A field of ten fillies look set to clash over 12-furlongs in the 2017 Darley Irish Oaks (5.55) at the Curragh on Saturday, the penultimate Classic of Irish flat season, writes Declan Rix.
Aidan O’Brien bids to maintain his perfect record in native Classics this season, thanks to the victories of Churchill (Irish 2000 Guineas), Winter (Irish 1000 Guineas) and Capri (Irish Derby), but top British trainer John Gosden saddles race-favourite and Oaks winner Enable – along with joint second-favourite Coronet.
The aforementioned pair are the only foreign raiders to Irish shores with the rest of the field made up of the home contingent.
DARLEY IRISH OAKS PREVIEW
This year’s race received a huge boost with brilliant five-lengths Oaks winner Enable coming here in a bid to capture her second Classic of the season. That may seem a strange statement, as this race is naturally a progression, but such was Enable’s display at Epsom, John Gosden’s filly wouldn’t have looked out of place in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in two weeks time. This was a path John Gosden successfully took with 2014 Oaks winner Taghrooda.
This gives you some aspect on what kind of filly we are dealing with. The daughter of Nathaniel – rated 120 - is officially 10lb clear of her nearest rival in the ratings and comes into the race fresher than most. Khalid Abdullah’s filly will be having just the fifth start of her career at the Curragh and being from the family of high-class middle-distance performer Flintshire, there is every reason to think there is more to come.
Heading the home-team defence is Aidan O’Brien’s progressive filly Rain Goddess. A winner of her sole start at two for David Wachman, the daughter of Galileo has taken time to find her best form this season, but she’s continued to improve; stepping up in trip and racing on nice ground factors in her progress.
Runner-up to the older Nezwaah in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes over 10f, the Coolmore-owned filly comes here on the back of a career best and should appreciate racing against her own age group again. She must prove she stays 12f, but visually she looks well worth a crack at the trip while her pedigree also offers positives.
John Gosden’s other runner, Coronet has no trip worries and is another filly that comes here on the back of a career best. The grey daughter of Dubawi won a strong-run Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot where she appreciated the galloping track having failed to fire in the Oaks on the Epsom camber.
The Curragh looks tailormade for her, but this year’s Ribblesdale was a poor Group 2 - she must step up again. She at least comes here in winning form and represents top connections.
In a race lacking proper Group 1 fillies, the rest of field need to improve significantly to trouble those to the head of the market. Naughty Or Nice was sent off a shorter price for the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot than Coronet, but had a truly horrible day at the track.
Surprisingly supporting first-time blinkers, John Oxx’s filly ran too keen early before her saddle badly slipped. She can easily be forgiven this effort, but her form going into Ascot was of Listed quality so this looks a tough race for her, for all her assured stamina is a positive.
Teofilo’s half-sister Bean Feasa represents Jim Bolger and Godolphin and is a filly that should enjoy the likely good ground. She shaped far better than the final distance beaten at Royal Ascot in the Sandringham Handicap, where she had little chance from her draw. She has stamina, and indeed class, to prove, however.
Eziyra was a juvenile filly I liked last season, she’s had some smart form, like winning the Group 3 Weld Park Stakes. She’s clearly had issues this campaign however - the Dermot Weld stable as a whole have - as we’ve only seen her once, 37 days ago, when visually, she made a pleasing comeback in the Listed King George V Cup.
She deserves a fair upgrade for that effort given how wide she travelled turning for home, but that raw form is still some way short of last season’s best. I think she’ll enjoy getting back on good ground. She’s certainly overpriced, the Weld stable not firing, the reason.
One would imagine stable jockey to John Oxx, Declan McDonagh, had first choice of the Oxx pair? He rides the strong-staying and well-bred Bengala who is a filly going the right way. Like Eziyra, but even more so in this case, she is overpriced at 66/1. The ground would be a worry for the daughter of Pivotal, however.
Although fourth favourite in the market, Aidan O'Brien's Alluringly wouldn’t interest me at around 14/1. She hasn’t gone on from her brilliant Cheshire Oaks run and her Ribblesdale effort suggested she’s had her day.
At 2/5, you don’t need me to tell you Enable is the horse to beat in this year’s Irish Oaks. She is so far superior, she could run 10lb below her Oaks effort and scrape home. A small concern would be the obvious lack of pace in the race. Enable showed at Epsom she stays 12f strongly, but to be fair to her, at Chester, she showed she can quicken, too. Frankie Dettori may be best served by making the running here.
The horse to chase her home may well be Aidan O’Brien’s Rain Goddess, who, at similar prices, I would prefer ahead of Coronet, especially in a race lacking pace. She must prove she stays the trip, but her Pretty Polly effort suggested it was within range and the prevailing good ground will aid her cause.
One horse that could outrun her price and hit the frame is Eziyra (40/1), but with Weld team not firing, she comes with risks. In truth, it’s probably a race to leave alone from a betting perspective. Rain Goddess without Enable would interest me, but only around the 3/1 mark. That could be wishful thinking.
TOUGHER TEST AWAITS CARAVAGGIO IN JULY CUP
I’m sure many punters up and down the land will think they can double their money with Caravaggio in the Darley July Cup on Saturday, but there is no doubt in my mind this represents a much tougher test for the son of Scat Daddy.
While taking on top-class older horses for the first time is always a new challenge in itself, the biggest threat to Caravvagio may well be the quicker test of speed the July Course represents compared to Ascot.
The standard time at Ascot over 6f is 72.40 seconds, but on the July Course, it’s 70.40 seconds, a two seconds difference. This roughly equates to around 12 lengths meaning Caravaggio must run even quicker to win the July Cup against older horses.
Given he shaped like he could race far more comfortably within himself over 7f when winning the Commonwealth Cup (6f), I just wonder will the likes of Harry Angel be harder to peg back on Saturday’s track.
Another factor that will potentially play against his chance in the July Cup, is wind related. In the Commonwealth Cup, he benefited from getting early cover into a headwind. At the time of writing, the wind direction is behind the horses as they race at Newmarket. For me, this all points to home team contender Harry Angel (6/1) being a value bet.