Irish Oaks Tips: Snowfall to lead home an O'Brien 1-2-3

Snowfall is the hot favourite to win back-to-back Oaks.
Snowfall is the hot favourite to win back-to-back Oaks.

We've got Classic action to enjoy this weekend in the form of the Irish Oaks, where Snowfall looks to make it back-to-back Group 1 wins. Joe Tuffin looks at the race and predicts his first three past the post... 

There really is only one question that needs to be answered when looking at this Saturday’s Irish Oaks at the Curragh races, and that’s whether or not it’s already a foregone conclusion. See, sitting pretty at the top of the market at a very slim 1/4 is the winner (though that doesn’t quite do her performance justice) of the English Oaks - Snowfall. The Aidan O’Brien superstar broke records when pulverising her opponents at Epsom to record a 16-length success under Frankie Dettori - the furthest winning distance in the race's 242 year history - and was duly installed as the 5/1 favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. This performance at Epsom was a big step forward from her Musidora win at York, which in its own right was a huge step forward from her two-year-old form, and with only two runs this year you can be sure she’s still on the upward curve. In short, it would take either an unusually sub-par performance from Snowfall or an unusually above-par performance from one of her seven rivals for her to fail to claim her second Classic, and she is expected to live up to her ever growing reputation with victory at the Curragh.

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But what of her rivals? I’m sure no one is reading Irish Oaks previews with a view of being satisfied with a 1/4 tip, so who can chase her down and fill the placings? Naturally, one looks towards the remaining three Aidan O’Brien runners for clues and of course, you don’t have to look too far down the market. The 3rd, 4th and 5th in the market all belong to the Ballydoyle maestro, with Divinely, Willow and La Joconde sitting at 11/1, 14/1 and 40/1 respectively.

Divinely is the one that immediately catches the eye after placing in the Epsom Oaks, albeit some 18th lengths behind Snowfall, but you would have liked to have seen her kick on from this performance and a fairly average fourth in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot doesn’t quite fill you with the confidence that she’ll be the one breathing down Snowfall’s neck in the business end of the race, and of O’Brien senior’s three outside of Snowfall it may be Willow that can pick up some blacktype. Seamie Heffernan takes the ride on this recent Listed winner, ditching Divinely (his Oaks ride) who instead is piloted by Wayne Lordon, and with a fairly impressive win last time out in the Listed Oaks Trial it’s not hard to see why. Willow was always touted as an Oaks horse and spent a large period of the season near the top of the market for the Epsom Classic, though It was hard to see why when she tailed off last. That run was almost too bad to be true, and although workmanlike in the Irish Oaks Trial last time out, she was always doing enough to claim the win and looks to be somewhat back on track after the Epsom flop. Is she going to beat Snowfall? No, not a chance, but she is fancied to claim a place.

O’Brien’s other runner, La Joconde, is a huge 40/1 at the time of writing and with only one win to her name, in maiden company last time out, she is probably priced up fairly and best ignored. Also a runner in the English Oaks, also priced at 40/1 on that occasion, she finished a detached but predictable 11th and prior to that failed to land a blow in the Listed Cheshire Oaks. She doesn’t look like she has the class to be featuring in Group 1 races and she would have to put in a career best x5 to feature here.

It’s perhaps obvious that the second favourite in the market is the one fancied to chase Snowfall down, but Donnacha O'Brien’s Nicest looks to be the only other in the field of eight with the quality to threaten at Group level. A winner on debut at two, she’s been seen three times this season and has form of 343, with the latest performance in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes the most eye-catching. Having started the race at 28/1 with only two below her in the market, she tried to make all and was only headed on the home straight, at which point you’d have expected her to fall out the back of the TV but this filly kept plugging on and almost played herself back into the picture in the final furlong. It was far from an error-free race, too. Wayne Lordon dropped the reigns two-furlongs from home, and she was discovered to have lost her left-fore shoe post race. Would a smoother race have seen her bridge that two-and-a-half length gap? It’s very possible, and she’d have been much shorter in the market if she did, so she is expected to claim second at the Curragh on Saturday.

Sticking with the O’Brien family, Joseph O’Brien was hardly going to miss the Irish Oaks party and he’s sent his thrice raced Mariesque, who kicked off her three-year-old season with a win in Maiden company before taking on the previously mentioned Willow in the Oaks Trial. She finished fifth at Naas that day, some four-and-three-quarter lengths behind Willow and is seemingly excuseless for that performance. She’s currently 40/1 to claim victory here and would need to take a huge step forward to land a blow, but with only three runs under her belt that isn’t entirely impossible. 

The field is completed by two non-O’Brien runners in Ger Lyons’ Party House and the Stack Racing Ahandfulofsummers, both of whom sit bottom of the market at 40/1 and 66/1 respectively. The prior mentioned Party House looked to be an exciting prospect when winning on debut, but she’s since finished third and sixth, the latter behind Willow, in Listed company and will need to quickly turn around her form to land a blow here, which looks unlikely. The rank outsider Ahandfulofsummers is one of the more experienced in the field with seven runs under her belt, though she is still a maiden and her competition has never gone beyond Group 3 level. This is a huge step up in class and she’d have to put in one of the performances of the century to drop that maiden tag on Saturday, so she is best left.

Predicted top three:

  1. Snowfall
  2. Nicest
  3. Willow
Irish Oaks Odds
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