Innisfree provided Aidan O’Brien with a record 19th success in the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh.
It is 23 years since the Ballydoyle handler first landed the prestigious juvenile contest with Johan Cruyff, since when he has saddled the likes of Septimus (2005), St Nicholas Abbey (2009), Saxon Warrior (2017) and last year’s hero Japan to claim victory.
O’Brien was triple-handed in this year’s renewal following the declaration stage, but with both Cormorant and Royal County Down taken out, Innisfree ended up being his sole representative.
Having filled the runner-up spot behind stable companion Year Of The Tiger on his racecourse debut at Naas in early July, the son of Galileo went one better when justifying odds-on favouritism on the opening day of the Galway Festival.
He was once again prohibitive odds to give O’Brien a ninth straight win in this Group Two contest – and supporters of the 4-6 shot were made to sweat before collecting their winnings.
Dermot Weld’s Shekhem – beaten just a neck by Innisfree at Galway and since a comprehensive winner at Listowel – took the five runners along for much of the one-mile journey, with Innisfree positioned in second by the trainer’s son, Donnacha.
The market leader moved alongside racing inside the final furlong, but Shekhem refused to go down without a fight and in the end Innisfree was all out to beat his old rival by a neck for the second time.
“It went smooth. Chris (Hayes, on Shekhem) went a nice, even gallop and my lad travelled lovely,” said the winning jockey.
“He’s got plenty of pace, brought me into the race really nicely and stuck his head out the last furlong.
“I was impressed with Shekhem in Listowel when he won and I knew he’s no slouch. I knew he’d take a bit of beating, but my lad has improved from his maiden as well.
“I think there is still a bit of improvement in him, and nicer ground will see him step up again. He’s a nice horse going forward.”
Weld said of the runner-up: “I’m very proud of him – he’s a very tough colt. There was only a neck between them in Galway and there was only a neck between them today.
“He ran a shade keener than we’d like early on, but that’s his method of racing and you don’t like to change it.
“He’s still immature and I see good improvement in him physically over the winter.”