Heavens sets up Camelot clash
JUST 24 hours after Nathaniel's narrow failure to secure successive successes in the King George at Ascot, John Gosden and William Buick got their sensational season got back on track when Great Heavens swooped late to claim an emphatic triumph in the Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh yesterday.
A full-sister to Nathaniel, the well-backed 5/4 favourite came three lengths clear in a pulsating edition of the Darley-sponsored Curragh Group One, in the process raising the possibility of a mouth-watering clash of the sexes with Camelot in the Doncaster St Leger.
Having got boxed in early on, Great Heavens didn't seem at all likely to collect for long periods of the 12-furlong feature, not least as the Johnny Murtagh-ridden Shirocco Star became embroiled in a prolonged bout of argy-bargy with Was and Joseph O'Brien as the race unfolded inside the final furlong.
A Stewards' Enquiry was quickly announced, but it was never going to involve the winner.
Displaying the sort of nuanced calm that is fast becoming his trademark, Buick, who turned 24 yesterday and was serenaded accordingly by a crowd of happy punters as he unsaddled, eventually extricated his mount from a variety of pockets.
As Murtagh and O'Brien, who finished second and fourth respectively, fought over the same strip of the vast Curragh plains, he brought Great Heavens with a storming run down the outside.
On testing ground, it was a consummate performance from both horse and rider in a cracking renewal of the fillies' Classic, which saw Princess Highway fail to confirm her Ascot superiority over the runner-up by taking third.
"She is classy," the always-eloquent Gosden admitted afterwards of his progressive Lancashire Oaks winner. "She had to be asked a big question in the last furlong and she opened up three lengths on the whole field, which I think says a lot about her.
"William said he couldn't do anything until the furlong pole, and thank goodness she had the class to quicken on that very holding ground. Her sister (Playful Act) finished second in this race (in 2005), so we have finally managed to win it."
Gosden was enjoying back-to-back wins in Irish Group One races, having taken the Pretty Polly Stakes with Izzi Top, another Lady Rothschild-owned filly, at the beginning of the month.
Yesterday's Oaks victory, a fourth in a row for British-trained horses, was his first in a conventional three-year-old Classic in this country, though he did win the all-aged St Leger for a second time when Duncan shared the spoils last year.
"She will be freshened up now," he added of the plunderer of this €232,000 pot.
"Obviously, she has the option of something like the Yorkshire Oaks then, and she could also have an entry in the English St Leger. There is no reason why a filly of her class couldn't run in something like that -- and something has to take on Camelot."
Boylesports subsequently gave Great Heavens a quote of 6/1 to foil the Triple Crown bid, while the stewards gave Murtagh a two-day ban for unceremoniously shutting the door on Was. There was, however, no alteration to the final placings.
Earlier, Tannery (5/1) continued her recent improvement to provide David Wachman with his third win in the Group Three Kilboy Stakes since 2008.
Pat Smullen set sail on the unbeaten Caponata two furlongs out, but Tannery gradually mowed the favourite down under Wayne Lordan for her fourth win in five starts. "She is a very tough, straightforward filly and she handles that ground well," Wachman said of the half-length scorer. "We might find something in America for her later in the year."
Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning combined to land what was a weak edition of the Anglesey Stakes with Grafelli, the 9/4 shot drawing six-and-a-half lengths clear of Hard Yards.
Grafelli received fancy quotes for next year's 2,000 Guineas afterwards, but Bolger suggested he was still some way down the pecking order in his own yard.
Nina Carberry took the Ladies' Derby in facile style on Richard Brabazon's locally-trained Placere, while the Rockingham went to the consistent Bubbly Bellini for Ado McGuinness and apprentice Ian Brennan. Returned at odds of 11/2, the cheek-pieced five-year-old was obliging for a fourth time this year in the five-furlong dash.