Irish Oaks Preview: Star Catcher can shine at the Curragh

The 2018 Irish Oaks witnessed arguably one of the rides of the season from James Doyle, who exploited Sea of Class' devastating turn of foot to get up rather cosily in the final strides, all under hands-and-heels.

Sadly, Sea of Class was retired recently after a bout of colic, but we still get to enjoy the star of the show from the previous year, Enable, who turned the race into a procession when winning eased down by five and a half lengths.

Star Catcher
Star Catcher Picture: Pat Healy Photography

That pair included, the British raiders have a remarkable record in recent years, winning seven of the last 10 renewals, and it could well be a familiar story this time round, with both John Gosden and Ralph Beckett looking to have good chances.

Star Catcher  appears to be the best chance of the raiding party, representing the formidable team of John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. She relished the step up to a mile and a half when winning the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last time, and it would be no surprise if there was even more to come, especially if settling better than she did during the first half of that race. She has a good turn of foot - which she used to get first run on the re-opposing Fleeting that day - and was equally strong to the line, always doing enough. She was supplemented earlier in the week at the cost of €40,000, so a big run must be expected.

MANUELA DE VEGA  Picture: (Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Ralph Beckett has two chances for Waverley Racing in his attempt to win the race for the first time. Antonia de Vega was two from two before starting favourite in the Fillies Mile at Newmarket at the back-end of her juvenile season, but she ultimately finished last, after which she was reported to be lame. She showed no ill-effects from that issue when making a winning return in a listed race at Newbury (by four lengths), the same race that Sea of Class won before following up here. She looks to still be improving and the way that she finished last time on soft ground suggests a mile and a half will be within her range.

IRIDESSA  Picture: (Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Manuela De Vega  has had two starts this year, looking unlucky when second in the Cheshire Oaks, where she shaped better than the bare result after getting held up when trying to make her move, before finishing fourth in the Oaks at Epsom. She looks to have plenty of stamina, as she was staying on well both times, and might well need a proper test at this trip to get the best out of her.

PINK DOGWOOD  Picture: (Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Of the home challenge, Joseph O'Brien looks to hold the strongest claims of delivering his first Irish Oaks with Pretty Polly winner Iridessa . Having won the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket at two, she looked sure to improve when faced with a step up in trip, but her chance at further had to wait as she contested both the English and Irish 1000 Guineas earlier in the season, finishing midfield both times. She duly showed improved form up in trip when taking the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh by two and a quarter lengths from Magic Wand, giving the impression that a mile and a half will be well within her range, and looks to have a good chance.

Aidan O'Brien saddles three in the race, including Pink Dogwood  and Fleeting, who finished second and third, respectively, in the Epsom Oaks. The first-named looked the likely winner when making a sweeping move down the outside under Ryan Moore, only to be caught late on by Anapurna, who was better positioned throughout the race. She's since faced a drop-in trip and was behind Iridessa in the Pretty Polly, where she had every chance, suggesting she has work to do to reverse the form here.

Fleeting has produced her best two performances to date when upped to a mile and a half. She didn't have the best of runs through behind Star Catcher at Royal Ascot last time, but she was looking held in the last half furlong. The Ballydoyle challenge is completed by Peach Tree, who was given pace-making duties at Ascot and may well fulfil the same role today, over a trip that looks now to be on the short side after her win in the Stanerra Stakes at Leopardstown last time.

Of the remainder, Trethias and Search For A Song re-oppose from the Naas Oaks trial four weeks ago. Trethias got the verdict that day, improving for a step up to a mile and quarter and ultimately winning quite comfortably. A mile and a half won't hold any fears for her, but she might be vulnerable to Search For A Song this time round. Dermot Weld's charge is still lightly raced, and given her pedigree - by Galileo and a sister to two-mile winner Falcon Eight - she could well improve for going up in trip and turn the tables, for all that even more will be needed to trouble the principals.

Completing the line-up is Jim Bolger's Operatic Export. She was soundly beaten by the aforementioned pair at Naas last time and will have to take a marked step forward to have a chance in this better company.

In summary, Star Catcher is fancied to come out on top in an open renewal and can take the prize back to England for the third year in a row. Her form from the Ribblesdale - when beating the Oaks third Fleeting - is strong, and she is open to improvement on only her second start at the trip, representing a trainer who will know what class of horse he needs to win. Iridessa looks to hold the strongest claims for the Irish after her Pretty Polly win, but the one to give the selection most to think about could be Antonia de Vega, who created a good impression when winning on her reappearance at Newbury and remains unexposed.

Also on the card is the Anglesey Stakes, a Group 3 for two-year-olds in which Guildsman will be the standard-setter if lining up. After winning convincingly on debut, the son of Wootton Bassett ran an excellent race at Royal Ascot to finish third behind Arizona in the Coventry, and he is worth another chance to bounce back and confirm that form, having disappointed slightly when only fourth behind Royal Lytham in last week's July Stakes at Newmarket.

Aidan O'Brien has two in the race, Mount Fuji and Pistoletto . The former landed the odds on his debut, when needing every yard of the five furlongs, before finishing well held in the Norfolk at Royal Ascot after seeming to be taken off his feet by the strong gallop. The step up in trip here will suit him and better can be expected.

The latter is unbeaten in his two starts having skipped Royal Ascot, which could turn out to be an excellent decision. His debut performance earned him a high rating and timefigure, showing that he is a colt of some potential. After poor behaviour at the start, he didn't look the most straightforward when following up in a minor event last time, but that can be put down to inexperience for the time being. He certainly shaped as if a step up in trip would help and looks to have only shown the minimum of what he is capable of.

Lil Grey ran a good race at Royal Ascot, finishing sixth in the Albany, having confirmed her debut promise with a win second-time-out. That success came on soft ground and the forecast rain here is in her favour, having kept on at just the one pace on good ground at Ascot (may need further in time).

Roman Turbo toughed it out on his debut in a big-field minor event at the Curragh last month, knuckling down well. He could be vulnerable to more speedy types here given the way he is bred, though, and would be of more interest over further.

To sum up the Anglesey - which looks an able support-act to the main event - Pistoletto is a strong fancy to come out on top if behaving himself in the preliminaries. He is a colt of immense potential and the step up in trip can go some way to revealing his true quality. Guildsman needs to bounce back from last week, but there is no reason why he can't, so he appeals as possibly the biggest danger to the selection.


Back Star Catcher in Saturday's Irish Oaks at the Curragh

Back Pistoletto in Saturday's Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh