Princess Highway to face tough conditions if she is to win Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh
PRINCESS Highway will have to overcome testing conditions and a late setback if she is to secure her first Group One prize in Sunday's Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh.
Dermot Weld's filly could not have been more impressive in last month's Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and had been the general ante-post favourite for this weekend's fillies' Classic.
However, news of a minor problem came to light earlier this week and with further doubts about the ground, she has been usurped at the head of the market by the John Gosden-trained Lancashire Oaks winner Great Heavens.
Weld said: "She's very well but we had a little hold-up earlier in the week.
"She's over that, but she will find that testing ground against her."
Princess Highway's jockey Pat Smullen voiced similar concerns about the prospect of bottomless ground.
"She's done everything right leading up to the race. She was very impressive in Ascot," he told At The Races.
"She appears to be in the same sort of form she was then. The big concern for me is the ground.
"In the formbook it says it was soft at Ascot, but it was nothing compared to what she will encounter on Sunday.
"She is going to encounter heavy winter ground here on Sunday and that is an unknown to her.
"She is very well, but I just hope she handles conditions."
The third major challenger for top honours is Aidan O'Brien's Epsom Oaks heroine Was.
Princess Highway beat that rival in the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas in May and Smullen is hoping his mount can confirm the form.
He said: "Granted Was had probably improved since Naas, but her (Princess Highway) form is the strongest at the moment, in my opinion."
Was was due to run in the Pretty Polly Stakes after her Epsom heroics, but was withdrawn because of the testing ground.
Conditions are once again a concern this weekend.
Jockey Joseph O'Brien 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's Shirocco Star was narrowly beaten by Was at Epsom and was third behind Princess Highway at Ascot.
The East Ilsley handler said: "She seems fine and it's quite rightly a very competitive race.
"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 out lesson."
O'Brien also runs Twirl and Devotion, with the Eddie Lynam-trained Colliding Worlds completing the seven-runner field.
Joseph Burke of Stan James said: "Following Dermot Weld's revelation that Princess Highway had a hold-up during the week, she has been usurped as favourite for the Darley Irish Oaks by John Gosden's Great Heavens who is now 15-8 favourite (from 2-1).
"Princess Highway is now the second favourite at 2-1 while Aidan O'Brien chases his third Irish Classic of the season and an Oaks double with Was, who is next in the betting at 3-1."
Darley Irish Oaks
Stan James bet: 15-8 Great Heavens, 2-1 Princess Highway, 3-1 Was, 7-1 Shirocco Star, 20-1 Twirl, 28-1 Colliding Worlds, 50-1 Devotion.