Rhododendron bids to secure French Oaks glory for O’Brien

Meanwhile, John Oxx targets Munster Oaks with bright prospect Bengala

Aidan O’Brien will aim to fill a rare gap on his classic CV when Rhododendron lines up in Sunday’s French Oaks at Chantilly.

Victory for Rhododendron will give her trainer a 40th Group One success in France but more importantly it would be third time lucky for a filly who fortune hasn’t favoured so far in 2017.

Finishing runner-up to Winter in the Newmarket Guineas was no disgrace considering the latter’s subsequent Curragh blitz but it was hardly Ryan Moore’s shining hour either.

The English jockey could hardly be blamed for Rhododendron’s stamina appearing to run out in the final stages of the Epsom Oaks but it’s hard not to suspect there have been years when there wouldn’t have been as notably gritty an opponent as Enable to exploit it.


The intermediate distance of Sunday’s €1 million Prix De Diane – off at 3.05 Irish-time – should be perfect for Rhododendron who will bid to become just the second Irish-trained winner of the race after Sweet Mimosa in 1970.

France’s Derby and Oaks are the only major European classics to elude O’Brien in his 20 year rewrite of racing’s record-books and Rhododendron faces a major task against 15 opponents that include Enable’s apparently more brilliant stable companion Shutter Speed.

Frankie Dettori gave a superb illustration of how to overcome a wide Chantilly draw when winning the Diane on Star Of Seville two years ago but is likely to have to adopt more patient tactics on Shutter Speed who is drawn wide in 14.

Rhododendron is in 11 while one of the main home hopes, Terrakova, a daughter of the brilliant Goldikova, looks to have got the best of the draw among the apparent principals in four.

Lean times

The Oaks focus closer to home will be at Cork on Sunday when the €70,000 feature will feel like old times for John Oxx as he saddles three runners against a Ballydoyle quartet.

The hugely popular former champion trainer has endured some lean times since Sea The Stars’ glorious 2009 but Oxx has a decent squad of fillies on his hands this year.

Naughty Or Nice is among 15 left in this Thursday’s Ribblesdale Stakes as Oxx tries to add to his career Royal Ascot tally of seven winners, the last of which was Beautyandthebeast a dozen years ago.

Flying Fairies and Red Stars are decent older fillies lining up for the Munster Oaks but it’s little surprise Declan McDonogh has opted for their younger stable companion Bengala.

She followed up her maiden win with a third in the Salsabil Stakes that was a better effort than barely reads.

Slowly away, Bengala didn’t get a clear run at a vital time in the straight and was running on well at the finish. The extra quarter-mile of the Cork race should be perfect and could set up a classic tilt of her own for Bengala in next month’s Irish Oaks.

Cork’s other black-type event is a Listed sprint which sees the Irish debut of last season’s leading South African juvenile, Misty Bernam. Fozzy Stack has taken over the ex-Mike De Kock-trained runner.

Last year’s winner Spirit Quartz is back from England for another crack at this but has a task on his hand conceding a stone to Alphabet. Aidan O’Brien’s filly was only caught in the closing stages of last weekend’s Ballyogan Stakes and drops back to the minimum trip now.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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