Dettori the star of the show in Irish Oaks

Dettori pilots Star Catcher home in feature race at the Curragh

Frankie Dettori brought some welcome 'feel-good factor' to a beleaguered Curragh on Saturday with a classic master class on Star Catcher in the Kerrygold Irish Oaks.

Having been out of luck on a first ever visit to Killarney on Wednesday, the hugely popular Italian superstar treated an official 4,295 Curragh attendance to his trademark 'flying dismount' from the John Gosden trained winner.

The 7-2 second favourite - a €40,000 supplementary entry earlier in the week - made most of the running to hold off Aidan O’Brien’s Fleeting by half a length. O’Brien’s 5-2 favourite Pink Dogwood was back in third.

The danger of giving Dettori a solo in front was emphasised once again as the 48-year-old controlled the tempo throughout to secure an eighth Group One success in the last 50 days of what’s proving a vintage summer.


That superb big-race momentum has been in contrast to the turbulent summer endured at the Curragh. The under-fire facility received heavy criticism at Derby day three weeks ago and last weekend its chief executive Derek McGrath announced he is stepping down from his position.

When that will happen is unclear, although McGrath’s comments about division over a long term vision for the €81 million flagship facility appear indicative of deep problems existing at Irish racing’s HQ.

The Curragh chairman Padraig McManus insisted on Saturday that there is no division at board level and there was certainly widespread unity about a fifth Irish Oaks for Dettori being a timely profile boost for the track.

It was a tenth Curragh classic in all for the jockey who landed the Irish Derby a quarter of a century ago on Balanchine.

Such classic durability has made him the most recognisable figure in the sport and the brilliance behind Dettori’s flamboyance was once again on full show on Saturday.

“It was a matter of getting the fractions right. Fleeting came to me but Star Catcher could have gone on again,” he explained.

Star Catcher had won Royal Ascot’s Ribblesdale Stakes on her previous start and Dettori added: “She has done nothing but improve. We put our neck on the block in supplementing her but we thought she was good enough.”

It continued the jockey's superb Group One summer and asked if he's ever ridden with more confidence, he replied: "Maybe you have to go back to 1996 when I won the seven (races at Ascot. )"

Gosden’s praise for his stable jockey was fulsome after Star Catcher emulated her illustrious stable companion Enable, winner of this race in 2017.

“We’ve been lucky to have him. He’d be the first to tell you that he went through some difficult times, mostly self inflicted but one specifically not. He’s a wonderful person to be around. He’s like family with us,” he said.

“He’s a gorgeous rider and knows his horses. When he’s with you working them in the morning he nearly wants to train them so I have to calm him down. I say ‘I’m not going to ride them so you can’t train them!’

“I think Frankie was aware that his filly showed her best in the last furlong of the Ribblesdale and he was determined not to see a falsely run race.

“He’s gone out there, set his own fractions, and quickened off the bend, with a tail wind in the straight but a head wind in front all the way down the back.

“That’s Frankie, you leave him alone when he has a plan and he can go to Plan B usually quite quickly. He has the courage to do that which comes from years of experience and having a clock in your head. He’s rode a quite beautiful race,” Gosden added.

The Newmarket trainer has an embarrassment of riches among top-flight fillies with Coronet and Lah Ti Dar also among a long list of Yorkshire Oaks possibles.

He stressed Star Catcher’s mile and a half credentials though and also nominated the Prix Royallieu and the Prix Vermeille as options.

Gosden did, however, supply one relatively discordant note among the jollity when urging the authorities here to review entry dates for the classics.

Explaining why Star Catcher had to be expensively supplemented, Britain’s top trainer said: “If they could kindly close declarations for these wonderful Irish classics later; to me it’s a problem every year. Can you put that plea in.

“They do close these races too soon in my opinion, which is why I never have entries in them and I always end up having to supplement if I have something good enough. I wish they’d close them a little later here and then more of us could play.”

Another Curragh classic winner on view as last year's Guineas hero Romanised who won his first since then in the Group Two Paddy Power Minstrel Stakes.

Ken Condon's star pounced off a strong pace to deny Dettori on the 7-4 favourite Hey Gaman. Next up will be a return to Deauville for next month's Prix Jacques Le Marois, a race in which he was fifth Alpha Centauri last year.

“He had two lovely runs in Group One company (this season) and appreciated dropping in grade. Billy (Lee) said when the gap came he quickened up very smartly.

“He’s gone very professional this year, more relaxed and easier to deal with. I thought it was a lovely performance,” Condon said.

In contrast to the Minstrel Stakes the Group Three Jebel Ali Anglesey Stakes saw much of the field quicken off a dawdling early tempo and it was the 6-1 Roman Turbo who saw it out best from Lil Grey.

"He's a smart horse, very professional; he just jumps and is very straightforward," said the winner's trainer Michael Halford.

"He wasn't in any of the big races so we'll have to talk to his owner and see what he has in mind for him. I'd say long term he'll probably end up in Hong Kong.

“I actually put him in the Nursery to see what weight he’d get and he (the handicapper) gave him a rating of 92. He’d have fairly scooted up in that you’d like to think!” he added.

Verhoyen maintained his status as the stalwart of Michael Grassick’s local yard, landing the trainer’s most lucrative career pot in the €125,000 Tote Scurry Handicap. It was a second win of the season for both horse and trainer.

"This would be my biggest winner in terms of prize money but Texas Rock won two Listed races. It's only my second winner of the year and he's won the two races. I've just no horses - I need horses!" Grassick said.

The 14-1 winner held off Buffer Zone by three parts of a length under Rory Cleary.

“I actually wasn’t going to run him because everywhere else was getting rain and I thought it wasn’t going to arrive here. But luckily there was 7mms last night which kept it good and let me run.

“I’m surprised how well he stuck at it but he was well handicapped from what he’s doing at home and on his two-year old form in a Listed race,” Grassick added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column