Soft ground forecast for Curragh

Curragh manager Paul Hensey is anticipating soft ground for this weekend’s Darley Irish Oaks meeting.

The fillies’ Classic takes centre stage on Sunday with the likes of Aidan O’Brien’s Epsom winner Was and runner-up Shirocco Star, as well as the John Gosden-trained Great Heavens, amongst the entries.

Further rain at the track has seen the ground turn heavy, but Hensey is expecting conditions to improve as better weather is forecast.

“We had 5.5 millimetres of rain last night so we have changed the ground to heavy this morning,” he told At The Races on Wednesday morning.

“The forecast is for better weather from now until the weekend so hopefully we will get some good weather and the ground will improve.

“I think the likelihood is that we will possibly be on soft ground.”

Eleven fillies are in contention for the Group One event, but Hensey believes the quality of the field more than compensates for volume of runners.

“Numerically it probably won’t be as a big a race for the Oaks as we’ve had in the past, but this race has always been of the highest quality,” he said.

“If you look back over the years, we have had all the very best fillies in Europe to run in it and it must be one of the best fillies’ races in Europe over the years.

“I think it’s a good renewal this year.

“There’s the first and second from the Epsom Oaks still in, Princess Highway is very, very highly thought of by Dermot Weld and I think the one to watch is Great Heavens, who was supplemented yesterday.

“She’s proven on that ground, she won the Lancashire Oaks and is a very good filly with a good pedigree.”

Connections of Firebeam will not run in the KARE Race Day Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh on Saturday.

The four-year-old will bypass the Group Three over seven furlongs as it comes just a week after his excellent second in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury.

William Haggas’ inmate was beaten four lengths by Soul, who was a close-up fourth behind Black Caviar in the Golden Jubilee, with owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing taking plenty of encouragement from the run.

“He doesn’t go to Ireland at the weekend – it was really just a precautionary entry,” said Harry Herbert, Highclere’s racing manager.

“He’s not a horse that you want to run back quickly and he ran a great race at Newbury.

“It was very testing ground and he was a bit tired at the end.

“We think he is capable of winning at that level, but he was just unfortunate to bump into a very good horse with some good form, who possibly could have figured in the July Cup the same day.

“We’re not quite sure what the plan will be with him, but hopefully he will be back out in two or three weeks’ time.

“We look at all the options with him but the horse deserves a Pattern win and we think he can achieve that if we place him right.”

Dante Stakes winner Bonfire has been gelded and will not run again this year.

The Andrew Balding-trained three-year-old was Group One-placed as a juvenile and created plenty of excitement when scoring a cosy victory in the York Group Two in May.

However, he failed to fire when sixth in the Derby and fared no better in the Eclipse at Sandown, despite returning to a more conventional course.

The son of Manduro took a keen hold in the early stages in the Eclipse and Harry Herbert, racing manager for owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, felt that was a sure sign all was not well with Bonfire.

He said: “We have gelded him. We have just taken the view that it’s the best thing to do for the horse.

“Obviously it is not a decision we have taken lightly, but to have a stallion nowadays you need to have a multiple Group One winner.

“It was dreadful seeing him pulling at Sandown as that was a sign that he just wasn’t happy and getting a bit anxious about life.

“We all discussed it – Andrew Balding, John Warren (bloodstock advisor) and I - and decided the best thing was to geld him and bring him back next year.

“We will give him plenty of time to grow and mature and we think the operation will benefit him both mentally and physically.

“He is quite an immature horse and you really noticed it against the older horses in the paddock at Sandown.

“It’s the best thing for the horse and the owners to get him back on track.”

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