Declan Rix

Declan Rix analyses Saturday’s Irish Oaks won by Star Catcher, where the progressive filly received an exquisite Frankie Dettori ride to claim victory.

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Frankie Dettori once again haunted the teams of Ballydoyle and Coolmore in guiding Star Catcher to a half-length Irish Oaks success at the Curragh on Saturday. John Gosden’s stable jockey stole the Group 1 Irish Classic from the front in what was another world class ride in a season where Dettori continues to operate at the peak of his powers, despite now being 48.

While rides of this nature will often never get the recognition they deserve, due to their unsexy and perceived straightforwardness; highly effective and energy efficient steers should be the modus operandi of all jockeys. At the moment, especially on the big days, there are very few riders in the world – if any – better than Dettori at delivering the goods.

Dictating at the head of the affairs off what were sedate fractions on the supplemented winner, Dettori’s ride was sublime on many different tactical levels. On top of controlling the lacklustre race tempo, the Italian adapted to race-day conditions of summer ground, where the straight track was being supported by a tail wind – a perfect storm for front-runners.

The Curragh this season has been favouring prominent racers, a variable you can be sure Dettori was wise to. Back on the 25th of May at the Curragh, Dettori won the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes (7f) with another fine front-running ride aboard the William Haggas-trained 8/1 shout Beshaayir.

The most impressive aspect of Saturday’s ride however, came from Dettori’s confidence within to adapt to his horse’s needs. In winning the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot aboard Star Catcher, the three-year-old filly wasn’t the easiest of rides as she ran pretty keen. For her to hit the line as strong as she did at Ascot, having raced enthusiastically off a sound gallop on soft ground, it was a testament to her ability and stamina to win as readily as she did from the Oaks third, Fleeting.

The Ribblesdale proved the progressive daughter of Sea The Stars was a thorough stayer of 12 furlongs. On much quicker ground at the Curragh on Saturday, Dettori knew he couldn’t sit in midfield like he did at Royal Ascot, especially if the race wasn’t run at a strong gallop.

By making the running this time around on a horse who looked like needing to be held-up in her last run, the confidence to not just adapt tactically to suit his horse but the ability to be able to switch her off mentally and change her run style, needs to be applauded given the victory. It was another Dettori masterclass.

Star Catcher wins the Irish Oaks
Star Catcher (left) fends off old foe Fleeting in the Irish Oaks

Dettori’s progressive partner also deserves a positive mention, because she is a filly who has been on an upward trajectory since her third at Newbury back in May in the Listed Haras De Bouquetot Fillies' Trial Stakes. A daughter of Sea The Stars and out of Lynnwood Chase, making her a half-sister to the classy pair of Cannock Chase and Pisco Sour, Star Catcher is now growing into her quality pedigree.

Now a Classic and Group 1 winner with a fine page, connections will be looking for more top-class glory. With three-year-old fillies doing so well in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe over the last decade or so, you can’t blame anyone for giving ParisLongchamp some consideration, but on this evidence Star Catcher isn’t good enough and the St Leger at Doncaster could be her ideal end-of-season target.

The Group 1 Champions Fillies And Mares Stakes at Ascot on British Champions Day may well be the ideal way to bring down runner-up Fleeting’s campaign after yet another fine run. The daughter of Zoffany, who is out of a Motivator mare, has been a model of consistency and toughness after her below par 1000 Guineas run, where she likely had little chance over the 1m trip.

Since that effort in May, the filly has run third in an Oaks, second in a Ribblesdale and runner-up in an Irish Oaks, all in the space of seven weeks, and in the latter two performances there is a case to say she could be unbeaten.

At Ascot, Ryan Moore gave her too much to do while on Saturday, for all you couldn’t say similar about Donnacha O'Brien’s ride, O’Brien was still outfoxed by Dettori, and also not aided by the poor pace-making efforts of Peach Tree and Seamie Heffernan.

The jury is now fully out about unlucky Oaks runner-up and Irish Oaks third Pink Dogwood who has been the bones of 10lb below her Epsom effort on her latest pair of starts. To be fair to the filly, she was given no chance by Ryan Moore to win on Saturday, but nonetheless, she simply hasn’t been in the same type of form.

There is a chance she has fooled connections – and me – given her run at Epsom where she was outstayed. While outstayed by one horse, she stayed better than 12 others and maybe a strong-run 12f is required to see the best of her once more.

At the time, the drop to 10f in the Pretty Polly Stakes looked a good move but with little pace on, as was the case on Saturday, it potentially hasn’t suited her.


Saturday’s Irish Oaks at the Curragh saw yet another sub-standard Ballydoyle pace-making job potentially cost one of their horses Group 1 glory. It’s been a bit of a theme this season, and along with the combination of various poor rides from jockeys riding for the Coolmore partners, it has potentially cost the operation more success.

The role of Peach Tree in the Irish Oaks was seemingly to set a good pace to help tee up the race for stablemates Pink Dogwood and Fleeting, but the suspected plan was given little chance of success as Seamie Heffernan allowed the eventual winner Star Catcher to dominate from the get-go off slack fractions.

Had Seamie Heffernan gone on and maybe softened up Star Catcher, Fleeting may well have overhauled her old rival late in the straight. If the plan was indeed to turn the race into a sit-and-sprint contest, Ryan Moore gave Pink Dogwood little chance of winning, especially given how the Curragh track has been riding this season.

The Irish Derby this year, while won by Ballydoyle, was another race to forget where Anthony Van Dyck and Ryan Moore were concerned. Anthony Van Dyck was bidding to become a dual Derby winner and would’ve been the horse Coolmore ‘wanted to win’ but in allowing stablemate and pace-setter Sovereign loose on the lead – who did his job correctly – the Derby winner could only finish second.

At Royal Ascot, in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, a case could be put forward for Magical’s pacemaker Hunting Horn not going hard enough in the early stages to tee up the race for his stablemate. Magical’s best form has come over 12f and a sit and sprint race in what was by far her biggest test over 10f was never going to suit.

At Sandown, in the Coral-Eclipse, it was a similar story, if not as bad. Again, it was Magical bidding to win the race for Ballydoyle with Hunting Horn doing her pace-making. With Enable making her seasonal debut and likely to be at her most vulnerable fitness and sharpness wise, an even stronger gallop may have seen Magical get closer than the ¾ length margin of defeat.

Declan Rix
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