Donn's Articles » Jessica Harrington: juvenile fillies

Jessica Harrington: juvenile fillies

Last week was some week for trainer Jessica Harrington.  At the start of it, on the last Saturday in September, she won the Group 1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket with Millisle.  Then last Sunday at Longchamp, on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe day, she landed the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac with Albigna.

Group 1 wins are not easily gained.  They are the Himalayas of Flat racing, the landmarks that represent the pinnacles of achievement in the sport.  So to win two of them in the space of eight days, two of the most high-profile juvenile fillies’ races on the European calendar, with two different fillies, was a notable feat.

“It was an unbelievable week,” says Jessica Harrington.  “Two Group 1 races in eight days.  Millisle was very good at Newmarket, she coped with the ups and downs very well.  And Albigna’s win in France was special.  It was great that she was able to bounce back like that, after her defeat in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.”

Albigna’s win was the product of fluid thinking and a re-shuffled pack.  The Zoffany filly was found to be in season after the Moyglare, so you can allow her that defeat.  It wasn’t her true running.  And it was Alpine Star who was initially pencilled in as the Niarchos/Harrington representative in the Marcel Boussac, but a pulled muscle meant that she couldn’t make the line-up.  In her absence, Albigna was re-routed.  It was a brave call by the owners and trainer, to send their filly abroad to contest another Group 1 race, just three weeks after her defeat at The Curragh.

“It was important that she get back out again and do it, put her defeat in the Moyglare behind her.  We saw the real Albigna in France on Sunday.”

The quality of the Jessica Harrington juvenile fillies is a theme that has run through the 2019 Irish Flat racing season.  The spring promised plenty.  The trainer says that she thought that they had a nice group of two-year-old fillies then, that she hoped that, with natural improvement, they could progress as the season developed.

Horses progress at varying rates.  You can’t take natural progress for granted.  But it’s not by accident that, under the watchful eye of Harrington and her team, the youngsters improved as they did.  And they improved as a group.  Their rates of improvement may even have been inter-dependent.

Alpine Star was high-profile even before she set foot on a racecourse.  That will happen when your dam is Alpha Lupi, also dam of Alpha Centauri, the superstar filly of 2018 who was trained by Harrington to win four Group 1 races.  And that profile is heightened when you race in the Niarchos Family silks that your sister carried throughout her glittering racing career.

The Sea The Moon filly was beaten on her racecourse debut at Leopardstown in July, by Love, who ultimately went on and won the Moyglare Stud Stakes.  But she was impressive in winning her maiden on her second attempt, at the Galway Festival in August, and she stepped forward from that last time when she stayed on strongly under Shane Foley to land the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at The Curragh.

Albigna, like Alpine Star, races in the colours of the Niarchos Family but, unlike Alpine Star, she got off the mark on her racecourse debut at The Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend.  The Zoffany filly was brave in staying on as well as she did to get up close home that day, and she showed the benefit of that experience when she landed the Group 2 Airlie Stud Stakes back at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend at the end of June.

Cayenne Pepper also won on her racecourse debut, at Leopardstown in June, and she followed up at Tipperary in July, before going to The Curragh in August and landing the Group 3 Flame Of Tara Stakes.

When the big autumn targets for juvenile fillies started to come into view, plans for the Harrington fillies came into focus.  Albigna for the Moyglare Stud Stakes, Alpine Star for the Prix Marcel Boussac, Cayenne Pepper for the Fillies’ Mile, that appeared to be the thinking.

In the meantime, Millisle was busy burning along slowly.  She won her maiden at Bellewstown, got beaten at Down Royal, won a listed race at The Curragh, and was just beaten in a Group 3 race at Salisbury.  She led early that day, and she was coming back at the winner Dark Lady after she had been passed.

“I was mortified that she got beaten at Salisbury,” says her trainer, “so it was brilliant that she was able to bounce back and win the Cheveley Park.”

The Starspangledbanner filly was a big price for the Cheveley Park at Newmarket two weeks ago, but her trainer was confident that she deserved her place in the line-up.  She was a little out-paced through the middle section of the race but, under another strong Shane Foley drive, she stayed on well on the near side up the hill to win going away.

Beneath the headline acts, there is a depth to the Harrington juvenile fillies’ team.  Silence Please is unbeaten in two, Valeria Messalina won her maiden at Naas last month and was only just beaten in the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes at Newmarket on Friday.

In total, Jessica Harrington has had 18 individual winning juvenile fillies this season so far.  It is an extraordinary haul.  And as long as all is well with Albigna, she could be on her travels again, to Santa Anita at the start of November for the Breeders’ Cup.  There may be even more to come.

 © The Sunday Times, 17th October 2019