Sunday's Group Two Juddmonte Beresford Stakes at the Curragh has a history of throwing up classic talent but confirmation of the National Hunt season's increasing momentum arrived yesterday with news that the hugely-exciting hurdler Our Conor will make his first appearance since winning the Triumph Hurdle in next month's Hackett's Irish Cesarewitch at HQ.
The big two-mile handicap is run at the Curragh on October 13th and it will be the first occasion the Dessie Hughes- trained star carries the colours of new owner Barry Connell who bought Our Conor following his dramatic 15-length blitz of the opposition in the juvenile championship at Cheltenham last March.
That brought to a head an unbeaten four-our-of-four campaign over flights for Our Conor and the impression he made has been so great he is currently a 5-1 second-favourite behind dual winner Hurricane Fly in the ante-post betting for the 2014 Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Our Conor won two of his six starts on the flat last year before embarking on a hurdles career and Hughes used the Cesarewitch as a kick-off point for his former Champion Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace in 2007.
"We had been looking at the good hurdle race at Tipperary (October 6th) but that looks like coming just a week too soon so Our Conor will run in the Cesarewitch in three weeks' time instead," said Connell.
"Providing all goes well there, and throughout the winter, we could then look at the Morgiana Hurdle, the race at Christmas, the Irish Champion, and then the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. . . . He had a good summer break which was the first proper break he's had as he raced on the flat before," the owner added.
The Beresford Stakes boats an exclusive roll-of-honour that includes legends of the sport such as Sea The Stars (2008) and Nijinsky (1969) and Aidan O’Brien is heavily represented in his pursuit of a 13th victory in the mile highlight with seven of the 11 entries left in the race after yesterday’s five-day forfeit stage.
They include the trio of Geoffrey Chaucer, Agena and Illinois, all of whom have won their sole starts to date, as well as another unbeaten colt in Mekong River. O'Brien has also left in Kingfisher who also holds an entry in Saturday's Royal Lodge at Newmarket.
Johnny Murtagh has left in the maiden scorer Altruistic while Ger Lyons is keeping open the option of running his Tyros Stakes winner Exogenesis. Andy Oliver's All Set To Go, a five-length Roscommon winner, has been supplemented into the race at a cost of €10,000.
Ground conditions at the Curragh yesterday were officially “good” with some good to firm patches on the round course. The forecast for the rest of the week is unsettled.
Sunday's main support event is the Group Three Park Stakes which sees My Titania, a daughter of Sea The Stars, attempt to build on her maiden success at Leopardstown this month.
John Oxx's filly is among 13 left in the contest, an entry that includes the Charlie Hills-trained Queen Catrine, runner-up in the Lowther Stakes, as well as Clive Brittain's Ascot winner Stealth Missile.
Dermot Weld will choose between the race named in memory of his father or Friday's Group One Fillies Mile at Newmarket for Tarfasha while Monday's Tipperary winner Diamond Stilettos, a first winner in seven years for trainer Anne Marie O'Shea, has a choice of the Park or the Listed Blenheim Stakes on the same card.
In other news, Sarah McNicholas has been appointed chief executive of the Irish Equine Centre.
With a background in investment banking in London, she is also an active member of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Her new role begins in December.