Ger Lyons hoping Sacred Bridge can prove bank holiday banker at Naas

€150k first prize sees 24 runners line up in the Ballyhane Stakes

The second €300,000 Ballyhane Stakes takes place at Naas on bank holiday Monday with every chance of it supplying another lucrative success for one of racing’s superpower operations.

Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore landed the inaugural running of this hugely lucrative prize last year with Chief Little Hawk.

It was hardly the sort of fairytale outcome that might have been envisaged for a race confined to progeny of sires whose produce had a median price of under £75,000 at public auction, yet it hasn’t prevented another big field of 24 lining up.

They include a handful of cross-channel raiders competing for €150,000 to the winner with prizemoney all the way down to 12th.


A third of the field are made up of syndicates and partnerships in pursuit of a rare big pay-day.

However, the horse to beat looks to be the unbeaten filly Sacred Bridge, who carries the world-renowned colours of the Juddmonte operation.

A daughter of one of their comparatively lesser stallion lights, Bated Breath, she boasts impeccable credentials for such a task.

On her course and distance debut Sacred Bridge had no less than the subsequent Group Three winner Agartha behind her.

She herself subsequently impressed again by landing a Listed contest at Tipperary just a week later.

The sister to a US Grade One winner will probably have her own Group race ambitions later in the season but she is hard to get away from as the one to beat for a big pay-day en-route.

"It would be a nice next step for her and then we can go back to the Stakes races but the prizemoney is so good it makes sense to go that route first," said Sacred Bridge's trainer Ger Lyons.

Joseph O'Brien's Hadman has the top official rating of these on 99. However, he was behind Sacred Bridge's stable companion Beauty Inspire in the Anglesey last time so Lyons should know where he stands.

Richard Hannon's Bosh looks best of the raiders with wins at York and Newbury. He and Sacred Bridge are drawn next to each other in 19 and 20 respectively. It could prove the part of the race to focus on from the start.

There is also €50,000 up for grabs in the later 'Silver' Ballyhane Stakes with 15 lining up. Jessica Harrington has three for the big one although Exquisite Acclaim could prove best of her pair in the other restricted contest.

On Tuesday, Harrington’s focus will switch to Deauville for Group One action.

The Prix Rothschild over a mile is worth the same as Monday's Naas feature and features a trio of Irish hopefuls headed by Ballydoyle's 1,000 Guineas winner Mother Earth.

She is joined by both Harrington’s Irish 1,000 Guineas third No Speak Alexander and Sheila Lavery’s Belle Image, who was fourth in May’s Curragh Classic.

Belle Image was subsequently out of the money in a Listed race over Irish Derby weekend but gets another shot at the top-flight with Lavery having booked top local rider Ioritz Mendizabal.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a bumper Classic year on Irish horses already having won the French Derby and 2,000 Guineas on St Mark’s Basilica as well as the Prix De Diane on Joan Of Arc for Ballydoyle.

Tuesday’s French feature will be a fifth Group One start of the year for Mother Earth.

Runner-up in the French Guineas after her Newmarket victory, she was subsequently third to Alcohol Free in the Coronation Stakes before finishing runner-up to Snow Lantern in the Falmouth last time.

Ryan Moore will again take the mount on Aidan O'Brien's consistent star.

Shane Foley is set to team up with No Speak Alexander and will also be on board Harrington's Killarney winner The Blue Brilliant in a Group Three on the same card.

Separately, the first Group One of the season for juveniles, the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, will take place at the Curragh this Sunday.

At €250,000 the six-furlong highlight is worth less than the Ballyhane in prizemoney but boasts a roll of honour that underlines its overall commercial value to the winner.

Trainer David Loughnane, originally from Galway but based in Shropshire, has indicated he plans to bring his Railway Stakes winner Go Bears Go back to the Curragh for a shot at top-flight glory.

Aidan O’Brien has dominated the Phoenix like no other Group One with a remarkable 16 victories under his belt. The last of them though was Sioux Nation in 2017.

Gavin Cromwell's Queen Mary winner is also a likely starter in the race having been added to it last month at the second entry stage.

French-based trainer Eoghan O’Neill has also kept open the option of sending his colt Yankee Dream for the race. The next acceptance stage takes place on Tuesday.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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