling Sale Book 1 and selling for 150,000 guineas.
Joseph O’Brien said of his Group 1 victor:
“Al Riffa won his maiden well and the owners were keen to supplement him for this race and give him an opportunity. We thought he’d handle the ground. It was a very impressive performance to come from the back of the field like that.”
The horse’s success as a two-year-old has some as somewhat of a surprise to the former Irish champion jockey-turned-trainer, as he explains:
“He was a big shell of a horse as a yearling and I thought he’d make a lovely three-year-old. I didn’t for a minute think he’d make the two-year-old he has made. We thought (coming here) that if he ran in the first three it would be a really good result. To see him come on the bridle there today was really special.”
By Wootton Bassett out of an unraced Galileo mare called Love On My Mind, Al Riffa is a 29th stakes winner for his sire and a sixth Group 1 success for the Coolmore stallion. He is also the first stakes winner by Wootton Bassett from a daughter of the former Champion stallion Galileo.
O’Brien has high hopes for Al Riffa due to the stamina in his pedigree but also feels he may be a one-mile Guineas horse for next season.
“He’s closely related to an Ascot Gold Cup winner, so that’s real stamina, but he’s not slow. I’d imagine he’s a Guineas horse for sure and we’ll take it from there. He’s a classy horse and very exciting.”
The immediate plan for Al Riffa is the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at ParisLongchamp on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe weekend in October.
“The plan was that he’d come here and maybe then go to France but first of all we’ll see how he comes out of today and discuss it with the owners,” the former Breeders’ Cup winning rider and conditioner states.The National Stakes is run in honour of Dr Vincent O’Brien who was named the greatest trainer of the 20th Century by The Racing Post newspaper some years ago, and is one of the premier two-year-old races of the European flat racing season.
Photo by Breandán Ó hUallacháin