Donn's Articles » The Curragh report

The Curragh report

Covert Love was not entered in yesterday’s Darley Irish Oaks at the original entry stage.  That’s not wholly surprising: two months ago, she was an 83-rated filly who had just won a median auction maiden on the all-weather at Chelmsford.

The supplementary entry fee to put her into yesterday’s race – which had to be paid by last Tuesday – was the not inconsequential sum of €40,000.  That was just about all the prize money that she had won before yesterday, and it was actually €14,000 more than the filly cost when she was sold as a yearling at Goffs two years ago.

But when the Azamour filly won a handicap at York in May, and followed up by winning a listed race at Newcastle three weeks ago, the Irish Oaks was the race that trainer Hugo Palmer wanted to target.  He presented the plan to the filly’s owners, the Fomo (Fear Of Missing Out) Syndicate, an eclectic grouping that includes the filly’s breeders, Hugo Merry and Mark McStay.  The owners didn’t flinch before agreeing that the filly should take her chance in the race.

It was a fair punt.  Covert Love had to finish third at worst in yesterday’s race if she was to recoup the entry fee.  In truth, however, there was never a point in the race at which you thought that she wouldn’t finish in the places at least.  Rider Pat Smullen had her settled into a lovely racing rhythm in second place behind clear leader Together Forever through the early stages of the race.  The rider asked his filly to close on the leader from the top of the home straight, and she did.

She started to narrow the gap from the three-furlong pole, joined the leader a furlong out, and cleared away to win by a length and three quarters from Jack Naylor, who stayed on well to pip favourite Curvy for the runner-up spot.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Palmer, who only started training in March 2011.  “To come here and win an Irish Oaks.  But you have to have faith in your horses.  I have always thought the world of her.  It was a great ride by Pat.”

It was also a landmark day for Pat Smullen: a treble on the day and his eighth Irish Classic, but his first Irish Oaks.

“It’s a brilliant day,” said Smullen.  “It was great to get the call up to ride her earlier in the week.  I just didn’t want to be in front for too long, but she galloped all the way to the line.”

Covert Love could be supplemented for the Yorkshire Oaks now next month, and the St Leger could also be on her agenda in September.

Earlier on the day, the Group 3 Anglesey Stakes was won by the Jessica Harrington-trained Final Frontier, who produced a nice turn of foot under Shane Foley to get home by a neck from Miss Katie Mae before surviving a subsequent stewards’ inquiry.

The Group 2 Sapphire Stakes went to British raider Stepper Point, William Muir’s horse leading from flagfall and zipping down the stands rail under an astute ride from Pat Smullen, getting home by a neck from favourite Mecca’s Angel.

The curtain-raiser, the seven-furlong juveniles’ maiden, is often an important pointer to the future.  In recent years it has been won by top class colts like Australia, Pathfork, Teofilo and New Approach, and Sea The Stars finished fourth in the 2008 renewal on his racecourse debut.

Yesterday’s race was won by the Aidan O’Brien-trained Shogun, the Fastnet Rock colt picking up nicely for Joseph O’Brien to come clear and win impressively.

“He was a complete baby on his racecourse debut here on Irish Derby weekend,” said O’Brien.  “He didn’t know what was going on.  We put the blinkers on him today just to teach him a bit, but they will probably come off again.  He can step up fairly quickly now to the big races.  He was still very green there, and he’s a horse to look forward to.”

A full-brother to Epsom Oaks winner Qualify, who was withdrawn from the feature race yesterday morning because of the ground conditions, Shogun holds entries in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes and the Group 1 National Stakes later in the season, and he received quotes of 25/1 from bookmakers for next year’s Epsom Derby.

© The Sunday Times, 19th July 2015