Ascot's Champions Day set up for O'Brien's crowning moment

London (AFP) –


Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday can provide an appropriate backdrop for Irish training sensation Aidan O'Brien to set a new world record for Group/Grade One winners in a season.

The 48-year-old could have equalled the late great American trainer Bobby Frankel's mark of 25 by the time the gates open at Ascot as he runs Johannes Vermeer in the Caulfield Cup in Australia earlier Saturday.

O'Brien -- who has won four of the five English classics this term as he has done in Ireland -- epitomises the term 'lets the horses do the talking' when he stands in front of the media preferring not to bask in the glory himself.

"It would be massive for everyone, but we don't think about it as a long-term thing," he said about cracking Frankel's achievement.

"We take every horse and each race at a time but it would be a massive achievement for everybody.

"There are hundreds of people in the team and it's a big team effort. We'd be very honoured to do it."

O'Brien, whose previous best total of top level successes had been 23 in 2001 and 2008, saddles eight runners on a course which is used to witnessing extraordinary racing feats.

Exuberant Italian jockey Frankie Dettori went through the card in 1996 whilst wonder horse Frankel -- named after the trainer -- rounded off his unbeaten career at Champions Day in an emotion-charged day with his trainer Henry Cecil battling cancer that would eventually claim his life.

Chief among O'Brien's fancies will be his dual 2000 Guineas winner Churchill, who sidesteps the Champion Stakes to run over his preferred mile distance in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

However, he faces a tough campaigner in Ribchester who finished second in the £1.1 million race ($1.4million) last year but has sparkled this term collecting three Group One victories including the Prix Moulin in France last month.

"Everything's gone according to plan and I'm very happy with him," said his trainer Richard Fahey.

"He's very reliable and never lets you down. I'm very privileged to have him."

Ribchester's sole reverse this season came in wet conditions in the Sussex Stakes and the surprise winner that day Here Comes When re-opposes though trainer Andrew Balding, who is in a rich vein of form, has a stronger contender in the fast improving Beat The Bank.

O'Brien saddles seasoned classy campaigner Highland Reel -- winner of almost £6million in prizemoney -- and his Epsom Derby runner-up Cliffs of Moher in the Champion Stakes with stable jockey Ryan Moore opting for the former who has been described as a warrior by his trainer as he never knows when to give in.

However, it is a formidable line-up as one would imagine for such a valuable race with a crack French raider in double classic winner Brametot, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, durable campaigner Cracksman -- bidding to give Dettori a first win in the race -- and perhaps most dangerous of all St James's Palace Stakes victor Barney Roy.

The latter's participation has at least given his trainer Richard Hannon a genuine reason to be excited about if even if it may cut short his dining plans.

"Last year I didn't have a runner on Champions Day and basically went there for lunch," he said.

"Runners on that day should be very special; it should be about the top-class horses and that's what Champions Day has become.

"Barney Roy goes there in great nick."

Should O'Brien fail in both those races he could still come up smelling of roses if either Hydrangea or Rhododendron prevail in the Fillies and Mares or Caravaggio in the Sprint.