07/10/2008 11:00PM

O'Brien on pace to recapture Group 1 record


NEW YORK - With 12 Group 1 victories under his belt through July 11, Aidan O'Brien is well ahead of schedule to break Bobby Frankel's world mark of 25 Group 1 or Grade 1 triumphs in a single year. Frankel set that record in 2003 when he broke the record of 23 that O'Brien had set just two years earlier.

William Hill is offering a stingy 4-6 for the master of Ballydoyle to break Frankel's record, but the doubting Thomases at Betfred have him at

7-2. William Hill's assessment is probably closer to reality. O'Brien has won 36.3 percent of the first 33 Group 1 races on the European calendar. With 49 Group 1's yet to be run in Europe between now and Nov. 12, he would "only" have to win 28.5 percent of those to surpass Frankel. O'Brien will also have any number of late-season Group or Grade 1's in America, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan from which to choose, not that he is about to squeeze a horse into an ill-fitting Group 1 just to break Frankel's mark.

Six of O'Brien's 12 Group 1 wins have been notched by just two horses, Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator having won three each. Both are capable of adding to their totals, with Duke of Marmalade set to make his first start at 1 1/2 miles on July 26 in Ascot's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, where he will probably run into Youmzain, last year's Arc runner-up who recently beat another of O'Brien's Group 1 winners, Soldier of Fortune, in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

Henrythenavigator rates as the best miler in the world and is likely to stick to his favorite distance, as O'Brien has Soldier of Fortune and Irish Derby winner Frozen Fire at 1 1/2 miles, Eclipse Stakes winner Mount Nelson at 1 1/4 miles, and Duke of Marmalade at 1 1/4 and perhaps 1 1/2 miles. O'Brien has two outstanding stayers in Yeats, the three-time Ascot Gold Cup winner, and Septimus, the recent 1 3/4-mile Group 3 Curragh Cup winner and defending European champion stayer, who is being aimed at the Melbourne Cup on Nov. 4. A problem there is that there are only two Group 1 stayers' races for older horses left in Europe, the 1 3/4-mile Irish St. Leger and the 2 1/2-mile Prix du Cadran.

Among his Group 1 winners, only Queen Anne Stakes winner Haradasun is out of the picture, as the Australian-bred has been returned home for the Southern Hemisphere breeding season.

On the distaff side, O'Brien will saddle his English Oaks runner-up Moonstone in Sunday's Irish Oaks. Last year his English Oaks runner-up Peeping Fawn went on to record four Group 1 victories beginning with the Irish Oaks, so O'Brien must feel confident about Moonstone, who is by French Derby and Arc winner Dalakhani.

Peeping Fawn, on the other hand, has not been seen since winning the Yorkshire Oaks on Aug. 22. She is in training but is beginning to remind some people of Alexandrova, O'Brien's three-time Group 1 winner in 2006 who never made it back to the races after her 3-year-old campaign.

The first of 16 juvenile Group 1's in Europe will be the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh on July 27. O'Brien has won that race eight times and may try again with his Group 2 Railway Stakes winner Mastercraftsman, or with recent maiden winners Set Sail or Westphalia. Man of Iron, however, is in need of a phoenix-like recovery after a dull 13th-place finish in his debut behind stablemate Rip Van Winkle in a seven-furlong Curragh maiden on June 27. A Giant's Causeway half-brother to Jazil, Rags to Riches, and Casino Drive, Man of Iron may have an inbred preference for dirt that cannot be satisfied in Europe.

O'Brien just missed winning his 13th Group 1 at Newmarket on Friday when US Ranger was nipped on the line in the six-furlong July Cup. Slow to get the knack of sprint racing, the Danzig 4-year-old appears to be on the verge of a Group 1 victory.

O'Brien's embarrassment of riches became more embarrassing on Wednesday evening when his Zulu Chief won a 10-furlong maiden at Naas by 20 lengths. A late-developing 3-year-old by Fusaichi Pegasus out of Canadian champion filly La Lorgnette, he is a half-brother to European champion miler and 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Eclipse Stakes winner Hawk Wing. Nominated to the Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion Stakes, Zulu Chief is yet another bow in an O'Brien arsenal that ranks second to none, anywhere in the world.