Aidan O’Brien in pole position for Classics after Little Big Bear confirmed European champion juvenile

Ronan McNally gives veteran chaser The Jam Man first start on Dundalk all-weather

Forced to content himself with a single Classic victory in 2022, Aidan O’Brien looks to be in pole position for the top 2023 contests after Little Big Bear was confirmed as Europe’s champion juvenile of last season.

The official classification released on Tuesday saw the wide-margin Phoenix Stakes winner clear on top of the 2022 juvenile rankings on a mark of 124. A setback prevented him running again after the Phoenix.

It makes Little Big Bear the 12th European champion two-year-old trained by O’Brien.

The son of No Nay Never is favourite in ante-post betting for May’s 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket ahead of his stable companion Auguste Rodin.


The latter also struck at Group One level in the Futurity at Doncaster and is already a clear 3-1 favourite for Derby glory at Epsom in June.

It is a hugely promising outlook for O’Brien whose only Classic in 2022 came courtesy of Tuesday in the Oaks at Epsom. That was a record 41st English Classic success for the Irishman.

O’Brien confirmed on Tuesday that the Guineas is on the agenda for both colts.

“We always thought from day one Little Big Bear was very good and we were very surprised the first day that he got beat, but with two-year-olds that can happen.

“Every run after that he did what we thought he would do. We always thought he was a very smart horse.

“We were looking forward to the National Stakes. He always showed plenty of speed, but when he stepped up to six furlongs he did really improve and I remember Ryan [Moore] saying he’d get seven on his ear after the Phoenix Stakes.

“He’s by No Nay Never who is a big influence on speed, but there’s a good chance that a mile could be within his compass this year. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do,” he said.

The regally-bred Auguste Rodin, a son of Deep Impact and Rhododendron, is also in the mix to line up in the Newmarket Guineas.

“We think Auguste Rodin is a very good horse. We were nearly not running him in the Vertem Futurity as he’s a lovely, big, slick horse and we were worried about the ground.

“He’s a very good mover with a good mind, we always thought he’d be a better horse at three and we think he’ll get middle distances, so the plan with him is he’ll probably start in the Guineas and see where we go from there,” said O’Brien.

Half of the top 10-rated two-year-olds in the 2022 classification are Irish-trained with Dermot Weld’s brilliant Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Tahiyra officially Europe’s champion filly.

The retired Prix Morny and Middle Park winner Blackbeard is rated 119 alongside the Dewhurst victor, Chaldean, while O’Brien’s Victoria Road, successful at the Breeders’ Cup, is on 115.

Joseph O’Brien’s National Stakes hero Al Riffa is just outside the top-10 on a mark of 114.

Wednesday’s flat action at Dundalk sees National Hunt stalwart The Jam Man make his track debut.

Winner of 11 of his 55 career races, The Jam Man hasn’t got his head in front since landing the 2020 Troytown Chase at Navan.

Ronan McNally tries him on the all-weather in a two-mile handicap, the same course and distance over which another of his leading performers, Dreal Deal, won last month.

The Co Armagh trainer appeared at an IHRB hearing last Friday in relation to sanctions linked to the results of the regulator’s long-running investigation into the improvement in form of some of his horses.

Last month, an IHRB referrals panel released details of a lengthy list of regulatory breaches that refer to McNally having conducted the training and running of his horses in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of racing.

They include breaches of the ‘non-trier’ rules and concealing his ownership of horses in other yards.

A decision on what penalties McNally will face has yet to be made although the trainer, who owns a kitchen fitting business in Armagh, and whose licence restricts him to having just eight horses, has already indicated he will appeal the IHRB decision.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column