William Buick, John Gosden and Lady Rothschild gained compensation for Nathaniel’s narrow defeat in yesterday’s King George, by winning the Darley Irish Oaks with Great Heavens. The three-year-old led home a British 1-2, as Shirocco Star, trained by Hughie Morrison in Berkshire, ran another fine race to finish second.

Great Heavens, a full sister to Nathaniel, won the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock a fortnight ago, stamping her unrivalled authority on a field of older and seasoned rivals. Securing her hat-trick on Merseyside, connections decided to supplement her for this stellar Group 1 contest. The ground at Haydock that previous day was soft and with similar conditions underfoot at the Curragh for today’s race, Gosden’s filly was always going to be tough to beat.

Indeed, she was sent off the well-backed 5-4 favourite to justify the faith of those connected with her and Buick had her chasing the early leaders in third from the outset.

There were several moments of concern though, as she worryingly lost her place in the home straight. Dropping to fifth with three furlongs to go, Buick began to push, before getting more serious at the two pole.

After getting boxed in and then hampered over a furlong from home, Great Heavens was switched to the outside. However, once in the clear, she began to respond very well for pressure and fairly stormed home in the mud to score by three lengths.

Her trainer has earmarked the Yorkshire Oaks next month as a potential next race for Great Heavens, who may well head to Doncaster in mid-September for the final Classic of the season, the Ladbrokes St Leger.

Twirl, trained by Aidan O’Brien, set the pace, before fading tamely in the home straight. Was, the Investec Epsom Oaks heroine, also trained by O’Brien, began to challenge inside the two furlong marker, but was hampered by a drifting Shirocco Star and, struggling to recover, ran home in fourth.

Shirocco Star kept battling despite her wandering and was still just about holding sway with 100 yards to go. She was one paced when the eventual winner went by though, but survived a stewards’ enquiry and held her second place, improving on her third place in the Ribblesdale Stakes.

Royal Ascot winner Princess Highway was expected to confirm Ribblesdale placings with Shirocco Star, but failed to do so, finishing only third. Dermot Weld’s smart filly was held up in the opening exchanges and made good progress in the home straight. Yet, she was ultimately outpaced, failing to quicken well enough in the testing conditions.

James Muir

Image courtesy of skysports.com