DONNACHA O’BRIEN has already made a huge impact this season with two Classic victories to his name, including a memorable 2,000 Guineas victory on Saxon Warrior.
O’Brien went on to capture the Oaks at Epsom on Forever Together for his father Aidan, while Saxon Warrior disappointed under Ryan Moore as favourite for the Derby when finishing fourth to Godolphin’s Masar.
Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby represents an opportunity for Saxon Warrior to restore his reputation, and O’Brien is optimistic about his prospects, despite riding against him.
Saxon Warrior lines up in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on Saturday. How have things been with him since his run in the Derby?
He’s in very good form. I rode him earlier this week and his work is very good indeed. He’s a horse I’ve loved ever since I started riding him and I’ve always thought he was very special. Hopefully we can get him back to the form he showed at Newmarket.
Has anything come to light to explain his defeat at Epsom?
No, he came out of the race absolutely fine. It’s just one of those things and they’re not robots these horses. He was below par that day for whatever reason.
You rode Saxon Warrior to victory in the 2,000 Guineas. What did that feel like?
It was just the best. It’s what every jockey wants to achieve when they start out and it’s such a great buzz. It’s hard to get a buzz like riding a horse and being able to go past top-class horses so easily. That’s what it’s all about and it was very special.
You actually ride against Saxon Warrior on Saturday as you partner Latrobe for your brother Joseph. How do you rate your chances and what is it like to work with Joseph?
Latrobe’s stepping up a lot in grade but he’s a horse we like. If he could run into a place we’d be really pleased. Joseph’s doing incredible as a trainer. We get on great and me working for him and Dad makes life a lot easier for me.
Saxon Warrior is one of your regular rides at home, along with plenty of other talented horses. What is it like to work at Ballydoyle day in, day out?
It’s something I’ve taken for granted a bit because since I started riding I’ve been fortunate enough to ride very good horses. I’m very lucky and you have to just try to approach it like you’re riding any other horse.
Ryan Moore is number one rider for the Coolmore partners. What is he like to work with?
Ryan’s great and he’s been a great help to me. If I have any questions about any horses or any races then I can just ask him as he knows the form inside out. He always does his homework before any race. He’s a brilliant rider and a huge asset to the team.
Forever Together is set to line up in the Pretty Polly Stakes on Sunday. How has she been since her Epsom success?
She’s been so good at home and everything’s been going very smoothly with her since the Oaks. That was a big step up and we didn’t necessarily expect her to do it as well as she did, but at home she’s quite laidback and lazy so doesn’t show you all she has. We’re looking forward to seeing what she can do on track again.
Merchant Navy seems a similarly laidback character. Is that right, and what did you think of his win at Royal Ascot last week?
He’s very laidback at home and quite sleepy almost, so we have to sort of guess exactly where we are with him going into races. He seems to bring his best to the track though, which is what you want. I thought it was a very good performance at Ascot. He was carrying weight he shouldn’t have been carrying and he beat a bunch of top-class horses still. He’s got a lot of talent.
Sergei Prokofiev just came up short in the Coventry Stakes. What did you make of the run?
He ran a great race and everyone was very proud of him. It would’ve helped if we’d have raced on the same side as the winner, but he did all he could do and it was a good run. I know Ryan was very happy with him and he’d love another crack at the winner. Hopefully he can step forward from that again.
Looking back at Royal Ascot last week, did any performances from the Ballydoyle horses particular stand out for you?
Merchant Navy stands out. He won us the Group 1, which is always important, and I think he’d be a very exciting runner in the July Cup if he stays for that. I also thought Magic Wand was really good, as was Kew Gardens. Wherever they go next they’re going to be exciting as they’re progressive three-year-olds with big futures.
And, finally, is there any horse you are particularly looking forward in the second half of the season?
It’s all about Saxon Warrior for me. I’ve never hidden how much I think of him and I’m just hoping he can bring out on the track what he’s been showing us at home.