Aidan O’Brien addressed one of the strangest anomalies in the modern annals of European racing in emphatic fashion as St Mark’s Basilica delivered him a first success in the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby, G1) June 6 at Chantilly.
In doing so he bookended another fine classic weekend for the Ballydoyle team following Snowfall ‘s dazzling success in the Cazoo Oaks (G1), while Ioritz Mendizabal continued the wonderful Indian summer to his career, matching the effort of horse and jockey in the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas, G1) three weeks ago and adding to his victory in this race on Mishriff eleven months previously.
O’Brien and Mendizabal vied for who could be the most grateful to the other during the virtual post-race press conference. Both men spoke of their supreme confidence in the son of Siyouni beforehand and as the field swung past the Chateau with fully four furlongs to run, St Mark’s Basilica was traveling as if he had just joined in.
St Mark’s Basilica wins the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly
“You need a very good horse to win it and it’s a very difficult race to win,” said O’Brien, whose best previous effort from 39 beaten runners was Highland Reel , who finished runner-up to New Bay in 2015.
“His qualities are that he has a lot of speed and he can quicken very well. He’s a very relaxed horse, he travels well, and he’s kind in his races. We thought all those were qualities he would need to win the Jockey Club.”
Paddy Power cut St Mark’s Basilica from 16-1 into 9-1 for the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), while sponsors Coral make him 7-2 second favorite (from 8-1) behind last year’s Jockey Club hero Mishriff for the Eclipse (G1) over this intermediate trip at Sandown next month.
All three of his group 1 victories have been achieved with cut in the ground but, after citing the Eclipse and the QIPCO Champion Stakes (G1) as “strong possibilities,” O’Brien warned that St Mark’s Basilica may be an even better horse when getting a sounder surface.
“He moves like a good ground horse,” said O’Brien. “You would imagine with his action that he should be more effective on good ground. He’s a lovely moving horse, he doesn’t bend his leg much, he puts his leg straight out in front of him. That all suggests that good ground should suit him better.”
Mendizabal confessed to dabbing on the accelerator earlier than O’Brien had ideally wanted as he saw brief daylight just inside the two-furlong marker, though he did not fully commit St Mark’s Basilica at that stage.
Asked what it meant to win back-to-back Jockey Clubs for two of the biggest trainers in Europe, the 47-year-old replied: “I meant what I said last year. It’s always a great honor to come across a great horse and I was able to do that thanks to Monsieur Gosden who called me up to ride Mishriff. It’s the same with Monsieur O’Brien. If you’d told me this would happen 12 months ago I would have sent you away.”
Inevitably French minds turn to the Arc in October and when asked whether he thought his dual classic hero would stretch out to a mile and a half, Mendizabal said: “Yes, without hesitation.”
Derab finished best of the rest of the Anglo-Irish challenge in a never-nearer eighth, while O’Brien’s other runner Van Gogh was 10th under Colin Keane, with O’Brien indicating a further step up in trip may be on the cards.
Frederic Rossi was thrilled with last year’s runaway Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium, G1) winner Sealiway, who improved considerably on his eighth-placed effort in the Poule d’Essai to be second at 53-1.
“It’s not victory but in many ways it is like a victory,” said Rossi. “It’s amazing. I’ve always thought I could step him up and I couldn’t have had him better. I’m very happy for (jockey) Franck. Wow! What a race and what a horse. We were beaten by a really good horse but that was a beautiful second place.”