Aidan O’Brien targeting first French Oaks success with Happily

Filly drawn in stall three, champion trainer confirms Saxon Warrior for Irish Derby

On the eve of next week’s Royal Ascot extravaganza Aidan O’Brien could get a valuable classic boost if Happily fills in a rare Group One blank for the champion trainer in Sunday’s French Oaks.

Happily is a general 4-1 second favourite for the €1 million Prix De Diane which along with the French Derby remain the only major European classics O’Brien has yet to win.

The Irish filly’s chances have been boosted by a stall three draw. In contrast the local favourite, Shahnaza, has hardly been boosted by being drawn widest of all in 13. The English raider for the Chantilly feature, Laurens, is next to her in 12.

Sweet Mimosa remains the only Irish-trained filly ever to win the French Oaks all the way back in 1970. Sunday’s race is off at 3.05 Irish-time.

O’Brien is already a 1-2 favourite to be crowned leading trainer for a ninth time at Royal Ascot which begins on Tuesday.

The Irishman saddled six winners last year and a record equalling seven the year in 2016. O’Brien has had 61 Royal Ascot victories in total over the last two decades.

His team this time is set to include the Group One favourites Rhododendron (Queen Anne Stakes) and Order Of St George who is 2-1 to regain the Gold Cup crown.

Other Ballydoyle stars disputing Group One favouritism are Sioux Nation (Commonwealth Cup) Merchant Navy (Diamond Jubilee Stakes) and Clemme in the Coronation Stakes.

Old rival

Order Of St George will have a maximum of 12 Gold Cup opponents on Thursday including his old rival Torcedor from Jessica Harrington’s yard. The other possible Irish starter is Willie Mullins’s Max Dynamite.

O’Brien has also confirmed his Guineas hero Saxon Warrior will attempt to bounce back from his Epsom defeat in the Dubai Duty Irish Derby at the end of the month.

”He never ran on a track like Epsom before and when he turned to come down the hill he was a little bit at sea,” he said on Friday.

”All the races he won he went through them very easily and won very easily. So Epsom was probably the first time he was among the rough and tough and we think he would probably learn a lot from that,” O’Brien added.

Earlier this week the Irish Derby was dealt a blow with news the Epsom hero Masar is skipping the Curragh in favour of the following week’s Eclipse. However the Epsom runner up Dee Ex Bee is likely to travel.

A bumper weekend’s action in Ireland is highlighted by Sunday’s Group Three Munster Oaks at Cork.

There are three Ballydoyle hopes apparently headed by the wide-margin course winner Flattering who ran fifth in the Epsom Oaks a fortnight ago.

The old rivals Bloomfield and Glamorous Approach take each other on again although on much faster conditions than when clashing here in the Spring.

Perhaps the most interesting contender though is Dermot Weld’s Jaega who holds a number of Group One entries including the upcoming Pretty Polly Stakes and the Irish Oaks.

Runner up to Bye Bye Baby in last month’s Blue Wind Stakes she is already rated on 105 but could step up again now she races on a sound surface for the first time.

Downpatrick flies the jumps flag over the weekend and the Clonmel loving You Can’t Catch Me can thrive on the northern track on Sunday.

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