Another Aidan O’Brien miracle needed to repair City of Troy’s reputation after Guineas flop (2024)

No doubt more than a few ‘F’ words greeted a pair of Classic winning outsiders at Newmarket over the weekend but the one Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team desperately wanted for their great white hope, City Of Troy, was absent.

The colt billed as “our Frankel” proved a bitter flop in Saturday’s Qipco 2,000 Guineas, leaving O’Brien “shocked” as he beat just two in the colts’ Classic behind Godolphin’s unbeaten winner, Notable Speech.

Things improved marginally for Ballydoyle on Sunday as Ylang Ylang put in a plucky effort to finish a running on fifth to 28-1 Elmalka in the 1,000.

Only the Silvestre De Sousa-ridden winner denied Donnacha O’Brien a first English Classic as a trainer, with Porta Fortuna finishing runner-up by a neck in a dramatic finish where France’s Ramatuelle looked all over the winner only to fade to third.

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It was a first English Classic for De Sousa, the Brazilian who became a triple-champion jockey in Britain before heading to Hong Kong where he was handed a 10-month ban for breaching betting rules. He returned from that in March.

Even 24 hours later, however, most of the fallout from the season’s first Classics revolved around City Of Troy’s sorry blowout.

Champion two-year-olds hyped as the game’s next superstar are nothing new. It is 50 years since Apalachee started 4-9 for the Guineas, failed, and was never seen again. But he at least made the frame. City Of Troy was beaten at halfway.

Another Aidan O’Brien miracle needed to repair City of Troy’s reputation after Guineas flop (5)

It was an abject display more in common with popped reputational balloons from Ballydoyle over the years such as Air Force One and One Cool Cat, maybe even Auguste Rodin a year ago.

O’Brien performed a minor miracle in getting him back from a Guineas disaster to rehabilitate his reputation with dual-Derby and Breeders’ Cup success. Expecting a similar miracle two years running is expecting a lot however, even from someone with O’Brien’s famed skills.

Whatever he manages to do – and there are apparently enough punters keeping the faith to make City Of Troy a 7-1 shot for next month’s Derby – the reputational bubble surrounding City Of Troy as a potential generation defining great has well and truly popped.

Part of the deal for an undisputed all-time great champion such as Frankel is that excuses aren’t required. There didn’t even appear to be many of them floating around on Sunday with O’Brien issuing a “seems fine” update on the colt’s wellbeing.

Immediately after the race, he hadn’t pretended to be anything but stunned by the dismal performance.

Another Aidan O’Brien miracle needed to repair City of Troy’s reputation after Guineas flop (6)

“He got upset in the stalls before, which he never did before, then he jumped and Ryan just said the pace was on and he was in the middle of the pace and he just flattened on his first run,” O’Brien said.

“Obviously it’s not his run and we’ll see what happened and why it happened,” he added.

Auguste Rodin’s transformation from Guineas flop to Derby hero in four weeks was perhaps the finest single performance of O’Brien’s stellar career. Only the foolish will dismiss his ability to remake City Of Troy into a serious Classic talent. But the odds about it should be a lot longer than those floating around before Saturday about City Of Troy eventually becoming a Triple Crown winner. Sceptics might even suspect a better value bet might be a repeat of the Apalachee route to stud.

Such considerations were irrelevant to the Elmalka team of De Sousa and Newmarket trainer Roger Varian after her last to first Guineas thrust. Slowly away from stalls, the filly who won on her debut at lowly Southwell in November, proved too strong for her rivals in the dying strides.

Another Aidan O’Brien miracle needed to repair City of Troy’s reputation after Guineas flop (7)

Elmalka was third in Newbury’s Fred Darling a couple of weeks earlier under James Doyle but his lucrative retainer with Wathnan Racing meant he was riding in France on Sunday. Scrambling as a freelance mightn’t normally pay as well but De Sousa’s availability paid off in spades this time.

“I’ve been riding nice horses in the morning for Roger and in the afternoon as well and I’m just delighted with the opportunities that have been given to me,” De Sousa said.

“I’ve been working hard behind the scenes and I’m still able to do it. I’ve just been working hard and said we’d see how the season goes. It’s unbelievable, I’ve been trying to win a Classic for so long, so it’s great to get one.

“Coming down into the dip I could see the horses in front weren’t getting away from me and I hoped when I hit the rising ground she would pick up,” added the 43-year-old whose first job in Europe was riding work for Dermot Weld in 2004.

One upside for Ballydoyle from the weekend Guineas action was Ylang Ylang’s promotion to Oaks favourite after her stout effort. Whether she’s joined in Epsom by City of Troy remains to be seen.

Another Aidan O’Brien miracle needed to repair City of Troy’s reputation after Guineas flop (2024)
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