Irish Eyes: Back Blue to bounce back
Irish Eyes previews today's card at the Curragh with Air Force Blue taken to bounce back to winning form.
Air Force Blue: Taken to bounce back today
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Trainers are creatures of habit. Once they strike oil, they will return to the same spot. With that in mind, take a guess which well-known horse we are referring to.
Trained by Aidan O'Brien this American-bred was the Champion two-year-old of his generation and regarded by his handler as the best he had trained (OK, the third part of the clue doesn't exactly narrow it down!).
By the best sire in the USA, and one who was taking the world by storm, his four wins as a juvenile included the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh and the Group 1 National Stakes at the same track which ensured he started a short-priced favourite for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
There, he proved a complete and utter flop, beating just one horse home. A second run as a three-year-old also yielding nothing.
Ah, this is the son of War Front they call Air Force Blue, surely?
No. This is the son of Storm Cat they called One Cool Cat. The similarities however are striking.
The 15/8 favourite for the 2004 English 2000 Guineas was disappointing but the odds-on favourite for this year's Newmarket renewal was arguably a bigger let-down.
History tells us that Aidan O'Brien found a chance for redemption for the three-year-old One Cool Cat however. He dropped him back from one mile to a six furlong Group 3 at the Curragh, the Phoenix Stakes.
Perhaps whatever was stopping him from seeing out the mile might not preclude him from managing a weak Group 3 race over six furlongs? As is his wont, Aidan was completely justified in his move and One Cool Cat had his Group race win at three that would secure his place at stud and quietened those who claimed the horse had not trained-on.
Although we cannot know for sure, it's entirely possible that whatever issued plagued One Cool Cat is also affecting Air Force Blue. Sure enough, the champion two-year-old of 2015 finds himself in the Group 3 Phoenix Stakes some 12 years on from the first (and last) time Aidan O'Brien landed the race.
The fact that Air Force Blue was beaten a mere seven lengths in the July Cup on his last start, without getting a run when he wanted it, suggests he should easily take today's renewal. Make no mistake, this is not a strong race and it's exactly what he needs in his transformation from the forgotten Champion two-year-old to a horse who could contest the major sprint honours for the rest of the season.
The Nunthorpe, the Haydock Sprint Cup and the 6f races at Irish and British Champions day would have to be on his agenda following a confidence-boosting win today. That win simply has to happen today. It's very difficult to nap a horse that sports a tongue-tie, given what the application of such an aid is effectively advertising.
That said, in today's company, 8lb+ clear of the remainder and getting weight from the field, Air Force Blue gets the nap vote today as Caravaggio is simply much too short. He could, and in fairness probably should, tear this field to shreds. Take the 11/8 with Skybet.
The next best vote goes to another Aidan O'Brien-trained, tongue-tied colt in the shape of Utah.
Well, hopefully he's in the shape of a good horse as opposed to the American state, and the experience of his debut will have brought him on sufficiently to win today's contest.
Sixth of eight at Leopardstown, beaten almost ten lengths, was a relatively inauspicious way to introduce himself to the competitive world of Irish racing but there were reasons to be hopeful for the future following his debut.
After all, his stablemate Douglas McArthur, the impressive winner that day, had finished last of six on his debut at the same track. Now, he is as short as 12/1 favourite to land the 2017 Epsom Derby so the improvement from first to second start can be stark.
Admittedly, the application of a tongue-tie on only his second start is not exactly a plus but the way he ran at Leopardstown suggests a more galloping track like the Curragh will suit him better and, as he is bred to be a dour stayer, this one mile trip should suit him as a two-year-old.
His biggest dangers are likely to be his own stable mates, ridden by Donnacha and Ana and therefore carrying less weight as a result of their respective allowances of 3lb and 5lb, but it will be disappointing if he cannot land the odds today. The 6/4 with Skybet is the best price around and it looks more than fair.
Preview posted at 1030 BST