Colin Keane has potential first classic victory in his sights on Oaks ‘spare’

Eight Irish Oaks winners in last decade have been trained overseas

 Jockey Colin Keane: he has slipped seamlessly into the retired Pat Smullen’s role as Ireland’s “go-to” rider. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Jockey Colin Keane: he has slipped seamlessly into the retired Pat Smullen’s role as Ireland’s “go-to” rider. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The first 75 days of the new Curragh have been tumultuous so a potential first classic success for Colin Keane in Saturday’s Kerrygold Irish Oaks might be a welcome change of pace at headquarters.

Keane is well on course to regain the jockey’s championship this season, and a memorable defeat of Frankie Dettori in Killarney’s feature on Wednesday testified to how well the 24-year-old is riding.

The country’s top rider will once again clash with Dettori in the weekend’s €400,000 feature as the Italian returns to Ireland bidding for a tenth Curragh classic on Star Catcher.

The Ribblesdale winner is among the ante-post betting principals, along with Joseph O’Brien’s Pretty Polly winner Iridessa and Pink Dogwood who leads a three-pronged Ballydoyle attack.

Victory for any of them will give Aidan O’Brien a record-equalling sixth Irish Oaks, as well as a third domestic classic of what has proved to be a fraught 2019 to date at the Curragh.

Chief executive Derek McGrath’s announcement last week that he was stepping down – along with his suggestion of division at board level – came on the heels of a series of problems which have arisen since Irish racing’s €81 million showpiece facility opened in May.

Those came to a head on Derby day although the issue of long queues for drinks and toilets that blighted three weeks ago are unlikely to be an issue at the less high-profile Oaks date.

In fact a couple of uneventful weekend fixtures off the track could provide those in charge of the Curragh with welcome breathing space considering there is half a dozen fixtures still to go this year.

As for what happens on-course, trend-spotters are likely to be all over how the Oaks has been won eight times in the last decade by overseas raiders, including the last two outstanding victors Enable and Sea Of Class.

It is debatable if Star Catcher will ever prove to be in the same league as her illustrious stable companion Enable. But she might not have to be to win this race either, especially since the supplementary entry has got the red-hot Dettori on her back in a race he has already won four times.

Home defence

It is Ralph Beckett’s “de Vega” pair, however, who look intriguing opposition to the seven-strong home defence.

Manuela de Vega looked an unlucky fourth in the Epsom Oaks which nevertheless means she has ground to make up on both Pink Dogwood and Fleeting.

Jockey Harry Bentley has opted for her over Antonia de Vega so not surprisingly Beckett has secured Keane for what might prove a superb “spare”.

Keane has slipped seamlessly into the retired Pat Smullen’s role as Ireland’s “go-to” rider and looks ripe for his profile to start spreading more internationally.

His sole career Group One victory to date was on Tony Martin’s Laganore in Italy in 2017, although his association with Ger Lyons means he has the exciting and unbeaten two-year-old Siskin to look forward to.

Next month’s Phoenix Stakes is on his agenda, but Antonia de Vega looks an exciting classic prospect right now considering her four length win on soft ground in her sole start this year.

That was in the same Newbury race Sea Of Class won before scoring in the Oaks. With forecast overnight rain likely to ease ground conditions Beckett’s apparent No 2 crucially looks an unexposed contender open to any level of improvement.

Dettori has three rides on Saturday, including Intisaab for David O’Meara in the €125,000 Scurry Handicap. However, it is Hey Gaman that could be his best chance. James Tate’s runner gets his ideal seven furlongs in the Group Two Minstrel Stakes, and comes to the Curragh on the back of a good win at Longchamp last time.

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