Declan Rix

The 2018 Darley Irish Oaks went the way of the William Haggas-trained Sea Of Class in what proved to be a thrilling renewal, thanks to a world class winning ride from James Doyle. Here, Declan Rix discusses the fallout from the race.

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With James Doyle guiding the William Haggas-trained Sea Of Class to a last-gasp victory in the Darley Irish Oaks on Saturday, the 2018 renewal at The Curragh delivered on many fronts. First and foremost, despite just a field of seven fillies going to post, the race was a fantastic spectacle.

With three declared runners, it looked as if Ballydoyle might control proceedings and that’s how it played out with Bye Bye Baby leading stablemate and Oaks heroine Forever Together with race-favourite Magic Wand just two lengths back in fourth.

The early pace looked only fair meaning Team Ballydoyle were in the best positions tactically to conquer as Aidan O’Brien bid to win his sixth Irish Oaks.

Turning for home, the Ballydoyle trio headed to the front three positions as the Coolmore-owned squad looked long odds-on to score. Bye Bye Baby had done her pace-making job well before Forever Together swept into the lead off the home turn looking the most likely winner. All the time however, James Doyle aboard Sea Of Class was stalking his prey under an ice-cold ride.

Relive James Doyle's brilliant ride aboard Sea Of Class in the Darley Irish Oaks below:

While Doyle wasn’t in the best early place tactically, the Godolphin-retained jockey was riding to instructions, with William Haggas asking Doyle “to be brave”, and he carried the plan out to perfection as he came with a sustained late run under hands and heels to collar Forever Together by a neck. It was a fantastic ride and worthy of a Classic success from a jockey that continues to get better and better.

The training performance of William Haggas must also be lauded. The patience the Newmarket-based handler has showed in the fledging career of this three-year-old filly has been impressive and a significant factor in her winning a Classic. The daughter of Sea The Stars was unraced as a juvenile and only set foot on the track for the first time in April.

Clearly showing plenty at home before debut, Sea Of Class was sent off 5/4f for a Newmarket maiden where she finished second before taking a step up in grade to Listed class in her stride, winning the Haras De Bouquetot at Newbury four weeks later from subsequent Grade 1 Belmont Oaks winner Athena.

It’s from here where Haggas’s decision-making around the career of Sea Of Class has seen her blossom. It was decided the filly would skip the Oaks at Epsom – which was met with criticism by some - connections feeling she wasn’t ready mentally and lacked the experience for such a major test. The rain that fell on the Downs prior to the meeting helped in their path away from the Oaks, but from the get-go, it’s a race that Haggas always seemed keen to skip, for all it’s hard to miss a Classic.

Thirteen days after the Oaks Sea Of Class went back to Newbury for another Listed contest - The Abingdon – under a three-pound penalty where she again would win with authority, enhancing her mental and physical state while showing a higher level of form.

While clearly improving, early morning Irish Oaks prices of 5/2 looked on the skinny side to my eye – her form didn’t entitle her to be shorter than the Oaks winner Forever Together – but she’s clearly progressive and that is in no doubt down to William Haggas’s patience.

Furthermore, coming into the Oaks, Sea Of Class had shown signs of temperament in flashing her tail in both Newbury starts and has seemingly being working with equine behavioural therapist, Gary Witheford.

The wise, patient and non-greedy approach taken by William Haggas and his team paid off in what was a brilliant Irish Oaks.

In terms of the future, the Yorkshire Oaks may well be next for Sea Of Class where a potential race against the likes of Enable and Laurens really whets the appetite. The owners of the filly - Sunderland Holding Inc – the Tsui family – won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with Sea Of Class’s sire the great Sea The Stars so, a trip to ParisLongchamp in October may well be on the cards.

For some, that will be considered a step too far, but granted good or quicker ground in the Arc, with her receiving both age and sex allowances, the form of her latest success would put her in the mix in what is an open year.

The proximity of Mary Tudor in third doesn’t make the form look top-class just yet, but I’m willing to put her effort down as a career best. She’s unexposed over the Oaks trip on fast ground and her getting so close may well be down to what wasn’t a Championship gallop.

This form looks solid to my eye and while both Sea Of Class and Forever Together need to step forward again when racing in open company, with the pair being lightly-raced and late foals, there is every chance they may.


In years past, there has been plenty negative press around Godolphin, from disgraced former trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni to prior racing manager Simon Crisford deciding to leave his role soon after. More recently, John Ferguson quit his job as head of Godolphin when tensions between him and trainer Saeed bin Suroor became public meaning, Ferguson felt his position was "untenable".

While Godolphin have got their house in order more recently, in large parts thanks to the training accomplishments of Charlie Appleby – who delivered Godolphin a Derby this season with Masar – the underappreciated James Doyle continues to be a bit-part player for the team with Saeed bin Suroor refusing to use Doyle despite him being employed by Sheikh Mohammed.

With William Buick being first jockey to Charlie Appleby, Doyle - who rode a treble in Ireland on Saturday winning a Group 1, a Group 2 and a Group 3 - picks up the scraps from Moulton Paddocks with Bin Suroor continuing to use what he deems the best available. Despite being on a retainer for the Boys in Blue, Doyle has ridden more races for trainers William Haggas and Hugo Palmer this season. In fact, Doyle has nearly three-times more rides for Haggas (91) than his own employer (33) in the UK for the 2018 campaign. Last season, Hugo Palmer supplied him with most of his rides from a single trainer.

Meanwhile, Bin Suroor continues to use jockeys of lesser ability and lesser experience for his team of horses. Without being privy to the relationship between Bin Suroor and Doyle, this current Godolphin arrangement makes no sense.

Godolphin love to give off the aura of being one big team – and in large parts they are – but with Bin Suroor continuing to shun the top-class talents of Doyle there is still room for improvement. The best available, well, that’s James Doyle, isn’t it?

Declan Rix
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