A record-equalling sixth Darley Irish Oaks, and a 40th Irish classic in all, could be in the making for Aidan O’Brien at the Curragh on Saturday.
O’Brien runs three in the €400,000 fillies highlight and the depth of his challenge is such that his Epsom Oaks heroine Forever Together doesn’t even appear to be the Ballydoyle first-string.
Forever Together has it in her sights to become the 15th filly to complete the Epsom-Curragh Oaks double but it is her stable companion Magic Wand who is Ryan Moore’s pick.
She ran at Epsom too but Magic Wand didn’t appear to relish the easy ground conditions and didn’t look totally happy on the track either.
In contrast, Forever Together thrived to the extent she broke her maiden in classic style under Donnacha O’Brien, who is back on board on Saturday.
O’Brien’s youngest child will only turn 20 on Sunday but tops the jockeys list in Ireland and has a fourth classic victory of 2018 in his sights.
As birthday presents go, an Irish Oaks is none too shabby. However, considering both Forever Together and Magic Wand have both run since Epsom – and both were ridden by Moore – the English man’s selection this time looks significant.
Magic Wand returned to winning form at Royal Ascot with an impressive fourth length defeat of Wild Illusion in the Ribblesdale.
Forever Together tried to emulate Minding by dropping back to 10 furlongs and taking on older horses in the Pretty Polly Stakes here over Derby weekend.
The task proved beyond her, and Urban Fox proved much too good on ground a lot quicker than Epsom.
It will be quick going again for the Oaks, and removing Epsom from the equation leaves the very favourable impression Magic Wand left when easily accounting for her stable companion at Chester in May.
Magic Wand is a half-sister to the 2013 Irish Oaks heroine Chicquita, who was a famously wayward talent. There has been no indication of such quirkiness in O’Brien’s latest classic favourite, who looks to have conditions and stable confidence in her favour.
O’Brien also has Bye Bye Baby on his side as he attempts to equal Sir Michael Stoute’s record Irish Oaks haul.
The champion trainer has unusually failed to hit the Curragh classic bullseye so far in 2018, and it is 13 years since he went through a season without an Irish classic success.
His son Joseph got in the way in the Irish Derby three weeks ago courtesy of Latrobe, and O’Brien jnr has another course maiden winner this time in Tissiak.
The big threat to Ballydoyle, though, looks to come from the sole cross-channel raider Sea of Class.
A decade after the peerless Sea the Stars started his legendary racing career on Irish Oaks day – and was beaten for the only time – one of his daughters gets a shot at the big race itself.
William Haggas has been ultra-patient with Sea of Class, who has been impressive in two Listed wins at Newbury. The chestnut filly is clearly progressive but has shown a sign of temperament, too, and is clearly the unknown factor here.
Mary Tudor would be a hugely popular first classic success for her trainer, and former Kildare intercounty footballer Willie McCreery, although it’s still not difficult to portray this classic in terms of Sea of Class versus Ballydoyle.
There’s no doubt where both home and numerical advantage lies. And in Magic Wand, O’Brien looks to have the best candidate for giving him a 40th Curragh classic.
The Moore-O’Brien combination can also prove hard to beat in the opening maiden with Mount Tabora and in the Group Three Jebel Ali Anglesey Stakes.
They rely on the filly Just Wonderful, who showed a lot of natural ability to win on her debut here prior to starting favourite for the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. Inexperience looked to catch her out on that occasion, but this looks an easier assignment.
Fermoy native David O’Meara saddles both Larchmont Lad and So Beloved for the Group Two Friarstown Minstrel Stakes, where they take on American Pharoah’s brother, St Patrick’s Day. If it comes down to a battle, So Beloved could be the one to go one better than last year in the race.
On Sunday Mabs Cross, third in Royal Ascot’s King’s Stand, lines up for Michael Dods in the Group Two Sapphire Stakes. The Yorkshire trainer won the race with Mecca’s Angel in 2016 and this looks another progressive filly.