If all current entries line up for this Saturday’s Irish Oaks a fascinating race is in store. Recently it’s not an event that’s been kind to the home nation, the last four runnings going to British trained fillies – all Newmarket based in fact, and it’s hard seeing the Irish wrestle it back this year. Britain hold a strong hand with the Epsom Oaks winner, Talent, the second home Secret Gesture and the Ribblesdale heroine, Riposte. Factor in an unknown quantity from France, trained by a man who took this very prize in 2005 and the Emerald Isle are struggling to get back one of their most coveted prizes.
At the time of writing Talent holds outright favouritism and rightly so. Ralph Beckett’s filly was a surprise winner of the Oaks, scoring at 20-1 under Richard Hughes, but for the most part of it, it was no fluke. She was aided in victory in how the race was run. Brisk early fractions meant she was in the right place at the right time at Epsom – out the back, last. While all before her did the donkey work she picked up the pieces late to run out a facile winner, receiving a typical Richard Hughes ride. While she was flattered by how the race was set up for her, it must be noted she was very keen the whole way round, but still had enough left when it mattered. She’s obviously a top class filly, but her price is about right and for me, concerns still linger with that factored in. For a start the Curragh is a completely different test to that of Epsom, an easier one in truth, but still different. How will she cope with this new one? Will she be overly keen again? Will she get away with this, with Jim Crowley back on board (it’s fair to say Richard Hughes’ style may suit her a little bit better) in her first start travelling outside of Britain? These are questions that need answering and at the price I’m not prepared to find out with a wager on her. That said she does look the one to beat.
Her stable mate Secret Gesture is another filly I have time for. She ran a commendable race in the Oaks to finish second having chased a strong pace from her highly unfavourable draw. A couple things concern me though. Firstly, she had a tough race at Epsom and it’s hard to know how she’ll run off the back of that. Yes she’s had a lengthy break, but it’s a hugely tough feat for trainers to bring horses back off such discontinuities on the back of hard races. Three things can happen I always feel. One; the horse doesn’t recover enough in the time allowed. Two; the horse is given too easy a time and returns unfit and less sharp and three; the toughest one to achieve, the horse returns spot on. This doubt coupled with likelihood of racing on the fastest ground she’s ever experienced means the right call is to leave her alone, given the prices. While I’ve looked at her action and think she has every chance of handling the ground, but she may be a touched one-paced on a proper fast surface. It’s hard to find Group One horses that handle heavy and firm all the same. I’m also not sure she’s a certain runner yet so it makes sense to leave her for now.
Lady Cecil’s Riposte is on a steep upward curve and away from the obvious; I felt she was one of the most impressive winners at Royal Ascot when she scored in the Ribblesdale Stakes, a Group Two event. After being very slowly away, worryingly slow in fact she made up her lost ground quickly at Ascot. The daughter of Dansili got in to the race with ease, moving beautifully in the hands of Tom Queally throughout before being set alight after the home bend. The response was near immediate as she lengthened and quickened away from her rivals in good style. Visually she looked good, but it was a Group Two race and she now steps up in grade. While I think she has enough ability to cope with the step up her price now reflects that and in a stronger run race (than Ascot) she may not be able to use that turn of foot as well against this class of opposition. She will love the ground though and has my full respect, but the price is the issue.
The main Irish challenge, according to the bookmakers comes from Alive Alive Oh and the Aidan O’Brien trained and supplemented filly, Venus De Milo. I was keen to take on the former in a Group Two at Royal Ascot, before she was pulled out and in Group One company I’m going to stick to my guns. While she’s been hugely visually impressive I’m not sure she’s been beating anything of note to justify her price. She has also been getting weight from rivals in some races. All her winning has been done on soft ground too and over shorter so she still doesn’t interest me. There’s a fair chance she won’t turn up given the current ground at the Curragh and so I’m out.
If I had to back one of these two Irish fillies it would be Venus De Milo. She’s already shown she stays the trip well and handles quick ground, but like Alive Alive Oh her form doesn’t look up to scratch. She’s unbeaten in two starts and you can never right these types off, but I feel she’s picked up the pieces late in both races and is a little bit flattered by the bare form. Like the Stack trained runner, she needs to up her game.
At the prices, for an ante-post bet two fillies entered catch my eye, Alain De Royer-Dupre’s CHICQUITA and Aidan O’Brien’s MAGICAL DREAM. Both sit at opposite ends the market, the former a 9-1 shot while the latter is as big as 25-1. It makes sense to start with the French raider.
A nicely bred daughter of Montjeu, she was the Arqana top lot in 2011 at €600,000. Seemingly a late maturing type she didn’t make her two-year-old debut until October of last year. There she finished third after running green and looked as if she’d come on for the experience. She wasn’t to be seen again till May of this year, where on debut she took a horrendous fall with the race sewn up. She was lucky to come out of it unscathed as it looked quite brutal. It obviously didn’t affect her too much as she lined-up for the Group One Prix de Diane a month later, still a maiden. She managed to finish second in a race where a couple of fancied horses ran below par, but it was a fine effort all things considered. She raced in last position the whole way round and was significantly wider than the majority, if not all of the field. She still came in to the straight travelling well however, and was last off the bridle. It looked like her jockey thought he had all bases covered, but the winner, who he couldn’t see as horses impeded his view, shot through against the rail and put the race to bed. Chicquita had no chance with the winner and just got up for second close home, but it must be remembered she covered more ground than both, plenty I’d say. While I’ve already stated that a number of horses flopped in that race, the third didn’t and she herself is a Group One winner. Chicquita may well appreciate this more galloping track too given her pedigree. Quick ground is a small worry, but her last run was on quickish terrain and she handled it fine. The time was also of a high standard. While some Montjeu’s like to get their toe in, there are a few, like St Nicholas Abbey, who like it rattling. That said the main worry I have is her temperament. The fall two starts back is a worry and she didn’t look an easy ride last time out, but the booking of Johnny Murtagh is a massive plus. Stronger handling may well be key to her running well. She’s a filly that comes with a bit of baggage, most do, but I feel she had an abundance of talent too.
Chicquita is the main bet, but I’m going to suggest a tentative each-way punt on Aidan O’Brien’s Magical Dream who, given connections, looks worth a poke at 25-1. She’s a well-bred daughter of Galileo, her dam Red Evie a multiple Group One winner herself. This three-year-old’s form as a juvenile was quite good. She managed to win twice, once in Group Three company and ran well to finish a staying on fourth in the Group One Moyglare Stakes won by Sky Lantern. She’s had just the two starts this season, finishing second in both at Navan and Cork. At the former track she was well beaten by Alive Alive Oh, but she gave the winner three pounds and the moderate gallop early wouldn’t have suited. On quicker ground with a stronger pace, on better terms and over 12 furlongs I think she has a chance of turning that form. The selection should also strip fitter given that was her first run of the campaign. From here she went on to fill the runner-up berth again, this time at Cork in open aged fillies company. It was only a Group Three, but all the right horses finished around her giving the performance good credibility. It’s a run that I have marked up significantly however, due to her taking on older fillies so early in the season. The winter just passed was very harsh on these horses and she is far more likely to be weaker than those in that race. With this in mind it was a fine effort. The return to her own age group is also a plus. Should a few fail to fire or may be not even run her price may well contract, both increasing our chances of collecting while too gaining some value. She comes in fresher than most and will be staying on well at the death so has some positives to her name. Like the French filly hopefully she can run well.
1pt win Chicquitta @9-1 (Sky Bet)
0.75pt each-way Magical Dream @25-1 (general)