Ireland’s Joseph O’Brien became the youngest trainer to bag a Breeders Cup winner on Saturday night with Iridessa, has a Melbourne Cup on his mantlepiece from Rekindling in 2017 and top trader Niall O’Reilly reckons he could be about to deliver again at Flemington in the early hours of Tuesday morning in a race where Paddy’s paying the first 6 home.
I’m very keen on Downdraft to give O’Brien Jnr another fairytale winner in Melbourne and I have had him in mind for a while. He looks to have all the attributes to win the race that stops a nation and his recent impressive victory in a Group 3 handicap at Flemington on Saturday, only enhances that claim.
He was a very good three-year-old last season, winning a competitive handicap at Navan off 88 before being well backed at Royal Ascot to win the King George Stakes, He had a very wide trip throughout that race but still finished sixth of 19.
Looking back on that form now, he faced a stiff task, with the likes of Cross Counter (last year’s Melbourne Cup winner) and First Eleven finishing just in front of him. Both are now rated around 20 pounds higher than they were then. The Ascot contest seemed to leave a mark on him, as he struggled on his next few starts.
However, he put up a remarkable effort to win a 10f Naas handicap impressively off a mark of 93 on his final start last season, producing some very impressive sectionals in doing so. Even if it wasn’t the strongest of races, it showed us that Downdraft has a serious turn of foot, which you need to win the Melbourne Cup.
He is hugely unexposed over staying trips, having had only two starts over further than 1m 4f, producing career bests in Ireland on both those starts. He beat The King, trained by Jessica Harrington, impressively by three lengths at Down Royal, and that horse is a decent yardstick for stayers in Ireland.
The key piece of form to his chances on Tuesday morning was when he was an excellent second to Southern France, on his first start in Group company, with Ascot Gold Cup third Master of Reality (who also 5th in the Irish St Leger) back in 3rd.
That performance was even better than it looked when you consider the race was slowly run, with a finishing speed of 108 per cent and Downdraft was at a disadvantage as he was held up and forced to come wide to make his challenge. He re-opposes Southern France on 3lbs better terms and can reverse the form.
I’m very confident the demands of this race will suit Downdraft much better than Southern France.
He was given a break after the Curragh before returning in the Group 2 Monee Valley Cup over 12f on good ground when finishing a very good third to Hunting Horn in a race that developed into a sprint, which would not have suited him.
He left that form behind on Saturday though when bolting up on soft ground in that 1m 4f Group 3 handicap at Flemington. Many will say the form is questionable as it looked a weak race on paper, though on a literal line through The Chosen One, who finished fifth, it mightn’t be as weak as suggested.
That runner was beaten almost eight lengths by Downdraft on Saturday and only four lengths in the 1m 4f Caulfield Cup last month behind Melbourne Cup favourite Mer De Glace, with another market leader Constantinople, a little over three lengths in front of him. So it doesn’t look too bad!
The step up to this two-mile trip for the first time looks a big positive, as is the soft ground, and provided he gets decent luck -in-running, I’m very hopeful Downdraft can go close later.
*Prices correct at time of publishing