O’Brien Criticism Unfair

Today (11 May) we saw yet another over reaction to a Joseph O’Brien ride on a Coolmore horse, trained by his father and boss, Aidan. Geoffrey Chaucer, having his first run of the season, carrying a penalty and for the first time racing on soft ground, finished third behind favourite Fascinating Rock and the runner-up, Ebanoran in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown.

Sent off 7/4 second favourite, the son of Montjeu ‘could only manage’ third, a place behind his market position, having a luckless trip as they came into the straight. Having jumped slightly gingerly he was keen in the hands of Joseph O’Brien early, and off a slow pace allowed to stride ahead of his nearest market rivals.

Sitting in front of Fascinating Rock and Ebanoran off the early dawdle Joseph could be said to be in a better early position than the aforementioned pair. With his mount still keen, he managed to get some cover and also covered less ground (than the eventual winner and runner up) as he was down the inner.

Half a mile from home, off the still slow pace, Geoffrey Chaucer now sat third and two to three lengths ahead of his main market rivals. Joseph in pole position, right? Turning and heading into the straight Joseph still sat quietly as he let (seemingly) inferior horses quicken the pace. He could’ve gone with them, I agree, but he always looked confident of picking them up (which proved right) and it seemed he had other worries, namely Fascinating Rock and Ebanoran.

Joseph shot through a gap down the inner, just after the two pole, and the race was now in full swing. Declan McDonagh had played his full hand and made an early, and brilliant move, to try and steal the race.

Like Joseph O’Brien, Pat Smullen, who sat last for much of the way, played his hand late. It now looked a three horse race with Ebanoran getting first run and Fascinating Rock and Geoffrey Chaucer chasing.

Just before entering the final furlong, Declan McDonagh’s early move had now put him in pole position and with him getting first run, and with a brilliant bit of race riding, he shut the door of Geoffrey Chaucer, causing Joseph O’Brien to take a big pull and lose momentum. (He may have shut the door too firmly here, however, as horses clipping heels was a distinct possibly, but nonetheless, it was a good move, especially if you had backed the Oxx horse.)

This now made Fascinating Rock favourite to grab the second spot as he was now in full cry trying to chase down the enterprisingly ridden Ebanoran. The trio had a set-to with 150 metres left to run with Ebanoran leading and the staying on pair of Fascinating Rock and Geoffrey Chaucer in second and third, respectively. A length and a half separated them at this stage.

Fascinating Rock had clear sailing down the outside, but McDonagh’s early move, along with a manoeuvre by Pat Smullen, before one out, meant Geoffrey Chaucer had nowhere to go and was down the inner – Ebanoran directly ahead of him with Fascinating Rock laterally direct.

So while staying on to good effect, Joseph O’Brien’s mount really had nowhere to go and 50 metres from home, without ever looking like getting there (his troubled passage obviously no help) Geoffrey Chaucer once again had to be snatched up as the eventual second lugged off the rail.

Ebanoran would go on to win by a head, but later be demouted, and rightly so, by the stewards. Geoffrey Chaucer would finish two-and-a-half lengths third with a troubled passage.

People should also remember, the awarded winner was having his third start of the campaign and the runner-up, his second – so both had race fitness on their side and the pair also received three pounds from the O’Brien horse. Given the circumstances, Geoffrey Chaucer has run a fantastic race.

Given my evidence and the topic of the piece, there are a trio of points I’d like to make.

1. Joseph O’Brien did not give his mount a ‘bad ride’, but, in my opinion, was the victim of circumstance today. Brilliant race riding by Declan McDonagh and a positive moment from Pat Smullen saw Geoffrey Chaucer put further behind on the back foot. His passage was severely compromised by the above moves, moves beyond Joseph O’Brien’s control. Add to this, the son of Montjeu having his first run of the year, on the softest ground he’d have encountered, in race conditions, and, giving the front two three pounds – it was a big effort from the pair, but today just wasn’t ‘the day’.

2. ‘The day’ I speak of will no doubt be a Grade One race somewhere. The Derby, and Irish and French equivalents is when the kitchen sink will be thrown at Geoffrey Chaucer. It will be thrown at him by his trainer in getting him to peak fitness, something he would not have been today. It will also be thrown at him by his jockey on the given day. This is also something that did not happen today, I do agree.

Joseph could have chosen to chase the lesser horses in today’s race earlier, but chose not to. Keeping the horse on the bridle for as long as possible was the objective ensuing an easy as possible race, on soft ground with extra weight. Mission accomplished!

Is this the right thing to do where punters are concerned? Of course not and Ballydoyle often flirt with the ‘schooling in public’ rule – insistent on not giving their horses hard races in preps, but for as long as I’ve been following racing, this has always been the case. If you’re a punter following the game and haven’t cottoned on to this by now, I’m sorry but I have no pity for you.

Instead, and I’m a keen punter myself, use this knowledge to maybe lay (a game I don’t often partake in) and back against early season/first time Ballydoyle horses. They’re so hyped given their lodgings/pedigrees that they make markets for other horses. Use this knowledge is what I’d say.

3. The final point I’d like to make is, it’s always easy to put the boot into jockeys, as people unfairly did with Joseph today, but how about a round of applause for Declan McDonagh’s near winning ride on Ebanoran? It was he that put Geoffrey Chaucer even further on the back foot when he aggressively shut the door on him in the straight. In the end he lost the race, sadly, which makes this point a bit counterintuitive, but I thought it was a fine effort.

I’d also like to point out how much Pat Smullen gave the eventual winner to do, not one of his best, but he somehow got the win.


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