Aidan O’Brien could saddle a formidable three-pronged assault in his bid for a sixth victory in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
It is 21 years since the popular Giant’s Causeway provided the Ballydoyle handler with his first win in the prestigious Group One contest, a success he still recalls fondly two decades on.
The record-breaking Rock Of Gibraltar (2002), Henrythenavigator (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2009) and The Gurkha (2016) have all since added their names to the roll of honour in a race O’Brien ranks highly in the Flat racing calendar.
“Giant’s Causeway is a horse that would come to mind when you think of the Sussex. It’s a very difficult race to win,” said the trainer.
“It’s a very prestigious mile race. It’s the ultimate test really — it’s up and it’s down and it’s left and right. They have to have speed and stamina and they have to be very versatile.
“It can be the ultimate test of a miler, physically and mentally. It’s a very important race in the pedigree of a horse going to stud.”
O’Brien has Lope Y Fernandez, Order Of Australia and Battleground pencilled in as a potential runners in this year’s renewal.
Lope Y Fernandez was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Palace Pier in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, while Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order Of Australia opened his account for the campaign in the Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh last weekend.
O’Brien said: “Order Of Australia has come out of the race (on Sunday) well. He cantered on Monday and yesterday and he’s very well.
“It’s very possible that he could go. Obviously when he only ran at the weekend, we’d like to get him back in full work for four or five days and do the right thing for the horse.
“We’re looking forward to Lope Y Fernandez. We have the choice of running here or going to the Lennox Stakes, but at the moment we’re thinking of the Sussex. He worked on Tuesday morning and we were very happy with him.”
Battleground, who won the Vintage Stakes at the Qatar Goodwood Festival last summer, is a much bigger price than his two stablemates, having been well beaten on his latest outing in the Prix Jean Prat Deauville.
However, O’Brien feels he is better judged on his third place in the St James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting last month.
He added: “He ran a very big race in Ascot. He was a little bit disappointing the last day, but he was drawn out on a wing and he’s a horse that likes to get cover.
“We’ve been very happy with him since and we think Goodwood will suit him — we think he’ll leave that run behind him and come right back to his Ascot run and better.
“It’s very possible that he could go to the Sussex as well.”
O’Brien is also set to be well represented in Tuesday’s Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup, a Group One contest he won twice with the legendary stayer Yeats in 2006 and 2008.
Earmarked as possible runners next week are last year’s third Santiago, last season’s Derby winner Serpentine and Amhran Na Bhfiann. All three finished down the field in the Gold Cup last month, although the latter has since bounced back with victory in the Curragh Cup.
“We think coming back to two miles will help Santiago and Amhran Na Bhfiann the same,” said O’Brien.
“There’s a chance that Serpentine will run as well. We were thinking two of the three, we just haven’t decided yet which two.”
Thursday’s Group One feature at Goodwood is the Qatar Nassau Stakes.
With 1000 Guineas heroine Mother Earth set to wait for the Prix Rothschild at Deauville, in the mix from Ballydoyle are Irish 1,000 Guineas one-two Empress Josephine and Joan Of Arc. The latter has since won the French Oaks and appears the team’s chief hope.
O’Brien added: “The two fillies we were training for it (Nassau) are Joan Of Arc, who won the Diane, and Empress Josephine.
“Joan Of Arc has been progressing lovely all season and we’ve been looking at this with her for a good while.
“Empress Josephine could step up to a mile and a quarter to run it as well. That’s not definite, but it’s very possible.”