Things We Learned » Touch of Class

Touch of Class

Patience was at the very core of Sea Of Class’ victory in the Darley Irish Oaks at The Curragh on Saturday.

The filly herself exercised patience in the extreme in delaying her birth until 23rd May.  And she didn’t race as a juvenile, her trainer William Haggas was happy to give her time, adopt the patient approach.  She didn’t make her racecourse debut until April this year. 

Mrs Tsui’s filly was well backed that day at Newmarket, at the Craven meeting, and she looked set to win too when she came with her run towards the outside and hit the front at the furlong marker.  But Ceilidhs Dream just proved to be the stronger inside the final 100 yards.

The Sea The Stars filly made no mistake next time in a listed race at Newbury.  Again well backed, she was seriously impressive in coming with her run from the rear and towards the outside.  She picked up Athena inside the final furlong and came away under just a hands-and-heels ride by James Doyle – same as on Saturday then – and Athena, the subsequent Grade 1 Belmont Oaks winner, was in turn clear of the rest. 

Then there was the Epsom Oaks conundrum: would she, wouldn’t she.  It oscillated.  The initial vibe was that she wasn’t going to run, then the vibe was that she might, then the rains came and she didn’t.  There’s that patience again.

It was a fair call by William Haggas, to leave an Epsom Oaks hanging, a Classic, a race for which she probably would have been sent off as second favourite.  Haggas spoke during the Oaks preamble about her lack of experience, about how Epsom might all be a bit too much for her at that stage of her career, after just two races.

You always got the feeling that, in his gut, Haggas thought that the best course of action was to circumvent Epsom and go somewhere else, maybe to Royal Ascot, to the Ribblesdale Stakes, maybe to the Irish Oaks.  Even when the vibe was that she might run, you still sensed that Haggas didn’t think that it was for the best, that she might get away with it was his dominant sentiment.

The Epsom rain was probably a welcome relief for the trainer.  It made the decision to eschew Epsom easier to make, and you sensed that he knew that, really, it was the correct decision.

Another roll followed in another listed race at Newbury, where she was impressive, tail-swishing or not tail-swishing.  But Saturday was another matter, an Irish Oaks, a Classic, from listed race into Group 1 company, and trying a mile and a half for the first time. 

There may have been only seven runners, but Saturday’s Irish Oaks was a strong Irish Oaks.  You had the Epsom Oaks winner and Pretty Polly runner-up, the Epsom Oaks third and Blue Wind Stakes winner, the Epsom Oaks fourth and Ribblesdale Stakes winner, and a handful of progressive fillies who had the potential to step up.  Magical would have added ballast, and you were missing Wild Illusion, runner-up in both the Epsom Oaks and the Ribblesdale, but you had the two fillies who had beaten her in those two races.

Sea Of Class had to step forward again to win on Saturday, and she did.  She put up another career-best.  If she was under the care of a less patient trainer, she could have run in the Epsom Oaks, finished fourth or fifth and the momentum bubble would have been deflated.  Start again.

It was a big day for William Haggas, an Irish Oaks win, seven years after he won the Epsom Oaks with Dancing Rain, to go with his Pretty Polly Stakes win with Urban Fox just three weeks previously.  The Curragh has been a happy hunting ground for the Yorkshireman this summer so far.  

Patience also at the root of superb Doyle ride

James Doyle was brilliant on Sea Of Class on Saturday, patience again at the root of the rider’s performance.  He sat last of the seven runners, resisted the temptation to go down the brave man’s route among his Ballydoyle rivals on the inside, forsook some ground in order to stay wide and keep things simple.  As well as that, he resisted the urge to pick up his stick, no doubt cognisant of the fact that his filly had swished her tail when he did so at Newbury.  

The rider was happy that Sea Of Class was going forward for just hands and heels, confident that he would always get there.  And he did.  By a neck. 

It was the ride of a top class rider who is riding out of his skin.  It was the ride of a confident young man, buoyed, possibly, by the fact that he had ridden two Group race winners from two Group race attempts in the previous hour.  Then he went to Windsor on Monday for four rides, two of them for William Haggas, and he won on both of them.

Sky is the limit

There is no telling how good Sea Of Class could be.  Saturday’s test was the toughest test that she has faced to date, and she came through it well.  She continues to progress.  She has raced just four times, and she has put up a career-best performance on all four occasions.  She remains on a serious upward trajectory. 

Saturday was a step into the unknown, into Group 1 company, up to a mile and a half, and more steps into more unknowns are imminent now.  She will have to take on the older fillies and, at some stage, she will probably have to take on the boys.  She has myriad options though.  The Yorkshire Oaks is an obvious next target, over a mile and a half, more than the Nassau Stakes over a mile and a quarter and three weeks earlier.  And the Arc has to feature on her radar. 

Last year’s Arc heroine Enable won the King George last year, between her victories in the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks, but Enable was more battle-hardened then than Sea Of Class is now.  John Gosden’s filly had run as a juvenile and she had already won the Epsom Oaks before she came over to The Curragh.  Also, there were two weeks between the Irish Oaks and the King George last year, there is just one this year, so that was never an option for Sea Of Class.

There is talk of perhaps missing the Arc this year, of bringing her back next year as a four-year-old and targeting the race then instead.  Back to the patient approach.  That said, given the Tsui family’s affinity with the Arc, through Sea Of Class’ sire Sea The Stars and her paternal grandam Urban Sea, you have to think that, if they have a filly who is fit and well and ready to run this year, it would be very difficult to resist the temptation to run in the Arc.

Soft ground would be a worry, but that would be a worry next year too, and it is not soft at (Paris)Longchamp in early October as often as you think.  Interestingly, six of the last seven winners of the Arc were fillies and three of them were three-year-old fillies.

Tudor worth following

Forever Together ran another big race in the Darley Irish Oaks to go down by a neck, and Bye Bye Baby ran an admirable race again to finish fourth, but the other filly to take out of Saturday’s race with an eye on the future is Mary Tudor. 

This was a massive step up in class for Willie McCreery’s filly, from her run in the Oaks Trial at Naas last month, when she was beaten a length by Easter Lily.  She hit the front early enough that day, and there was always a possibility that she was capable of better than the bare form of that performance.

She wore the hood on Saturday that she had worn when she won a listed race at Navan on her debut this term, but which was missing in the Oaks Trial.  She travelled in rear through the early stages, she settled nicely, just in front of Sea Of Class, in a race that was not run at a frenetic gallop. 

She had the energy to engineer a gap for herself between Tissiak and the retreating Magic Wand at the two-furlong marker, and she kept on well from there.  While she couldn’t withstand Sea Of Class’ finishing surge, she kept on all the way to the line for Billy Lee to finish a good third, just a length and a half behind runner-up Forever Together, and three and a half lengths clear of Bye Bye Baby in fourth.

The Godolphin filly does not hold any lofty entries, but she has plenty of options now. By Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes winner Dawn Approach, she is a half-sister to Ancient History and Turning Times, whose three collective wins have been gained over distances from a mile to 10 furlongs.  Her dam never went beyond 10 and a half furlongs and is from the family of Street Cry and Shamardal.  It’s all 10 furlongs.

She seemed to see out the 12-furlong trip well enough on Saturday, but it may be that 10 furlongs will prove to be her absolute optimum.

Golden hour

Sea Of Class was the diamond in a golden hour for William Haggas on Saturday.  The trainer had five runners in the space of 65 minutes, between 5.10pm and 6.15pm, at five different tracks – Newmarket, Newbury, The Curragh, Haydock, Lingfield – and all five won.

© The Irish Field, 28th July 2018