Fields Of Athenry lays Challenge Stakes rivals low

The progressive, Aidan O’Brien-trained Fields Of Athenry proved a hugely impressive winner of the listed Challenge Stakes as continuous rain turned the ground yielding to soft in Leopardstown last night.

Fields Of Athenry lays Challenge Stakes rivals low

Runner-up in the Ulster Derby last time and having only his fourth run, the three-year-old Galileo colt made all under Seamus Heffernan and powered up the straight to beat Silwana (the other 7/4 joint-favourite) by ten lengths, with Drifting Mist third.

Heffernan was clearly impressed by the display, commenting: “He’s an improving horse and was good tonight. Inexperience caught him out the last day (in Down Royal), but Joseph said he was ready for today.

“My plan was to jump and drop my hands on his withers and let him roll along, and it worked out well.” He added: “It was easy. He stays well and kept picking up for me.” On this evidence, Fields Of Athenry, an improving colt, will be entitled to step-up into top staying company, with either the Irish or English St. Leger a likely target.

The featured, Meld Stakes saw the Dermot Weld-trained favourite Carla Bianca register her second Group victory, despite fears about the deteriorating ground. Pat Smullen dictated the pace on the Moyglare-owned grey and, quickening in the straight, was always holding her rivals, with three-quarters of a length to spare over Elleval at the line.

Weld conceded: “After the rain, conditions (yielding by race-time) were not ideal. So you shouldn’t judge her on tonight. But what you can judge her on is the guts and courage she showed. She battled well and kept pulling out more.”

As a winner of two Group 3 events, Carla Bianca could have her sights raised as her trainer indicated: “She’s in the Nassau Stakes (Group 1) in Goodwood and races like the ‘Give Thanks’ in Cork. So we’ll have to sit down and discuss plans.”

The Miichael Halford-trained Al Qahwa justified he promise of his debut run in Naas when justifying 15/8 favouritism in the two-year-old colts maiden, quickening clear in good style to beat Planchart by three and three-quarter lengths.

Halford said of the Shane Foley-ridden son of Fast Company: “He came on plenty from his run in Naas and everything went well for him. He was smartly away from his outside draw, got a nice lead and picked up well – he was very professional. We always liked him and he’s going the right way. He could be smart.”

Having her third run, Miss Gossip gave Jessica Harrington her fourth winner in three days when making all under Niall McCullagh in the two-year-old median auction maiden, holding the persistent challenge of favourite Hazamar by a half-length.

“She had the experience and stays very well, so we wanted to keep it simple,” explained the winning trainer. “The ease in the ground helped her and she kept going well. She’s in the ‘Silver Flash’ here next week and I put her in the ‘Debutante’ too.”

Gary Halpin continued his impressive strike-rate for John Oxx when My Twinkle, in the familiar colours of Sunderland Holdings, captured the High Kings Apprentice Handicap, sweeping through inside the final furlong to beat Settle For Red by a length and prompting her trainer to comment: “She was very free in Roscommon the last day, so we decided to take the blinkers off her.”

Having saddled his first Leopardstown winner with Ruler Of France last week, owner-trained Paddy Twomey was on the mark again when Cognitive Ease (Wayne Lordan) overcame a lengthy absence to land the seven-furlong racecourse Of The Year Maiden by a half-length from favourite Griko.

The consistent but luckless Oor Jock was foiled again in the concluding Summer Members Club Handicap, the 2/1 favourite succumbing, by a head, to the late challenge of 12/1 shot Korbous, ridden for Dick Brabazon by Leigh Roche.

* Royal Ascot winner Curvy heads a classy field of 10 for the Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh on Saturday.

David Wachman’s three-year-old has made great progress this season, culminating with victory in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Ascot. She runs in the Coolmore silks, with Wayne Lordan back on board in the absence of the injured Ryan Moore.

Coolmore have four other strong contenders, all trained by Aidan O’Brien, including Investec Oaks surprise winner Qualify. Together Forever, Kissed By Angels and the unbeaten Words all represent Ballydoyle.

Jessica Harrington’s Jack Naylor, sixth in the Oaks at Epsom, has also been declared alongside Jim Bolger’s Stellar Glow. Bolger’s Irish Guineas winner Pleascach is, however, an absentee.

There is a powerful contingent from the United Kingdom, with James Fanshawe’s Speedy Boarding and Hugo Palmer’s Covert Love stepping up in class. The John Gosden-trained Gretchen, fifth in the Ribblesdale on her just her second run, completes the field.

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