Shawanda looks set to tackle the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October after strolling to an impressive success in the Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh yesterday.
Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre and owner the Aga Khan have earmarked the autumn showpiece for the Sinndar filly after she destroyed her rivals by five lengths in the Irish Classic.
The 9-2 chance was always hacking along in mid-division as the 13-strong field went along at a good pace behind Thakafaat.
Bookmakers had struggled to find a favourite before the race such was the open-looking nature of the contest – the honour eventually falling to Luca Cumani’s Dash To The Top at 4-1.
But when Christophe Soumillon asked his mount to quicken up at the two-furlong pole what had looked such a competitive event was turned on its head as the winner quickly shot clear.
Playful Act, one of three British-trained contenders, was throwing down her challenge at the same time and came out of the pack in pursuit.
But although Playful Act (5-1) comfortably accounted for the remainder of the field and finished three and a half lengths clear of third-home Mona Lisa (10-1), Shawanda was simply in a different league to her rivals.
As Soumillon gleefully pointed out afterwards, the five-length margin could easily have been doubled had the jockey not spent most of the final 150 yards easing up in the saddle.
Fourth was Right Key, while Dash To The Top finished a respectable fifth having held up the start of the race by refusing to go post until jockey Johnny Murtagh eventually got off and walked her down.
“I was never on the bridle,” said Murtagh after the race while Cumani thought the fast ground had been against his filly.
He added: “She wouldn’t let herself down properly on it.”
The Aga Khan’s other runner, the John Oxx-trained Hazariya was pulled up before the home straight by Mick Kinane.
Oxx had revealed before the race that it had been a borderline decision to let the filly take her chance after she suffered a stone bruise on Saturday morning.
Thankfully, she was said to be none the worse upon returning to the racecourse stables.
Shawanda will now be targeted at the Arc with the traditional fillies’ trial at Longchamp, the Prix Vermeille, and the Yorkshire Oaks both under consideration as prep races.
“I thought that the bigger track would suit her and she has plenty of class,” said Royer-Dupre.
“This is my first winner in Ireland although I have been second in both the Oaks and the Derby before.
“She is a very calm filly and she was relaxed. She has a good mind. But I was worried about her travelling over here because she has never had to go far before.”
Having also won the race with Ebadiyla in 1997, the Aga Khan was taking the Oaks for the second time.
He said: “I have always liked this filly, we considered running her in the Prix de Diane but decided to go for that race with Vadawina.
“She is from an outstanding male and female line and is progressing with every race.”
Soumillon added: “She was on the bridle all the way. I gave her a bit of a breather in the third quarter of the race but she was so well-balanced around the turn.
“It was just so easy, my easiest Group One winner.
“If I had been harder on her she could have won by 10 lengths. She was like a champion today. For a filly to do that in a race like this is amazing.”
Playful Act’s trainer John Gosden was right not to be too disappointed with the performance of his filly.
“Two furlongs out we quickened right up and I thought we were going to win, but in a matter of strides the winner had taken three lengths out of her,” he said.
“It was a good effort to finish second as she beat the rest by some way.
“It was a majestic performance by the winner.”