James Doyle's virtuoso ride seals Irish Oaks on Sea Of Class

English trainer William Haggas claims first Irish Classic at the Curragh

Jockey James Doyle delivered a virtuoso ride on Sea Of Class to land Saturday's Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh.

The 30-year-old Englishman delivered the sole cross-channel raider from the rear of the field and the 11-4 shot got up close home to beat the Epsom Oaks heroine Forever Together by a neck.

It was a performance to confirm the vital role confidence can play in top-class sport as it completed a Group race hat-trick for Doyle, who’d won the previous two races on another pair of British based horses, Larchmont Lad and Marie’s Diamond.

In the Classic, and despite being faced with a trio of Aidan O’Brien-trained fillies, including the 10-11 favourite Magic Wand, Doyle coolly dropped Sea Of Class to the back of the seven runners in the early stages.


Bye Bye Baby led from Forever Together to the straight and when Magic Wand started to fade, a fourth Classic of 2018 looked in the offing for Forever Together’s rider, Donnacha O’Brien.

If it seemed like Forever Together had got loose on the lead, Doyle showed no signs of being flustered, calmly pulling the daughter of Sea The Stars to the outside and gathering her together for a final challenge.

Sea Of Class had swished her tail under pressure in the past and Doyle never went for his whip as the William Haggas-trained filly came through to win narrowly but decisively.

The 25-1 outsider Mary Tudor was third but Magic Wand could manage only fifth.

“I did ask him to be brave but I didn’t think he’d be that brave!” exclaimed Haggas, who was winning his first Irish Classic. “It was a great ride, a very high-class ride.”

Doyle’s CV already included an Irish Classic, courtesy of Kingman’s 2,000 Guineas in 2014. The rider also accumulated a hat-trick of Tattersalls Gold Cup wins at the Curragh between 2013-15.

However, this was a vintage effort on board a filly whose sire began his legendary career on the same Irish Oaks card a decade ago.

“I always thought I would get there. I had full confidence in her. She was so relaxed and when I gave her a little niggle at the top of the straight she really picked up,” Doyle said.

“The Haggas team has done a marvellous job with her and it was a great shout to miss the Oaks [at Epsom]. She’s a late foal and she’s done very well. It’s only her fourth race so you would hope there’s improvement again,” he added.

Bookmaker reaction was to make Sea Of Class a 16-1 shot to emulate her sire in October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Haggas, though, conceded this Classic was the “No 1 priority” for a filly who races for the Hong Kong-based Tsui family that owned and bred Sea The Stars and now operate under the ‘Sunderland Holding’ banner.

Haggas, a son in law of Lester Piggott, and previously a winner of both the Derby and the Oaks at Epsom, said: "It's a big race for us. We don't come here very often. This is a very good filly so you want it all to go right and it's come right."

Having won the Pretty Polly at the Curragh just three weeks ago, the Newmarket-based trainer might be encouraged to cross the Irish Sea more often in future.

“James is in a rich vein of form at the moment, not only today,” added Haggas. “He’s been riding very well all year. I asked him to be brave because she’s got a good turn of foot. I said ‘if you’re going to the front three out we’re in trouble!’” Haggas added.

Aidan O’Brien is facing the prospect of a Classic blank in Ireland for the first time since 2005 having once again to settle for second in a Curragh Classic this year.

Forever Together chased home Urban Fox in the Pretty Polly and once again had to give best to a Haggas runner but Magic Wand flopped. “I haven’t spoken to Ryan [Moore] yet but she didn’t seem to be herself,” O’Brien said.

It was a bumper programme for the visitors who won all three Group events with the Scurry Handicap thrown in too. The 8-1 Intisaab emerged from the pack to overhaul the top-weighted Ardhoomey in a driving finish to the €100,000 handicap highlight.

His Fermoy-born trainer David O’Meara later doubled up in the Group Two Friarstown Minstrel Stakes, saddling a 1-2 when the Doyle-ridden Larchmont Lad held off his stable companion So Beloved after making all.

“He’s a very straightforward horse and he’s quite tough,” O’Meara said. “I gave James a free hand to do what he wanted and he gave him a fantastic ride.”

Doyle initiated his hat-trick in the Group Three Anglesey Stakes as Marie’s Diamond completed a double for the Middleham Park Racing operation, who enjoyed a bumper afternoon following Ice Cold In Alex’s earlier handicap success.

“I got a nice tow into it so we didn’t have to do all the donkey work,” Doyle reported. “He’s going to get further than this. Seven and a mile will be well within his compass.”

The opening juvenile maiden has an illustrious pedigree of throwing up future stars. Sea The Stars met his only career defeat in the race in 2008. This time Guaranteed emulated his sire Teofilo, who won it a dozen years ago.

Jim Bolger’s runner showed a lot of resolution from the front, especially having looked likely to be swamped by the favourite Mount Tabora for much of the final two furlongs.

Kevin Manning was at his strongest on the 4-1 winner and they just edged the decision in a photo before surviving a stewards' enquiry.

“He has a bit of learning to do yet. He was green the last day and was still green today. He’s still a work in progress,” Bolger said.

“He’s in the Futurity and that’s a possibility. Bold Approach will run in the Tyros on Thursday [at Leopardstown] and we’ll keep them apart,” he 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