It’s not often a card at Dundalk can be labelled stellar but, with the benefit of hindsight, the card at Dundalk on April 18th really was rather special.
The opening race of that seemingly mundane Monday night was won by the Aidan O’Brien-trained debutant Caravaggio. Three months, a Curragh victory and a Royal Ascot success later Caravaggio is now the hot favourite for next year’s 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
The penultimate race in Dundalk that Monday night in April was won by Bravery, another Ballydoyle colt, who has since gone on to finish fourth in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Sir Isaac Newton was beaten into second in the third race that spring evening but has won his two most recent starts, at Royal Ascot and the Curragh. And then there’s Seventh Heaven, an impressive winner that night before scrambling home a neck clear of Architecture at Lingfield. She was part of the Ballydoyle team for the Epsom Oaks but finished sixth of nine, a whopping 33 lengths behind brilliant stablemate Minding.
The notion she could ever win a Classic seemed more than a little far-fetched but she did just that on Saturday, getting the better of old foe Architecture by two and three quarter lengths to win the Darley Irish Oaks under a patient but inspired ride from Seamus Heffernan.
Stablemate Pretty Perfect set a sensible gallop in front with Heffernan content to sit and wait towards the back. However, when Frankie Dettori hit the go button on Epsom runner-up Architecture two furlongs out Heffernan quickly moved to cover the move. Seventh Heaven, backed into 14/1, quickly got on terms before powering to victory. The Mick Channon-trained Harlequin was back in third.
“We thought she didn’t handle Linfield and I thought when she didn’t handle Lingfield, she might handle Epsom,” O’Brien, who was winning the fillies’ Classic for a fifth time, joked. “But when we went to Epsom, she didn’t handle it so obviously this is her – a flat track. She had been working very nice, loved the ground and loved the flat track. You’d have to be delighted.
“She was always a very high quality filly and Seamus gave her a lovely ride. Seamus had second pick and he wanted to ride her. They went a good gallop and she’s progressing. I was surprised when I saw her in the parade ring before the race. I had to go back and take another look. You could see the physical development in her.”
O’Brien wasn’t the only one surprised. This race was supposed to be a penalty kick for Even Song, a stablemate of the winner. However, the writing was on the wall for her almost from the off and she eventually trailed in seventh, 18 lengths behind the winner.
Indeed, even the pre-race trends suggested she would be an unlikely winner. Only one favourite has won this race in the last six years while Bracelet, two years ago, is the only filly to have completed the Ribblesdale-Irish Oaks double this century.
In view of those stats it’s understandable that the 4/5 favourite was uneasy in the market prior to the off.
As is his wont, O’Brien blamed himself for the favourite’s underwhelming showing. “It’s probably my own fault,” he said. “I maybe trained her too hard for the Ribblesdale. She’s a fine big filly and will come back from this. Ryan (Moore) said she was a bit slowly away and could never get into contention. She’ll be okay.”
For Heffernan, the consummate team player, a first Irish Oaks win was a pleasant surprise.
“It’s nice to win an Oaks, I’ve gotten beaten in plenty of them. If you’d given me the choice before the race I’d have given back half the prize money to ride Even Song,” he said. “That’s the way it can be with fillies though. Sometimes they just don’t turn up.”
Heffernan’s filly certainly came to the party, as did the runner-up.
“We didn’t win but our filly has run another enormous race,” trainer Hugo Palmer said. “Architecture deserves to win a Group 1 after her runs at Epsom and here today. She’s in the Yorkshire Oaks but we could send her to the German Oaks.”
A trip to Germany might be the best option given the Yorkshire Oaks is likely to be Seventh Heaven’s next target.
“She could go to York, she’ll love the flat track,” O’Brien said. “There’s a way to go before that, which would give us a bit of time to give her a break.
Seventh Heaven has already come a long way. Dundalk may never again have a card quite like the one they hosted three months ago today.
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