Horse Racing: Irish Oaks Preview

Roger VarianThe Irish Oaks market is dominated by Ballydoyle’s Even Song at 4/5 but some of her rivals stand a better chance of spoiling the party than the bookies suggests (5.45pm Saturday at The Curragh).

Even Song won the Group 2 Ribblesdale over this distance of a mile and a half giving Aidan O’Brien his 50th Royal Ascot winner but it was a strange race, run at a snail’s pace. A few fillies consequently ruined their chances by being too keen but Even Song is a relatively laid back character who settled better than most.

O’Brien said afterwards that she has a good turn of foot for a stayer and that was exactly what was needed at the end of a slowly run affair. There was one slightly awkward moment early on when she had to be checked but Even Song enjoyed an otherwise extremely smooth passage under Ryan Moore. The field fanned out giving her space to quicken when it mattered but she did not exactly leave them for dead.

What else has Even Song done to merit such confidence here? Not much. She won her maiden nicely second time out as a juvenile and then reappeared in May for the Pretty Polly at Newmarket. She was beaten nearly six lengths on good ground over a slightly shorter distance but did not get the clearest of runs.

Even Song is a half sister to Simple Verse so we have no reason to doubt her ability to stay the distance in a truly run race and she has reportedly come out of Ascot well. The problem is that her price reflects the confidence of her connections rather than anything she has actually shown on a racecourse. This will be only her fifth outing so she is entitled to be progressive but she is not the highest rated runner in the line-up and this is no cakewalk.

Hugo Palmer took this race last year with Covert Love and has two chances of retaining the title. His strongest hope appears to lie with the supplemented Architecture (8/1), who is rated 3lb above Even Song. Palmer pragmatically mentioned that she has been more than paying her keep so far so it was not a tough call for her owner Lael Stable.

This daughter of Zoffany was disappointing in the Ribblesdale, beaten five lengths into eighth, but Palmer thinks that the race was not run to suit her. Architecture is a bit of a handful who wears a hood at home and was a bit keen under Frankie Dettori early on. Unlike Even Song she was drawn very wide and never managed to get into a decent position.

Ascot may well have come too soon for her too. Just 13 days earlier she had a pretty hard race when finishing a gallant second to the mighty Minding in the Oaks at Epsom, beaten nearly two lengths on the good to soft ground.

Architecture is another filly who won her maiden second time out as a juvenile and was put away. She reappeared in an Oaks trial at Lingfield in May where she was narrowly beaten by Ballydoyle’s Seventh Heaven, who finished well behind her at Epsom. Her only win to date was in that maiden but her proximity to Minding has to put her in the mix. She has had a month to recover from the mud at Ascot and benefits from a low draw here. Architecture has to present a significant threat to the favourite if bearing no mental or physical scars post Ascot.

In contrast Palmer’s second string, We Are Ninety (25/1) has won three of her five starts, her maiden first and only time out as a juvenile, and a handicap and a listed race this term. She was far from disgraced in the Ribblesdale, beaten three lengths into sixth. She was ridden further back in the field than her stablemate by Jim Crowley but finished in front of her. It was her first attempt at a mile and a half.

Palmer has pointed out that this filly has a similar profile to Covert Love and admits that there is a strong physical resemblance too. We Are Ninety is beautifully bred from the family of Henrythenavigator on the dam’s side. She may well run much better than her current price suggests.

Roger Varian (pictured) has persuaded Sheikh Mohammed Obaid to supplement Ajman Princess (9/1) for this race. It is not difficult to work out why. This daughter of Teofilo was runner-up to Even Song at Royal Ascot, wearing a hood for the first time. It was not a bad effort for a filly who is yet to get her head in front. She did not race as a juvenile but was second in three maidens before Ascot. Varian believes that she ‘is progressing at a rate of knots’ and he is not known for hyperbole.

This filly is reportedly versatile in terms of ground and Varian believes the galloping nature of the track will suit her. This will be her fifth start and Ajman Princess has only a length and a half to find with the favourite. She was perfectly positioned by Andrea Atzeni in the Ribblesdale, just behind the long term leader hugging the rail, but Varian’s views on her progression suggest that she might be able to reverse the placings.  She has to have each-way claims at least.

There are no other runners at a single figure price leaving Jim Bolger’s Turret Rocks (14/1) to take fourth place in the Irish Oaks market. This daughter of Fastnet Rock won twice in her five runs as a juvenile, taking her maiden first time out. She was subsequently put into Group company and achieved two minor placings before taking the Group 2 May Hill Stakes run over a mile at Doncaster in September. In October she was runner-up to Ballydoyle in a Group 1 over the same distance at Longchamp.

This season we have seen nothing to get excited about. Turret Rocks was beaten six lengths by Minding in the 1,000 Guineas. In her next and most recent run she was beaten over 50 lengths in the Oaks at Epsom. Turret Rocks is a nervy character who has been ponied to the start in the past. Her character is unlikely to change but a tongue tie is being tried for the first time here. If it really helps her she might put in a decent performance. Her trainer Jim Bolger is a shrewd operator but it is difficult to justify following her on what she has shown this term.

Even Song’s stablemate Pretty Perfect (16/1) is likely to be seen at the head of affairs and could run well. She sprung a surprise when beating two more fancied Ballydoyle runners on her debut this season in a listed race at Navan in April.  She was the runner-up in a Group 3 at the same course in early May but was well beaten in the Irish 1,000 Guineas just 11 days later.

Most recently this daughter of Galileo was tried over a mile and a half in a Group 3 at Cork a month ago and won in style, beating Dermot Weld’s Shamreen four lengths ‘comfortably’ on yielding ground. Pretty Perfect is rated 5lb lower than Even Song but if she enjoys the ground could give her a run for her money and is an interesting each-way prospect.

Mick Channon’s Harlequeen (16/1) was last seen finishing third, eight lengths behind Architecture in the Oaks at Epsom, outpaced by the leading pair. It is hard to see her reversing that form but she had Somehow (25/1) 14 lengths behind her in fourth whilst Seventh Heaven (25/1) and Turret Rocks were virtually tailed off. Harlequeen is obviously decent but minor place money looks the most likely outcome in this company.

Even Song may live up to Ballydoyle’s expectations but she has little appeal at 4/5, we do not know if she is even in the same league as the all-conquering Minding yet. Roger Varian’s confidence makes Ajman Princess tempting each-way at 7/1 but Royal Ascot form has proved less than reliable. Our preview’s preference is for ARCHITECTURE. She found only Minding too good at Epsom and has excuses for her Ascot flop. This should be a true run race and we can be sure that Frankie Dettori will make the most of her favourable draw.

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