Smaller stables can upstage O’Brien chances at Curragh

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Aidan O'Brien

There are three Group 3 races at the Curragh on Friday, and each contest looks like a David and Goliath scenario. Aidan O’Brien has at least one entry in each race, but smaller trainers have runners who could get into the payout places at rewarding odds.

O’Brien is by far the most successful Flat trainer in Ireland over the last decade and more. He has been the champion every season since 2007. During the current abridged campaign, O’Brien has won 61 races from 321 for a strike rate of 19%. He has accumulated about 2.88 million, which is almost twice the total prize money of the trainer in second place – his son Joseph.

Smaller trainers in Ireland struggle to compete, but the Group races at the Curragh this week could see the less-fancied runners make the payout places at a working man’s price. Despite the patronage of wealthy owners, O’Brien’s horses are not robots and so punters could grab some value.

The overall strength of the O’Brien string is written into the odds by online bookmakers. However, if 19% of his runners prevail, more than four in five get beat. The trick is identifying the vulnerable favourites and the viable alternatives from the smaller operations.

Meala is by far the highest-rated runner in the mile-long juvenile fillies’ Group 3 race at 2.40pm IST. At the time of writing, bookmakers had not issued a market for this race. However, on proven form, the Jim Bolger-trained horse should be the odds-on favourite. O’Brien’s only runner is Divinely, who has not won in three starts.

Bolger regularly finishes in the top five in the Flat racing championship and benefits from a number of wealthy owners. James Stack is not quite at that level, but Ahandfulofsummers can make the frame at about +1000. Beating the O’Brien and Bolger runners may be beyond Ahandfulofsummers, but an each-way bet could be quite profitable.

O’Brien has two runners in the fillies’ Group 3 race for horses aged three and older over one mile and one furlong at 3.10pm. However, the highest-rated horse is Albigna, who is trained by Jessica Harrington. She is currently third in the trainers’ title race and regularly runs horses in Group contests. Albigna won a Group 1 race for juveniles at Longchamp last October.  

The ratings suggest So Wonderful is O’Brien’s best chance to win this race. However, Albigna is the worthy favourite and as a three-year-old gets 7lbs from the older horses, including Lady Wannabe from the Stack stable.

O’Brien has the two best horses on form in the race for colts and fillies aged two over six furlongs at 4.10pm. He won the race with Lope Y Fernandez last season, and that horse has competed at the highest level over the last three months. Chief Little Hawk is the pick of the O’Brien pair and could go to the top in 2021.  

However, the fly in the ointment is Teresa Mendoza, who is trained by Ken Condon. The trainer has won seven races from 100 runs this season and less than 500,000 in prize money. At +500 having won her only previous start, Teresa Mendoza gets the fillies’ allowance and looks a place prospect at the very least.

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