Twilight Payment back to winning ways

Melbourne Cup hero stays on strongly to see off Princess Zoe in St Leger Trial

Declan McDonagh on Twilight Payment wins ahead of Joey Sheridan on Princess Zoe in the St Leger Trial Stakes at the Curragh. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment returned to winning ways in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger Trial Stakes at the Curragh.

Joseph O’Brien’s eight-year-old enjoyed his finest hour in November last year, but had been out of luck in three subsequent starts, most recently in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

A 5-1 chance in the hands of Declan McDonogh, he took over from Amhran Na Bhfiann before three out, followed by Princess Zoe and Emperor Of The Sun.

Princess Zoe appeared to be going at least as well as the winner tight against the rail, with Emperor Of The Sun on her outside, but in the end Twilight Payment stayed on strongly to score by a length and three-quarters. Emperor Of The Sun was another neck back in third.


O’Brien’s assistant Brendan Powell said: “He’s a good old stager. I think he’s won it when Declan sent him on turning in and he got two lengths on them.

“I thought Princess Zoe might pick him up, but he’s some hard horse to pass. He’s so tough. Declan said he felt great going to the start and that’s the first time since he rode him last year that he’s got that sort of feel off him. He’s shown that he’s trained on and seems like the horse of old.”

Tony Mullins will now consider whether to go to York next week with his Group One-winning mare.

He said of Princess Zoe: “We were training for York and then we were afraid of no rain and if the rain doesn’t come she won’t go to York. Considering this came a week earlier than planned, we were two furlongs short of our best distance – I’m disappointed to get beaten, but delighted with the performance.

“She’s met a real machine over that distance. We were definitely leaning towards the Lonsdale [Cup], where now she’s showed she has the pace for a mile and six so it puts the other [Ebor] back in.

“We are going to have a good think about this for 24 hours.”

Earlswood gave the Irish Derby form a boost and set himself up for more big targets with a ready victory in the Fitzdares Royal Whip Stakes.

Encouraging comeback

Ridden by Shane Kelly in the enforced absence of the suspended Ben Coen, the Pivotal colt – fourth to Hurricane Lane in the Curragh Classic – got on top heading inside the final furlong of the mile-and-a-quarter Group Three, having three-quarters of a length in hand of Reve De Vol as the 9-4 favourite.

Innisfree, not seen since his second to Kameko in the 2019 Vertem Futurity Trophy, made an encouraging comeback as he ran on for fifth place.

Of the winner, trainer Johnny Murtagh – who also enjoyed a high-profile triumph with Create Belief on Thursday evening – said: "It's been a great couple of days, big rides for Shane Kelly but he's certainly delivered.

“I’ve been very happy with this horse since the Derby. Glyn [Davies, owner] lives just up the road from us and brought him home for two weeks after the Derby. He definitely improved for the break.

“I thought he might be one gallop short, but he is a horse that always keeps himself pretty fit. He’s a pretty active horse and always works good.

“We had pencilled in a mile and a half on [Irish] Champions Weekend, but he has free entry now [after winning this race] for the Irish Champion Stakes so we’ll have to think about that.

“He’s an improving horse with a great will to win. When he went through the gap today you knew there was only going to be one winner. He stayed on really well. He has an entry in the English Champion Stakes later in the year.”

This was the 200th anniversary of the Royal Whip, Ireland’s longest-standing continuously staged horse race.