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Laurens lands Fillies’ Mile as September comes too late for Aidan O’Brien | Sport


No one can train 23 Group One winners in a season without enjoying a little good luck along the way but fortune abruptly turned its back on Aidan O’Brien here on Friday as he went in search of number 24. His Happily, the certain favourite for the Fillies’ Mile, was scratched a few hours before the race after she was found to be running a temperature and then Ballydoyle’s frustration was compounded as her stable companion September went down by a nose to Laurens after a difficult passage through the final quarter-mile.

September was in front half a stride past the post but Laurens, under a brilliantly judged front-running ride by PJ McDonald, was a millimetre to the good where it mattered. It took the judge a couple of minutes to separate the two but, when the result was announced, it was greeted with jubilation in the winner’s enclosure as both John Dance, owner of Laurens, and McDonald celebrated their first success at the highest level.

“I honestly can’t believe it,” McDonald, who started his riding career over jumps and won the 2007 Scottish Grand National on Hot Weld, said. “I’m 35 now and the relief when that number got called out was amazing. If I never do anything else in my career, I’ve ridden a Group One winner.”

Laurens and McDonald may have had the run of the race here but Karl Burke, her trainer, was certain beforehand that the filly’s best days will be over middle distances next season and, if he is right, Laurens should be a contender, at least, for Classics in the early part of the year. The 1,000 Guineas in May, for which she is quoted at around 25-1, is one possibility, but the race that Burke is already starting to ink into the schedule is the Prix de Diane, France’s Oaks, at Chantilly.

“I suppose, if the Guineas came up on soft ground, that would be an option,” Burke said. “But we’ll take our time to consider the options.

“We always knew she would be a galloper rather than a speed horse at this stage of her career but, when we step up in distance next year, she’s going to be very good.

“She was a beautiful, classy-looking yearling and she has this fantastic action. She’s a bit like a ballerina and very light on her feet for a big filly and we’ve never had her off the bridle at home. I think the ideal race for her would be the Prix de Diane but we’ve got plenty of time to sit and think.”

O’Brien’s pursuit of a record for Group One winners in a season will continue on Saturday, when he has four runners in the Dewhurst Stakes and two more — Johannes Vermeer and The Taj Mahal — in a race at Caulfield Park in Australia which is due off at 5.50am BST.

The trainer still needs three more to beat the late Bobby Frankel’s 14-year-old record of 25 and September’s near miss here means Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot next weekend is the next date when O’Brien could make history.

John Gosden, who took the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with Enable a fortnight ago, promises to be O’Brien’s most significant opponent at Ascot, where his three-year-old colt Cracksman is expected to start favourite for the feature event, the Qipco Champion Stakes.

Gosden exercised Cracksman and several more of his likely Champions Day runners on Newmarket Heath on Friday morning. In addition to Cracksman he will also head to Britain’s richest one-day card with high hopes for Journey and Coronet in the Group One Fillies and Mares Stakes and Stradivarius, the Goodwood Cup winner, in the Group Two Long Distance Cup.

“He’s doing well all the time,” Gosden said of Cracksman. “He’s now weighing 16kg or 17kg more than he did when he went to run his first race at Epsom in April this year. He’s a bigger, stronger horse and he’s done nothing but improve through the year, and it would have seemed rather silly to bypass a race of that importance.”

Gosden also reflected on O’Brien’s exceptional season and the qualities that have helped the trainer towards a strike-rate of nearly 50% in the Group One races he has contested this year.

“I have enormous respect for the quality of the horses and the superb training of them,” Gosden said. “Any time you compete against him you know you are absolutely taking on the pinnacle and I find the challenge fascinating. I just spend all my time trying to work his tactics out. It’s like a Rubik’s cube but I really enjoy the challenge of it.

“He is completely and absolutely absorbed in what he’s doing, every moment and every horse. My son and I spent Sunday morning with him after the Irish Derby this year and I was fascinated to watch the incredible attention to detail, everything was immaculate. It’s the gold standard, it really is.”



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