LAS VEGAS — When Aidan O’Brien says this may be the fastest racehorse he has ever trained, it is worth a listen.
Arguably the world’s best trainer and inarguably in charge of Europe’s biggest blue-blood stable, O’Brien made that claim about Caravaggio, a 3-year-old colt that teased a highly regarded field of sprinters into thinking they might get the better of him Friday. Then he kicked into full gear and galloped right past them.
An odds-on favorite on either side of the Atlantic, Caravaggio (5-6 in the U.K., 4-5 in the U.S.) ran his record to 6-for-6 with a three-quarter-length victory in the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. His second Group 1 win came at the expense of two Godolphin colts – pace-setting runner-up Harry Angel (11-4, 5-2) and third-place Blue Point (9-2, 5-1). The U.S.-based Bound For Nowhere (10-1, 9-1), trained by Wesley Ward, finished fourth.
“He is very quick,” O’Brien said of Caravaggio. “I would be happier at two furlongs than six furlongs with this fellow. He is the fastest horse we have ever had.”
It was one of two impressive wins Friday for the team of O’Brien, jockey Ryan Moore and the behemoth Coolmore stable. Barely a half-hour later they sent the English and Irish guineas champion Winter (4-9, 2-5) to a 2¼-length victory over two of her stable mates in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes. Roly Poly (12-1, 13-1) and Hydrangea (16-1, 16-1) were right behind the Galileo-sired winner, completing the 1-2-3 Coolmore sweep in the one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. American trainer Mark Casse’s horse La Coronel (25-1, 12-1) finished fifth, 5¼ lengths behind the winner.
With four wins this week O’Brien is on the verge of his fifth Royal Ascot training title in the last seven years. “All these Group 1 races are hard to win,” he said. “I don’t ever think about it, so we just go from one race to another.”
Carvaggio’s win came after a scare in the gate, where Moore nearly got thrown off.
“He reared in the stalls before the starter let them go,” Moore said. “But he soon got into good rhythm.”
Moore stayed in middle of the 12-horse pack, leaving it to the final furlong to push the button with a shake of the reins. Then came right-handed urging that got Caravaggio between horses three paths out from the rail. He passed Harry Angel with about 120 yards to go on his way to a narrow but certain victory.
“I had two very good horses in front of me, and they weren’t stopping,” Moore said. “He is a very, very good colt, and that was a very good race.”
Caravaggio’s victory was the fourth at this year’s Royal Ascot for a horse sired by the late Kentucky stallion Scat Daddy, yet another worker for Coolmore.
“We were unlucky to lose Scat Daddy (in 2015),” said John Magnier, the head of Coolmore. “Hopefully, this fellow will take his place.”
Before a stud career, though, there are ambitious racing plans that Magnier and the other Coolmore owners have for Carvaggio.
“The lads had it in their mind to come here and then maybe somewhere like the July Cup (next month at Newmarket) and then somewhere else after that,” O’Brien said. “He might go to Australia for the Everest (a $7.57 million race in October), so we have to be very conscious now if we want him to last for the autumn.”
With his rides in the Commonwealth Cup and the Coronation, Moore has five wins to give him a narrow lead in his bid to win the Royal Ascot jockeys’ title for the seventh time in the last eight years.
William Buick rode two winners in Friday’s 1½-mile races to stay within one victory of Moore. He was victorious on Permian (6-1, 5-1) in the Group 2 King Edward VII for 3-year-old males and on the long shot Rare Rhythm (20-1, 26-1) in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap for 3-year-olds and up.
Stradivarius (11-2) closed strong for trainer John Gosden and jockey Andrea Atzeni to win the 1¾-mile Group 2 Queen’s Vase for 3-year-olds.
An unwanted filly that was bought back for only $9,000 as a yearling got Friday started in upset fashion. French-trained, Irish-owned Different League (20-1 U.K., 27-1 U.S.) held off Alpha Centauri (2-1, 9-5) by a neck in the six-furlong Albany Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. American trainer Wesley Ward had two entries in the field of 20 – Princess Peggy (25-1, 23-1) finished 10th and Fairyland (8-1, 7-1) 12th in the Group 3 race. Princess Peggy raced despite getting hit by a bicyclist after training Wednesday.
Only one more U.S.-based horse will race at Royal Ascot. Long On Value (25-1 in U.K.) is a long shot racing for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in Saturday’s six-furlong Group 1 Diamond Jubilee for older horses. Ridden by Joel Rosario, the 6-year-old finished second in March as a 66-1 in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan, losing by a nose to The Right Man.
Girvin, Irap are headliners for Ohio Derby
They finished 13th and 18th in the Kentucky Derby. But Girvin and Irap were graded-stakes winners before that, and those credentials are likely to make them the most backed of the nine 3-year-olds in Saturday’s$500,000 Grade 3 Ohio Derby.
Girvin (2-1 on the morning line) won the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby before developing a quarter crack and then finishing 19 lengths behind Always Dreaming at Churchill Downs. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith gets his second ride on Girvin for trainer Joe Sharp.
Irap (3-1) made his mark as the 31-1 winner of the Blue Grass Stakes with Julien Leparoux aboard for trainer Doug O’Neill. Leparoux gets the ride again Saturday after Mario Gutiérrez stepped in for the third-to-last-place finish in Kentucky.
Two other Kentucky Derby also-rans – 12th-place Untrapped (9-2) and 17th-place Fast And Accurate (8-1) – are also in Saturday’s field. Only Fast And Accurate has had a race in the seven weeks since, finishing fourth on the turf in the Grade 3 Arlington Classic near Chicago four weeks ago.
The Ohio Derby will be run over 1 1/8 miles of the main dirt track at Thistledowns near Cleveland. Post time is 5:30 p.m. EDT Saturday.