March 24, 2023

Hardy Hydrangea lifts O’Brien to record-tying 25th G1 win

Trainer Aidan O'Brien equaled Bobby Frankel's single-season Group 1 record on Champions Day (Photo courtesy Racing UK via Twitter)

When 7-4 favorite Bateel collared Aidan O’Brien’s Hydrangea in the stretch of Saturday’s British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1), the momentum appeared to be with the French shipper, a soft-ground aficionado proven at the distance. But that wasn’t accounting for the never-say-die attitude of Hydrangea. Fighting back in her first attempt over 1 1/2 miles, the Galileo filly drove clear to give O’Brien his record-tying 25th Group 1 win of the year.

The ever-gracious O’Brien, now alongside the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel in the record book, deflected credit for the milestone:

I am so delighted for everybody. It is a big team effort, we are only a small link in the chain and we are so grateful and delighted.

With these Group 1s, every one of them is so hard to win and you never expect anything. You try all the time, which we do. We are doing our best every single day and that’s all we can do. It’s great to be here and I am so grateful to everybody.

There are so many variables and so many things can go wrong; when you miss at it you never know whether you are ever going to get back there or not. That’s the way it is and the way things stack up – sometimes all your ducks come in a row and sometimes they don’t, but you just have to accept it and move on from it.

Winning rider Ryan Moore praised the Coolmore trainer.

“This is great for Aidan – it’s a massive achievement,” Moore said. “There’s no one more deserving than him and he’s done a really excellent job, as he does every year.

“It is a massive team effort and everyone who looks after these horses gives so much time and effort for it.”

Hydrangea was a fitting one to record number 25, as an advertisement of O’Brien’s horsemanship. On the go all year, since edging stablemate Winter in Leopardstown’s 1000 Guineas Trial (G3) back on April 8, and competing in a series of Group 1s, she’s taken her game to another level this fall. After upsetting Winter in a hard-fought Matron (G1) over Leopardstown’s mile, Hydrangea lost a titanic struggle with stablemate Rhododendron in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day. Coming back for another major event, going a quarter-mile farther than she’d ever been, could have been a bridge too far for many. But not Hydrangea, who’s turned into a hardy perennial.

“You couldn’t be sure that she would stay,” O’Brien noted. “She is a homebred Galileo filly and Galileos will not stop: they are most incredible animals in the world. Ryan gave her a great ride and I am so delighted for Jarleth, who rides her every day and Jamie, who looks after her, and Damian, who led her up.

“She really pulled out when Ryan wanted her to. It was Ryan’s idea to run her – he thought there was a chance that she could get this trip. We weren’t sure, but obviously she did and it is brilliant.”

While it’s undecided whether five-year-old Bateel will return for a 2018 campaign, third-placer Coronet is set to continue her career next year.

Hydrangea’s success came one week after O’Brien’s last Group 1, courtesy of U S Navy Flag in the Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket. In the interim, he was out of luck at Woodbine last Sunday with Idaho (fourth in the Canadian International [G1]) and Rain Goddess (the trailer in the E.P. Taylor [G1]). The record watch then moved to Australia overnight Friday into Saturday U.S. time, when Johannes Vermeer endured a less than ideal passage in third to longshot Boom Time in the Caulfield Cup (G1).

O’Brien and Moore got Champions Day started on the right note with Order of St George in the Long Distance Cup (G2), although the two-mile marathon was a closer-run thing than expected for the 4-5 favorite. Still several lengths behind the 25-1 Torcedor in midstretch, the son of Galileo hit another gear late to run him down by a half-length.

“It’s very soft out there,” Moore said, “but I was hoping that his stamina would kick in and it did – he’s a very good horse.

“I was very happy the whole way round and thought I had the two in front of me covered, but they picked up very well and I was a bit caught out. It did not look likely for a long time, but, at the line, he has won well.

“He is an unbelievable horse. He ran a very good race (fourth) in the Arc 20 days ago and has come here at the end of a long year looking magnificent.

“He is a beautiful horse and a pleasure to deal with.”

“He never stops,” O’Brien said of Order of St George. “In any race he’s ever run in, he always finishes them. He’s never, ever stopping. You saw him in the Gold Cup (G1) (when a near-miss second as the defending champion) and the Irish (St) Leger (G1) (where he romped over Torcedor) – sometimes the line comes too quick, but he doesn’t stop. He’s tough and he’s hard, and Ryan gave him a great ride.

“That’s him done for this year. I hope he is staying in training though. A mile and a half is no problem to him – he’s very comfortable at a mile and a half.”

Order of St George couldn’t help him with the record hunt, though, as the Long Distance Cup was a Group 2. O’Brien had his next record-equaling shot in the British Champions Sprint (G1) with Caravaggio. But the gray had to settle for a belated third to a much lighter gray, 10-1 chance Librisa Breeze, who furnished trainer Dean Ivory with his first-ever Group 1 and jockey Robert Winston with his second – and first in 13 years.

By former O’Brien trainee Mount Nelson, Librisa Breeze was earning his first stakes victory after a second in the seven-furlong Hungerford (G2) at Newbury. He’d been a troubled fourth in Royal Ascot’s Diamond Jubilee (G1) in his summer comeback.

“We’ve done well to get where we are with him,” Ivory said, “and you persevere and hope for a bit of luck and the luck’s come good today – it’s fantastic.

“He is a horse who has never had a clear run this year and he has grown into himself this year and is now a proper horse.

“He likes this nice straight track and you can keep things uncomplicated with him here. There was one stage where I thought that he wouldn’t get the gap but he got it and quickened up really nicely today.

“He’s really a seven-furlong horse or a miler, but I’ve had to train him for this race over six furlongs as there aren’t many races over those trips around for him unless you go abroad.

“Robert (Winston) believes in the horse as much as we do so it was great. We had this race in our sights for a long time and it’s great that it has all come together.”

Winston commented on how he nearly retired, but stuck it out for Librisa Breeze.

“This horse has more or less kept my career going,” his rider said. “I was packing in last year, I gave my notice to Dean and it was going to be my last year riding. This horse came along and owner Tony Bloom and things have sort of blossomed since then. It’s kept the dream alive, kept me in game.

“He deserves that, he’s been a bit unlucky in running this year, bit of trouble in running, I’ve got a bit of stick over the rides I have given him, but you have to ride him like that, you have to ride him for luck.

“There was always going to be lots of pace, they were going to angle over this way and I had loads of cover out of the wind. I switched out behind them and threaded my way through.

“He was even there too soon, he was a little lonely out in front, but that’s just his make-up, his character, he has to get there late.”

Runner-up Tasleet was finishing second in a Group 1 for the third time this campaign, after the Diamond Jubilee and the Haydock Sprint Cup (G1) last out. Haydock hero Harry Angel, the 5-4 favorite, faded to fourth, with connections citing the soft ground.

“He showed his usual class and zip when he went to the front, on much more testing ground than Haydock,” trainer Clive Cox said.

“He is an absolute aeroplane,” jockey Adam Kirby said, “but on that ground it took it out of him. It turned into a slog.

“He is the best sprinter when things go right. I just feel sorry for the horse that the ground came up this bad for him.”

Harry Angel’s rubber match with Caravaggio thus ended up being anticlimactic, as he was headed by his archrival late when their chances had already gone.

If O’Brien must wait another week to try to break Frankel’s record, he was at least honored as Britain’s champion Flat trainer on Saturday. Last year’s champion, John Gosden, presented the trophy on a banner day for both horsemen. Gosden scored a Group 1 double with Persuasive in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) and Cracksman in the Champion (G1), so combined with O’Brien’s two wins, they scooped up four of the five features on Champions Day.

O’Brien’s Group 1 honor roll in 2017 comprises Churchill (2000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas), Winter (1000 Guineas, Irish 1000 Guineas, Coronation, Nassau), Wings Of Eagles (Derby at Epsom), Capri (Irish Derby, St Leger), Highland Reel (Coronation Cup, Prince of Wales’s), Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup), Roly Poly (Falmouth, Prix Rothschild, Sun Chariot), Hydrangea (Matron, British Champions Fillies & Mares), Rhododendron (Prix de l’Opera), Order of St George (Irish St Leger), and two-year-olds Sioux Nation (Phoenix), Happily (Moyglare Stud, Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere), Clemmie (Cheveley Park), and U S Navy Flag (Middle Park, Dewhurst).

Supersire Galileo is responsible for nine of those winners (Churchill, Winter, Capri, Highland Reel, Hydrangea, Rhododendron, Order of St George, Happily and Clemmie), combining for 17 of O’Brien’s 25 Group 1s.

“Galileo was very special and he is very special all along, Galileo as a racehorse and he’s doing it ten-fold every day of the week now as a sire,” O’Brien said of yet another of his star pupils. “But we’ve been very lucky to have an awful lot of very special horses.

“We have had horses who have run strongly all season. We’ve been very lucky.”