Having finished unplaced on his only start as a juvenile, Fascinating Rock made a winning return over the Derrinstown course and distance at the end of March before adding the Ballysax Stakes to his CV in fine style at Navan.
Sent off the even-money favourite to make it three from three for the year in this prestigious Group Three contest, the three-year-old was settled at the rear of the six-strong field in the early stages and was still last rounding the home turn.
First-past-the-post Ebanoran (8-1) made a decisive move at the top of the straight, with Declan McDonogh’s mount quickly going through the gears to carry him into a clear lead.
Fascinating Rock was briefly caught flat-footed, but got rolling late in the day and there was just a head in it at the line.
A stewards’ inquiry was quickly called and the replays showed Ebanoran had first caused interference to the eventual third, Geoffrey Chaucer, and then leaned into Fascinating Rock in the dying strides. After lengthy deliberations, the first two places were reversed and Weld emerged from the weighing room to shake hands with Oxx and offer his commiserations. McDonogh was handed a three-day careless riding ban.
Aidan O’Brien’s Geoffrey Chaucer, making his first appearance since winning last September’s Beresford Stakes, emerged with plenty of credit.
Weld said: “I don’t want to win any race that way (in the stewards’ room). I thought he was the best horse on the day and interference happened, but it was a very messy race. Pat was adamant that the interference cost him the race.
“He’s a big, long striding horse and as they quickened off the home turn, he just lost his hind-end momentum.
“I’ve been teaching him to settle and switch off at home and it’s the first time he’s really been asked to sprint. It just took him a few strides to react.
“I’d be pretty definite that he’ll go to Epsom and he’ll certainly have learned a lot today.”
It is not out of the question the first two could meet again at Epsom on June 7 as Ebanoran also holds a Derby entry.
Oxx said: “It was unfortunate, but there was only a head in it.
“I was impressed with the turn of foot he showed and he’s an improving horse.
“He doesn’t have any great ground preference.
“We’ll have to discuss it, but there’s every chance he will go to Epsom.
“He’s a good horse and he’s going the right way.
“He’s by a sprinter (Oasis Dream) out of a stayer (Ebadiyla), but putting speed into his pedigree was what the family needed.”
Fascinating Rock’s victory was the highlight of a superb treble on the afternoon for the formidable Weld-Smullen combination.
The hat-trick was initiated by Mustajeeb (5-2 favourite), who showed an electric turn of foot to beat his elders in the Ardglen Amethyst Stakes.
“I’ll speak to Sheikh Hamdan (Al Maktoum, owner) and Angus Gold (racing manager), but I would encourage them towards the Irish 2,000 Guineas,” said Weld.
Afternoon Sunlight (9-4 favourite) may also be Classic-bound for the Rosewell House team after turning in a fine front-running display in the Derrinstown Stud 1,000 Guineas Trial.
Weld said: “She’s a brave and genuine filly and it was an excellent ride by Pat.
“We’ll have to think about the Irish 1,000 Guineas, but we’ll see how she comes out of this race first.”
Trainer Kevin Prendergast and jockey Chris Hayes combined to take the Johnnie Fox’s EBF Auction Maiden with 7-2 shot Herewego.
Prendergast said: “He’ll be better over seven furlongs or a mile and I was hoping it would not be too short for him today.
“That ground would not do him any harm and I probably wouldn’t run him if it got very fast.”
The Arthur Moore-trained Harley’s Harley (6-1) ran away with the PFH Technology Group Handicap in the hands of Fran Berry, while 16-1 shot Edge Of Sanity edged ahead in the Fitzpatrick Gallagher McEvoy Solicitors Handicap for Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning.
Bolger and Manning struck again in the concluding Microsoft Ireland Maiden as 20-1 shot Sundara streaked clear in impressive fashion.
Marakoush was second, with favourite Felix Mendelssohn only fourth.
Bolger said: “It was a good ride from Kevin and he’s an improving horse.
“We’ll see how the handicapper treats him.”