Ground remains sticking point
The going makes today's Irish Oaks a bit of a lottery, says Ian McClean
Those repudiating the effects of global warming will undoubtedly pin the tail on some other donkey. But how else do you explain The Curragh having to hold an inspection in the middle of July to determine whether today's Darley Irish Oaks could actually go ahead?
Rainfall volumes across the UK and Ireland have been biblical in proportion, and quite apart from the effect of decimating the programme with flurries of abandonments, the unseasonable weather's effect on damping what is ostensibly a thoroughbred spectacle of speed could not be more pronounced. Just witness one of the summer's speed championship highlights, Newmarket's July Cup, and you will have seen the best sprinters in Europe trail in at weary intervals separated by a yawning 37 lengths first-to-last.
Of course, as well as the tapering of the summer speed spectacle into slow-motion, there is the other matter of the formbook -- for which the weather has become something of an aqua-shredder. The single biggest influencing factor on the outcome of a horse race is the state of the ground. Traditionally, punters gain some annual advantage during the height of summer when one can usually expect a reasonable consistency of fast ground. This year the consistency is in heavy ground, which it transpires is not so consistent.
Mayson won the Group One July Cup at odds of 20/1 last Saturday. He triumphed by being one of the few that managed the ground, officially described as heavy.
How simple it would be if 'heavy' were as reliable as 'good-to-firm'. Apparently not. Just two weeks previously, Mayson had run in the Chipchase Stakes over the same distance (six furlongs) on heavy ground at Newcastle. He finished fifth, beaten 13 and three-quarter lengths behind another confirmed mudlark, Maarek. Questioned afterwards about the apparent improvement in form at Newmarket, trainer Richard Fahey confirmed that while Mayson had relished the ground at HQ, he had hated it at Newcastle. "The ground is nothing like it was at Newcastle," he said.
Meanwhile last Saturday, Mayson's Newcastle conqueror Maarek was backed off the boards to win a mere Group Three at Newbury across the card. He floundered, beaten over five lengths, struggling on ground officially described as heavy. Apparently, there is heavy and there is heavy. And then there is heavy.
The ground at The Curragh yesterday was described as heavy and it was causing some disturbance amongst the connections of some of this afternoon's Oaks protagonists. Pat Smullen, rider of Ribblesdale winner Princess Highway, was one to express concern. "In the formbook it says it was soft at Ascot, but it was nothing compared to what she will encounter on Sunday."
Aidan O'Brien's Oaks winner Was has already been withdrawn from one race (Pretty Polly) on account of testing ground and is only being granted a run today on account of it being a Classic. Joseph O'Brien, who replaces Epsom Oaks partner Seamus Heffernan, confirmed as much when he said, "The ground might not be ideal, but it's the Oaks so we'll take our chance and see what happens. She's still a lightly-raced filly and hopefully she'll run a good race."
Hughie Morrison sends Shirocco Star for another bash at the market leaders (placed in the Oaks and Ribblesdale) and he is yet another with big reservations about the conditions. "We've been beaten by a couple of them before, so we know it's going to be difficult, but she's been second in one Oaks and we wanted to have a go at another. We don't know how she'll handle conditions. She might hate it and if she does, we'll have learned our lesson."
The trainer with no concerns in the ground is John Gosden. He has chosen to supplement Lancashire Oaks heroine Great Heavens -- a full sister to Nathaniel and unbeaten in three starts this year -- which bolted up by five lengths on bad ground at Haydock just 15 days ago.
His concern, however, is the proximity of the Lancashire race: "Obviously it is very tight between races after such a huge effort in the Lancashire Oaks".
So for punters it seems straightforward. Three of the four leading contenders have grave concerns about the ground at The Curragh this afternoon, while the other will relish it. Always assuming of course that Curragh heavy is the same as Haydock heavy.
Sunday Indo Sport