Aidan O’Brien is banking on Santa Barbara’s “exceptional” ability to make up for her inexperience in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.
While the daughter of Camelot made a big impression when winning on her racecourse debut in late September, few could have envisaged she would be a red-hot favourite for the first fillies’ Classic of 2021 off the back of that solitary outing.
The reason for her contracting odds in recent weeks have been the unusually bullish reports coming out of Ballydoyle this spring.
And speaking on a Qipco British Champions Series Zoom call earlier this week, O’Brien was again fulsome in his praise for what Santa Barbara has been showing at home ahead of her bid for glory on the Rowley Mile.
He said: “We always thought a lot of Santa Barbara. We didn’t want to over-race her and she’s just had the one run.
“Obviously it’s a big call for her, but she seems to be in good form.
“She always looked very special last year. Of all the two-year-old fillies, she was always at the top of the pecking order.
“She only had the one run, but on her home work she was always very impressive and very exceptional. She’s a very strong traveller and a big, powerful filly – through her work and through a race.”
O’Brien is well aware of what it takes to win the 1000 Guineas, having saddled four of the last six winners and six overall.
The trainer clearly feels Santa Barbara possesses the requisite talent, but admits her lack of racecourse experience is not ideal.
“It is only her second run – running down Newmarket on quickish ground. She will be green, so it will be interesting to see how she copes with it,” he said.
“Either way you’d imagine she’ll learn a lot from it – it will do her absolutely no harm.
“If she’d had another run, it might have been an advantage to her, but she’s a quick learner at home and very intelligent.
“No matter what we work her with, she always looks to be dominating them.”
O’Brien, who also saddles Mother Earth, added: “Whatever it (Santa Barbara’s price) is, it is. She doesn’t know, she only knows she’s getting ready for a race.
“Everyone will be excited to see what happens when she does come off the bridle. This is a Guineas and it’s going to happen at some point.”
The home team is headed by by the Andrew Balding-trained Alcohol Free, who rounded off her juvenile campaign with Group One success in the six-furlong Cheveley Park Stakes and made a winning reappearance over seven furlongs in the Fred Darling at Newbury a fortnight ago.
Jockey Oisin Murphy is hopeful the daughter of crack sprinter No Nay Never can prove her stamina as she tackles a mile for the first time.
He said: “I was really thrilled with her at Newbury. She was just ready to start off and did everything nicely in the race. I made her come back and wait and go through the gears and she did it all well.
“She’s come out of the race well. She hasn’t done any serious work since – it has all been routine, but she has passed every test so far.
“She got six (furlongs) very well and the Cheveley Park is a good Guineas trial. She got seven (furlongs) well in the Fred Darling too. She was in the firing line from two out and though the pace wasn’t very strong, she had to battle.
“We always felt she was a Guineas filly from last year.”
Sacred is in a similar position for trainer William Haggas and owner-breeders Cheveley Park Stud.
The Exceed and Excel filly mixed it at Pattern level over five and six furlongs as a two-year-old – and while she did win over seven furlongs on her return in Newmarket’s Nell Gwyn Stakes, connections admit only time will tell whether a mile is within her compass.
Cheveley Park’s managing director, Chris Richardson, said: “She’s in good form. We all desperately need rain, but I’d be quite keen for there not to be too much before Sunday.
“Ryan (Moore) was pretty strong on the fact there was going to be a question about the mile, but there is only one Guineas and if she stays it gives us more options going forward.
“She broke her maiden at Newmarket and won the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket, so we know she acts on the track.
“It’s exciting to see how well she’s done physically from two to three and if she stays, she could run a big race.”
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