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The Curragh

Seventh Heaven put up a gallant performance to land the Group 1 Darley Irish Oaks at The Curragh yesterday, and provide her trainer Aidan O’Brien with his fifth Irish Oaks and his 35th Irish Classic.

The Irish Oaks is a race that, historically, the Irish have struggled to retain.  In the seven renewals before yesterday, just one Irish-trained filly – Bracelet, 2014 – had won it, and of the 22 Irish Oaks winners that were crowned between 1985 and 2005, including two in one year, just five were trained in Ireland.

If there was to be an Irish win yesterday, common consensus beforehand was that it would probably be Seventh Heaven’s stable companion Even Song who would provide it.  Aidan O’Brien’s filly had been impressive in winning the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot on her previous run, and the punters and bookmakers sent her off the 4/5 favourite.

But Even Song just didn’t fire yesterday.  Held up in rear through the early stages of the race by Ryan Moore, she was never really travelling with zest, she just couldn’t get into the race.

Fortunately, her stable companion could.

Settled alongside Even Song towards the rear of the field by Seamie Heffernan, Seventh Heaven was second last as they started the descent to the home turn.  She made nice ground around the inside as they straightened up and, moved towards the centre of the track by Heffernan on the run to the two-furlong pole, she stayed on powerfully.

She joined Architecture and Frankie Dettori in front at the furlong pole, and she stretched clear deep inside the final furlong to put almost three lengths between herself and Hugo Palmer’s filly by the time she reached the winning line.

It was a first Irish Oaks for Heffernan.

“It was a Group 1 race and we went at Group 1 pace,” said the rider.  “But I was always travelling great.  She was on the bridle all the way down to the two-furlong pole, and she stayed on well.  Given the choice, though, I would have chosen Even Song, so lucky I wasn’t given the choice.”

While favourite Even Song was disappointing – she had Architecture well behind her when she won the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last month – it was a welcome return to form by Seventh Heaven, who could only finish sixth in the Epsom Oaks the last time we saw her.

“Seventh Heaven had been working very well in the lead up to the race,” said O’Brien. “Seamus had second pick and he wanted to ride her.  She didn’t really handle the track at Lingfield in the Oaks Trial there, even though she won, and she didn’t handle Epsom very well.  She was obviously much happier here on a more galloping track.  But she has always been a high-quality filly.  She has developed physically since Epsom and she is still progressing.”

The champion trainer was not despondent about Even Song’s lacklustre performance.

“Ryan said she was slowly away from the gate,” he said, “and she just never fired after that.  Ascot maybe left a mark on her, but we think that she will come back.”

The Yorkshire Oaks at York’s Ebor meeting next month was mentioned by the trainer as a possible next target for Seventh Heaven, a race for which Paddy Power cut her from 33/1 to 5/1.

It was a good day all round for Aidan O’Brien, with Peace Envoy showing a nice turn of foot to come clear in the closing stages and land the Group 3 Jebel Ali Racecourse Anglesey Stakes under Ryan Moore.

“He’s a big horse,” said the trainer.  “We always thought that he would progress, and he is progressing.  Every week he is getting better, he is getting bigger and stronger and his mind is getting better.  Ryan thought that he just didn’t get the run of things the last day (in the Railway Stakes on Irish Derby day), but he was very confident on him today.  He could come back here for the Phoenix Stakes, or he could go for the Prix Morny, if we allow Caravaggio run here.”

Earlier in the day, Mecca’s Angel put a poor run in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot behind her when she ran out a really impressive winner of the other Group race on the day, the Group 2 Kilfrush Stud Sapphire Stakes.

Beaten a neck in the race last year on ground that was considered to be faster than ideal for her, Michael Dods’ filly made no mistake this time.  She travelled well in the front rank through the race, and she picked up impressively when Paul Mulrennan asked her to, coming clear of her rivals and running on strongly to win by three lengths from fellow British raider Brando.

“I’m just so pleased to see her fire again like that,” said Dods.  “Ascot was a disaster, she was in season.  We were still worried after Ascot, that there was something wrong with her that we didn’t know about, but she showed her ability today.  That’s her ground, beautiful ground, just on the easy side of good.”


© The Sunday Times, 17th July 2016