Racing: Larrocha to uproot Irish Oaks

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The Independent Online
For the first four months of this Flat campaign, describing a horse as a potential champion has stopped them more effectively than a dose of salts. Celtic Swing, Pennekamp, Moonshell, even Lammtarra seemed to fall victim when a minor injury forced him to miss the Irish Derby. It is with some reluctance, then, that Larrocha is described as the latest, and probably last, potential champion three-year-old we will see this season.

Luca Cumani's filly will probably start favourite for the Irish Oaks at The Curragh tomorrow, despite the fact that it will be only her third outing and despite the presence of Pure Grain, third to Moonshell in the Oaks at Epsom. Larrocha's most recent outing, by contrast, was in a Listed event, the Ballymacoll Stud Stakes at Newbury last month, but such was the authority of her five-length defeat of Poppy Carew (most spectators felt it could have been eight or 10) that a Classic was an obvious next step.

This, then, is one of punting's greatest dilemmas - proven ability takes on potential brilliance, with not a single worthwhile form-line to bind the two together. The only certainty, it seems, is that the trophy will be setting off the metal detectors at Dublin airport later tomorrow evening. British fillies have won nine of the last 10 runnings of the Irish Oaks, with only the French-trained Wemyss Bight, in 1983, spoiling the sequence.

Andre Fabre, Wemyss Bight's trainer, runs Valley Of Gold tomorrow as he attempts to complete an Irish Derby-Oaks double initiated by Winged Love a fortnight ago. Valley Of Gold is a 100-30 chance with Paddy Power, one of Ireland's leading bookmakers, behind Larrocha at 5-2 and Pure Grain on 3-1. Even patriotic Power, the firm which refunded stakes on Ireland to win the last World Cup, quotes Russian Snows, the best of the Irish- trained runners, at 7-1.

Cumani was typically cautious about Larrocha's chance yesterday. "I'm never confident about anything," he said. "She's a promising filly but this is her first Group One and we'll have to see how she acquits herself at that level." If the Newbury form is reliable, Larrocha (next best 3.45) will acquit herself very well indeed.

The weekend's other major betting event is the Magnet Cup at York today, and again a young, relatively unexposed runner seems to be the answer. The betting implies that so long as Yoush is installed the right way round, a second valuable handicap success in eight days - following the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy at Sandown - is little more than a formality.

Yoush has an 8lb penalty for that victory, though, and his margin of victory was perhaps exaggerated by scrimmaging behind him. At current prices, a far better bet is NAKED WELCOME (4.15), who finished fourth in the Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot on his seasonal debut.

"I think if he'd had a previous run, he would have won at Ascot, and it was a great credit to him that he ran as well as he did," Martin Fetherston- Godley, Naked Welcome's trainer, said yesterday. "He's a lovely horse, and you could say he's well-handicapped as he's gone up 5lb since the weights for the Magnet Cup were published. A mile and a quarter should be his best trip and I think he'll run a big race." At 6-1, he must be backed to do so.

Thin fields elsewhere leave few obvious opportunities, and Marl, who disappointed at Ascot last time, is hard to support at a short price in the Super Sprint at Newbury, but difficult to oppose too. Perhaps Crocodile Shoes (3.15) will give her a race, while Cumani's Saxon Maid (York 3.40) is another to consider.