Aidan O’Brien’s Willow returns to winning ways at Naas

Jockey Gary Carroll taken to hospital after fall that delayed big race by 25 minutes

Séamie Heffernan comes home on Willow to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Naas Oaks Trial at Naas. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Séamie Heffernan comes home on Willow to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Naas Oaks Trial at Naas. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Willow returned to winning ways with victory in the Listed Irish Stallion Farms EBF Naas Oaks Trial at Naas on Wednesday.

Last of 14 in the Oaks at Epsom, the Aidan O’Brien-trained filly tracked the pace set by April Showers, before leading with a furlong and a half to run.

April Showers did not go down without a fight, but it was 3-1 favourite La Petite Coco who posed the biggest threat as she finished strongly under Billy Lee.

Willow and Séamie Heffernan were not for passing, however, and the daughter of American Pharoah out of Peeping Fawn kept on all the way to the line for a half-length victory.

The 11-2 winner was Heffernan’s third chance in the race, after earlier defections which included La Joconde, who was 11th in the Oaks.

He said: “She won nicely. We thought she was a real good filly at the start of the year and it’s nice to win a nice race with her and hopefully she can progress.

“She arrived [on the scene] late last year so possibly she is going to arrive and be good late on this year.

“I had three rides in the race and I ended up winning it!”

The race was run almost 25 minutes after the advertised start time, with Gary Carroll having been unshipped from Holly Golightly, who was withdrawn.

The Royal Ascot-winning rider was treated on the track before being taken to hospital for further assessment.

Senior medical officer Doctor Jennifer Pugh said on the Irish Horseracing Board Twitter feed: “Following a fall in the starting area prior to Race 5, Gary Carroll has been taken to Naas Hospital for further assessment. Gary was fully conscious when leaving the racecourse.”

The Ger Lyons-trained Sacred Bridge is also bred to be smart and made a winning introduction in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillie’ Maiden.

A full-sister to Viadera, now with Chad Brown and a Grade One winner in America having been victorious in Listed company when with Lyons, the daughter of Bated Breath was always travelling nicely for Colin Keane.

Picking up from the two-furlong pole, the well-backed 11-10 favourite got the better of the more experienced Agartha by a length and a half.

Shane Lyons, assistant to his brother, said: “It was a lovely performance and Colin was very kind on her.

“She was entitled to be green, which she was when she hit the front. She just got a little bit tired and it was a typical first run from one of ours.

“She will improve and Colin said she’ll get faster. She’ll come on a ton for it and we’re very happy to take baby steps.”

Meanwhile, Love and Audarya could be in line for a rematch of their epic Royal Ascot clash in the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood next month.

The pair feature among 29 fillies and mares for the July 29th showpiece, having been separated by just three-quarters of a length in their Prince of Wales’s Stakes tussle last week.

Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic winner Love came out on top but Breeders’ Cup heroine Audarya pushed her all the way, on what was the seasonal reappearance for both.

After the race, James Fanshawe mentioned the Prix Jean Romanet, which Audarya won last season, and the Nassau as potential options for his daughter of Wootton Bassett.

Updating on plans, the Newmarket trainer said: “Audarya has only been doing steady canters since Royal Ascot, but she seems very well.

“The Prince of Wales’s Stakes was her first run of the year, so you are never totally sure what to expect. And the same applied to Love obviously but I was just really pleased with her performance and the way she has come out of the race.

“She has a couple of other entries beforehand, but the Qatar Nassau Stakes is a really nice race to aim for. Thanks to the support of Qatar, the prizemoney is fantastic, and it usually throws up a good clash between the three-year-olds and the older fillies and mares.”

O’Brien has a formidable eight-strong team in total, with Love joined by Classic winners Snowfall, Mother Earth, Joan Of Arc and Empress Josephine.

Snow Lantern is a notable entry for Richard Hannon after her fine runner-up effort in the Coronation Stakes.

Also in the potential line-up is the William Jarvis-trained Lady Bowthorpe, who was second in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes after being beaten by only Palace Pier in the Lockinge.

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