Alpha Centauri ends Jessica Harrington’s wait for a Classic hit

Trainer wins 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh with grey filly and targets Royal Ascot

Jessica Harrington’s pioneering career broke new ground at the Curragh on Sunday as the legendary trainer secured a first Classic success when Alpha Centauri landed the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Colm O’Donoghue steered the giant grey filly to a 12-1 victory over Aidan O’Brien’s 33-1 outsider Could It Be Love with that horse’s stable companion, the 5-4 favourite, Happily, back in third.

“I’ve finally got the Classic!” Harrington laughed. “I’ve been second and third and the horses have always run really well: but this is a dream come true for to win a Classic. It’s almost as good as winning a Gold Cup at Cheltenham. It’s probably better; they’re on a par. To win a race like this is absolutely fantastic.”

The Moone-based trainer famously won last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup with Sizing John and has been successful in many of National Hunt racing’s greatest other prizes over the years, including the Champion Hurdle with Jezki in 2014.

Despite having won a Group One in 2010 with Pathfork, Harrington never hid her ambition to eventually win a Classic against flat racing’s elite.

And just 24 hours after the anticipated Classic narrative was interrupted by Romanised's 25-1 success for Ken Condon in Saturday's 2,000 Guineas, Alpha Centauri also gatecrashed the Classic picture to give her 71-year-old trainer a landmark victory.

“This is the first time since Ascot last year she’s got good ground and that’s the key to her. She ran here in the Moyglare on soft to heavy and her first run this year was on soft to heavy.

“She’s a big filly and she can’t pull herself out of the heavy ground. She’s some big lady but she’s a beautiful filly and she’s gone and done it today,” Harrington said.

Unlike Harrington, O’Donoghue had already tasted Classic victory in England, France and Ireland, including the Irish Derby on Treasure Beach in 2011.

However, last year the 37-year-old rider ended his two decade-long association with Aidan O’Brien to ride primarily for Harrington’s burgeoning flat team.

That move was vindicated in style as Alpha Centauri put her lacklustre first start of the season behind her to beat the Ballydoyle pair.

Could It Be Love looked at one point to have pinched a race-winning lead after forcing the pace throughout. But on the quick ground conditions Alpha Centauri’s final finishing kick proved decisive.

“It was too soft the last day [at Leopardstown] and I was drawn in Foxrock so it was a non-event. She’s always been very good and she worked exceptionally well 10 days ago. But you never know in a Classic,” said the jockey.

Inevitably the focus was on Harrington, who at an age when many people are retired, appears to be taking an already lustrous career to even greater heights.

“I’m waiting for a Royal Ascot winner now,” she grinned and Alpha Centauri was installed a 6-1 chance to land next month’s Coronation Stakes when a clash with the English Guineas heroine Billesdon Brook is likely.

Harrington was also made just 5-2 overall to break her duck at the famous meeting, although her ambitions are more long term than just Ascot.

“I’m lucky to have the horses I have and I’ve got some lovely two-year-olds for this year as well, which is vital,” said the trainer whose yard is divided 50-50 between flat and jumps with 80 horses for each discipline.

Over the years not many Classic-winning trainers have celebrated in Mayo but Harrington’s jump roots weren’t long appearing in the Curragh’s new winners enclosure – “I’m going to Ballinrobe tomorrow – and I might mow the grass as well before I go!”

No one on the Ballinrobe card will have their string in better form than Harrington, whose point about her two-year-old team was advertised in the opening maiden by Indigo Balance.

The full brother to Cable Bay showed the benefit of a spin in the new barrier trial concept introduced at Dundalk by making an impressive winning debut. It earned Indigo Balance 20-1 quotes for the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“He had been up to Dundalk for the barrier trial and had run very well there so he was like a colt today that had a run already. He was very professional,” said the trainer.

In contrast, Emmet Mullins is in the early stages of his career and the dual-purpose trainer saddled his first Curragh winner with St Stephens Green in the two-mile handicap. "It's my first winner here and it's a huge thing for me," said the nephew of champion jumps trainer, Willie Mullins.

The first Classic weekend of 2018 took place in the midst of the Curragh’s continuing €72 million redevelopment, although facilities at the track were transformed and generally praised in comparison to last year.

In response to a request for crowd figures, track officials said they weren’t publishing attendances for either day.