Aidan O’Brien’s Royal Ascot Contenders

The summer months rarely disappoint on the sporting front, but by any standards, the warmer months of 2024 are exceptional. Euro 2024 kicks off on Friday 14 June, providing football fanatics with the considerable challenge of procuring the TV to watch 51 games in the space of a month. For those who like their racing, the 18th to 22nd of June will necessitate a dual-screen arrangement as the magnificent Royal Ascot rolls around for another year. All of that, and we still haven’t mentioned the Paris Olympic Games!

Always one of the highlights of the season, many punters are well in the midst of final preparations ahead of the Group 1-laden showstopper. When making a shortlist ahead of the 35-race offering, it makes sense to lend particular weight to those runners hailing from the yard of the most successful trainer in the history of the meeting – Aidan O’Brien’s County Tipperary operation. Sitting on a remarkable 85 Royal Ascot wins following his four-winner haul in 2023, O’Brien likely isn’t finished yet, with the following amongst the leading lights likely to be tasked with adding to that tally in 2024.

Aesop’s Fables – King Charles III Stakes

  • Sire – No Nay Never
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – None

First up, a race which continues to elude O’Brien. Most associated with the quality of his 1m-1m4f performers, if the Ballydoyle maestro was to draw a blank, it was always most likely to come in one of the 5f sprint contests. Hoping to change all that in 2024 is this son of the 2013 Norfolk Stakes winner over course and distance. Twice placed in Group 1 five-furlong events, he may prove a popular each-way option.

Henry Longfellow – St James’s Palace Stakes

  • Sire – Dubawi
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – Nine

First successful with Giant’s Causeway in 2000 and most recently with Paddington in 2023, O’Brien is the leading trainer in St. James’s Palace Stakes history. Bidding to add to that tally is one of 2023’s most impressive juvenile performers. Things didn’t go to plan on his return in the French 2,000 Guineas, but if back to the form which saw him land the Group 1 National Stakes by five lengths, he heads to Ascot with strong claims.

Auguste Rodin – Prince of Wales’s Stakes

  • Sire – Deep Impact
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – Four

Marked out by his brilliance and inconsistency, Auguste Rodin’s recent effort was unusual for the horse – being neither sensational nor awful. That second-placed effort behind White Birch was at least a step back in the right direction following a last-of-12 showing in the Dubai Sheema Classic, and, as displayed in those memorable Derby, Irish Derby, Irish Champion Stakes, and Breeders Cup turf wins of 2023, this son of Japanese sensation Deep Impact is amongst the best in the business on his day.

Kyprios – Gold Cup

  • Sire – Galileo
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – Eight

Another Ascot event, and another in which O’Brien tops the all-time trainers’ table. Flying the Ballydoyle flag this year is one of the leading Galileo-sired runners in the yard. Kyprios looked set to dominate the staying division for years to come during a perfect six from six (including this race) 2022 campaign, only to miss the bulk of 2023 due to injury. Not at his peak in two late-season starts, Listed and Group 3 victories in his two outings this season suggest he may be primed to return to his irresistible best.

River Tiber – Commonwealth Cup

  • Sire – Wootton Bassett
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – One

The 2017 victory of Caravaggio represents O’Brien’s only success in this sprint event for the three-year-olds. However, in River Tiber, he looks to possess a horse with excellent credentials. Boasting speed as his strong suit, he ran a mighty race to finish third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last time out, and he showed a liking for track and trip when landing the 2023 Coventry Stakes at this meeting.

Opera Singer – Coronation Stakes

  • Sire – Justify
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – Three

Sharing a sire with the sensational 2024 Derby winner City Of Troy, Opera Singer was similarly excellent during her two-year-old campaign – looking like a filly out of the very top draw when slamming the field by five lengths in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp. Defeat in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on her seasonal return was no great surprise, with O’Brien keen to stress the filly wasn’t yet at her peak. As such, she ran very well to finish third and, with that effort under her belt, looks like a leading player in this Day 4 event.

Continuous – Hardwicke Stakes

  • Sire – Heart’s Cry
  • Previous O’Brien Wins in Race – Four

This son of Japanese ace Heart’s Cry is something of a forgotten horse headed into Royal Ascot 2024 – largely because he hasn’t been sighted at the track since finishing a gallant fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe back in October. This Group 2 event represents a drop in class from the Longchamp showpiece, although the 1m4f trip appears a bare minimum for a horse who landed last season’s St Leger Stakes in dominant fashion. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise should Continuous show up in the Gold Cup – a race for which he also holds an entry.