Weld keeps his Irish Oaks options open
A rematch between Tarfasha and her scintillating Epsom conqueror Taghrooda remains a possibility in Saturday's Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh, though it will be this afternoon at the earliest before we learn if one or both of the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned fillies will run.
Both were among 15 horses left in the fillies' Classic at yesterday's five-day entry stage, and their respective trainers are understood to be eager to let them line out in the €400,000 contest. Kris Weld, speaking on behalf of his father Dermot, who also has Khalid Abdullah's Irish 1,000 Guineas third Vote Often still engaged, stressed that no decision has been made on Tarfasha's entry.
"We have left our two fillies in so we will just wait and see now," Weld said. "There is rain forecast for later in the week so we will have to see what amount falls. Tarfasha just wants nice summer ground, but Vote Often might like an ease alright. They are both well and that is the main thing."
The John Gosden-trained Taghrooda was yesterday installed as low as 4/7 favourite to become the 14th filly to complete the Epsom-Irish Oaks double. Tarfasha and Aidan O'Brien's Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Marvellous – well beaten in sixth at Epsom – vie for second favouritism at 7/1.
Conditions on the round course at headquarters are being given as good to firm, firm in places, with four millimetres of water scheduled to be artificially applied yesterday. Given Taghrooda's utter superiority at Epsom and that the Sea The Stars filly has never run on anything slower than good ground, there is a sense that Al Maktoum would favour running just her if conditions are quick.
Tarfasha has won comfortably both times that she has raced on slow ground – including her Blue Wind Stakes rout at Naas prior to Epsom – and the Sheikh's racing manager Angus Gold has hinted that an ease in conditions might enhance the chance of her turning up.
"If we knew how good Taghrooda was before Epsom we might have kept Tarfasha for the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and try to win both races," Gold admitted.
"A Classic is a Classic though and if a trainer wants to run there it is hard to deny them that opportunity. The Irish Oaks is next door to Dermot Weld so it makes sense for him to run. If Taghrooda is as good as we think she is it also makes sense to run, and to win two Classics would be fantastic.
"As is always the case, those decisions will be made by Sheikh Hamdan. Tarfasha is a lighter-framed filly, and is more ground dependent and probably wouldn't run if it came up soft. I'd be surprised if the ground went against Taghrooda and I'd think she'd handle soft ground.
"If we said to one of the trainers to not run, we need to work out what the other possibilities are. As John Gosden has said though, why take on the older horses when she can run against her own sex?"
Weld has won the 12-furlong contest with the aforementioned Blue Wind (1981) and Dance Design (1996), and his Irish 1,000 Guineas third Vote Often (16/1) is a fair back-up option. Inevitably, though, there are echoes of what happened in the Irish Derby about the weekend's feature.
On that occasion, Australia was left to saunter home at long odds-on in a farcical affair after the Epsom runner-up Kingston Hill, whose owner Paul Smith is a son of Coolmore tycoon Derrick, was withdrawn on the day.
Connections cited the prevailing fast ground as the reason for scratching the grey colt, though he was then allowed to tackle the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on similar going.
While the Juddmonte International at York on August 20 is being considered for both Australia and Kingston Hill, Roger Varian yesterday outlined the options for his stable star. "We took Kingston Hill out of the King George at Ascot and he's having an easy time just now," the Newmarket handler said.
"A loose plan for him is that if the ground were good at York we could run him in the Group Two Great Voltigeur Stakes, but if it were soft he could go in the Group One Juddmonte International. He's entered in both."
Bearing in mind O'Brien's expressed reluctance to risk Australia on soft ground, then, the likelihood of both horses renewing rivalry on the Knavesmire appears slim.