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Harrington adjusts to rigours of level playing field

It was this time last season that Jessica Harrington made rather significant, if unusual, headway up the Flat racing ladder. Pathfork was down to run at The Curragh on July 18 and there was some talk that he was quite good. The rumours varied, but the core of it was that he was beating Laughing Lashes at home, a filly that had been second in a Group Three at Leopardstown three days previously.

The son of Distorted Humor won that day, quite impressively to say the least, beating Aidan O'Brien's Robin Hood by just over four lengths. Pathfork was more than quite good, as the next three horses to emerge from the race all won on their next starts. Then, Laughing Lashes took a Group Two at The Curragh. She beat two O'Brien fillies, Together and Misty For Me, for which there was plenty of positive talk about as well.

Pathfork didn't need any rumours to show how good he was after he took the Group Two Futurity Stakes on his next start. The Futurity has been won by champions in the past, and it looked as though Harrington had one in the making when Pathfork went on to make it three from three in the Group One National Stakes on his next start.

A week prior to the National Stakes, Laughing Lashes ran a cracker to finish second in the Group One Moyglare Stud stakes and here we were, Jessica Harrington with market leaders in both the Newmarket Guineas races. Lots of reasons to be excited through the winter, with Oscars Well and Bostons Angel also doing enough to keep her occupied.

But the fickleness of Flat racing. They talked of Frankel being a monster, but Pathfork went to Newmarket as Ireland's leading hope and with the tag of second favourite. Harrington was at least confident of a big run but Pathfork and Fran Berry never got into the race as the monster destroyed them -- and the rest of the field.

Harrington could at least look forward to Laughing Lashes the next day. She liked her prospects and felt she had at least a decent chance but the filly never got into the race and was struggling from a long way out.

You don't get many chances at the highest level of Flat racing. You have one season or maybe two and then that's it; move over for the next generation. It perhaps wouldn't be what Harrington is used to.

The wonderful Moscow Flyer won the Arkle as an eight-year-old in 2002, took the Champion Chase the next season, unseated Barry Geraghty when going for back-to-back wins in 2004, and then came back to reclaim his crown in glorious fashion in 2005. Unfortunately, it just doesn't happen like that on the business-driven Flat scene. "It's just the way things pan out in

this game sometimes, it didn't happen for us on the day but there is still a long way to go this season," says Harrington with her typical positive demeanour.

She has every right to be hopeful as well. Pathfork has had a wind operation, is back in form, according to the Moone-based trainer, and will be running soon. Laughing Lashes lines up today in the Irish Oaks, and despite being assigned an outsider's tag, Harrington is confident of a big run from the daughter of Mr Greely. "I'm very happy now with Laughing Lashes, she's gotten stronger since the start of the season, and we were really happy with the way she ran in the Irish 1,000 Guineas."

For Harrington, the term 'dual purpose training operation' is stressed regularly now. That's the way it's gone for a trainer famous for her exploits at Cheltenham and Punchestown more than anywhere else. Banksters Bonus, Bob Le Beau and Bible Belt have all showcased Harrington's abilities at training Flat horses again this season. "We've always had a few Flat horses but we seemed to be getting more now, and this is undoubtedly the busiest we have been during summer months," Harrington says.

Unlike the Irish Derby with its English counterpart, the Irish Oaks regularly attracts the leading players from Epsom and this year will be no different with the front two, Dancing Rain and Wonder Of Wonders, set to re-oppose today at The Curragh.

The perception last week was that Aidan O'Brien's filly should reverse form with Dancing Rain, and the bookies have made the Ballydoyle horse a warm favourite. Dancing Rain seemed to be the beneficiary of a top-class front-running ride by Johnny Murtagh at Epsom, and although it was still a very good performance to hold off Wonder Of Wonders, her trainer William Haggas even admitted last week that it will be difficult for her to confirm the form in O'Brien's backyard. She does have the assistance of Murtagh again though and should she win, she would be the fifth filly in eight years to do the Oaks double.

Add to the field Godolphin's Blue Bunting, the Newmarket Guineas winner, and Jim Bolger's Royal Ascot winner Banimpire, and this looks like a cracking renewal. But this has been the aim all along for Laughing Lashes and she is well worth her place in a Classic race which looks worthy of that title. In the trainers' list of names, Jessica Harrington is more than worth her place as well.

Sunday Indo Sport