Greatness beckons Alexander of Hales

The spring carnival is the time in racing; it can also be a great springboard, as trainer Danny O'Brien has found as he has welcomed new blood into the stable alongside Caulfield Cup quinella-pair Master O'Reilly and Douro Valley.The million-dollar newcomer is Alexander Of Hales, formerly trained by the other O'Brien — Aidan O'Brien, the man regarded as the world's best — to run a distant second behind stablemate Soldier Of Fortune in the Irish Derby 13 months ago.

Then there's Perth stayer Lord's Ransom, sent over by big owner Bob Peters after winning the Ascot and Bunbury cups. And from the trainer's own ranks, the Kiwi-owned Bagot Handicap winner Gallopin is expected to step up. They give the Victorian O'Brien a full hand, albeit with a long run in to the major races.

Alexander Of Hales, named for a 13th-century theologian, came to O'Brien in a deal stitched up by American David Bernsen, whose US imports of the past two years, veterans Honor In War and Tacit Agreement, had no success in Melbourne.

This one comes from a much better background and, as one of the last crop of the great Danehill, with a planned future in the breeding barn after a couple of racing campaigns. The major partner with 40% of the 40 shares is Paul Makin, owner of group 1 winning stallion Starcraft. Bernsen, Melbourne owner Bill Vlahos and other O'Brien clients are involved.

"Every year, we have a stronger team because of the results we've been getting and the horses we are getting access to," O'Brien said yesterday. Lord's Ransom and Alexander Of Hales have just joined us in the hope we can do similar jobs.

"He (Alexander Of Hales) was clearly the standout of all the horses that come across our desk from international sources — a Danehill, second in a pretty serious group 1, the Irish Derby. Beaten a long way, but good horses ran third and fourth and my gut feeling is the 2400 (metres) probably stretched him right out.

"He showed enough in his six starts that he could come out here and be a pretty competitive racehorse at the top level."

O'Brien warned not to expect too much from him before the autumn because of not having raced for more than a year, travelling from Europe and being a stallion.

And don't expect him to be a cups horse. "We have no real targets," O'Brien said. "We'll probably keep him for races to a mile (1600 metres), maybe a mile-and-a-quarter (2000 metres). He's very unlikely to run in the cups ... maybe the Toorak Handicap, we'll let him guide us."

The stallion, who is five by Australian time although actually only four, will have his first start in the Liston Stakes on Saturday.

"We're looking to get that race fitness from the run," O'Brien said. "He's promising enough and should show a lot of improvement, not only over the next month but the next six months. I just know from a training perspective that horses that have had a long time off always are better that second preparation."

Alexander Of Hales had two weeks in quarantine at Sandown in April, spent most of May and June at Drysdale with Kelvin Bourke, who pre-trains for O'Brien, and has been at Flemington for about two months.

On Saturday, he faces a hot field. Weekend Hussler and Light Fantastic head the entries, with other group 1 winners Alamosa, Dealer Principal, Fiumicino, Kibbutz, Maldivian, Sir Slick and Zarita.

By Stephen Howell

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Photo by Age photographer Michael Clayton-Jones

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