Fran Berry takes an early look at the Juddmonte Irish Oaks and delivers a horse-by-horse guide and verdict for the Curragh Classic on Saturday.
AHANDFULOFSUMMERS remains a maiden after being highly-tried on a few occasions, including when she was second in the Group Three Flame Of Tara Stakes at the Curragh last August behind Divinely. That was a career high, the form hasn’t worked out well and she looks out of her depth.
I thought that DIVINELY ran very well when fourth in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot in a race that wasn’t run to suit. Before that she was a remote third to Snowfall in the Oaks and on balance you have to say that her form this year is an improvement on last year. She has it all to do to beat Snowfall, though.
By Frankel, LA JOCONDE got off the mark at Roscommon on June 29 when justifying odds of 30/100. She’s been highly tried and was down the field behind Snowfall in the Oaks, so given that she won over 10 furlongs last time you could well conclude that she’s in here as a pacemaker for the favourite.
A lightly-raced and improving filly for Joseph O’Brien, MARIESQUE got off the mark on her seasonal reappearance over the extended nine furlongs at Gowran Park. That was promising but she did then come up short behind Willow in the Oaks trial at Naas, so this could be too big a gap for her to bridge for all that she might have more improvement in her. She might also be best with a bit of cut in the ground.
This American Pharoah filly is somewhat of an unknown quantity. NICEST was a good winner on debut at Leopardstown and seemed to get stuck in the heavy ground behind Divinely in the aforementioned Flame Of Tara after that. Beaten into third behind Dubai Fountain at Chester, she then lost out in a blanket finish at Leopardstown before finishing third in the Ribblesdale. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of her yet, the 1m4f is unlocking more improvement and her dam, Chicquita, won this race under Johnny Murtagh in 2013.
PARTY HOUSE was a very good winner on debut at Naas in April and then didn’t seem to stay 1m5f after that at Navan. She travelled like the winner down to the two pole and was beaten by two colts in the end. However, she was disappointing when well beaten by Willow in the Oaks trial at Naas last time out.
The one they all have to beat, SNOWFALL is a daughter of Deep Impact who is a typical Ballydoyle filly from the last few years in that she got beaten lots as a juvenile before improving hugely at three. She went into the winter looking exposed but since coming back in and stepping up in trip she hasn’t put a foot wrong. An impressive winner at York in the Musidora, she took her form to a breathtaking new level in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom when winning by 16 lengths on soft ground. She looks to be versatile regarding the ground and she’s the standout filly among the Classic crop this year. It’s very hard to see her getting beat.
WILLOW was a horse that I thought would be an Epsom Oaks contender way back as a two-year-old when she won a maiden at Leopardstown in great fashion. It didn’t quite work out for her in time and she was last in the Epsom Classic, but she proved that run all wrong when putting in a career-best performance to land the Oaks trial at Naas last time out. She beat La Petite Coco in battling style and that horse was a good winner at Killarney on Monday night. Seamie Heffernan said to me she loved the good ground, reminiscent of her dam Peeping Fawn - who won this race in 2007 – and so stepping back up to 1m4f on good ground could see her in her best light yet.
SNOWFALL is obviously the one to beat and it’s going to be a small field as she’s scared off plenty of likely opposition. It’s hard to look beyond her but hopefully they’ll be betting without the favourite later in the week and with that in mind WILLOW is the one that can come forward and chase her stablemate home. The ground went against her at Epsom, but tackling good ground and 1m4f can see her post a new career best – and that could be good enough to book second place.