Moonstone new jewel in the crown for O'Brien

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The Independent Online

Inside the final furlong of yesterday's Irish Oaks, it was apparent that Aidan O'Brien's inexorable progress towards the remarkable feat of saddling all five of his country's Classic winners in a season was on. As Ice Queen drew clear, hotly and determinedly pursued by her Ballydoyle stablemate Moonstone, only the identity of the victrix was in doubt, not who trained her. At the line, Moonstone, the 2-1 favourite, dipped her head at the crucial moment to deny the 66-1 shot Ice Queen by the width of her soft, black whiskers.

The result produced a series of milestones. It was O'Brien's seventh successive success in an Irish Classic, after Soldier Of Fortune (Derby), Peeping Fawn (Oaks) and Yeats (St Leger) last year and Henrythenavigator (2,000 Guineas), Halfway To Heaven (1,000 Guineas) and Frozen Fire (Derby) this. It was his 13th Group One prize of the season, with the chance of a 14th at Longchamp today. Moonstone was the first to break her maiden in the Irish Oaks since Olwyn 31 years previously.

The only man to have produced a Classic clean sweep in Ireland has been the exiled Welshman Jack Rogers, with the Triple Crown-winning colt Museum and the filly Smokeless in 1935. With the champion stayer Yeats heading for the St Leger again and Septimus leading the understudies, O'Brien's nap hand looks a formality come September. The Irish bookmakers Cashmans judge it at 1-4.

The trainer, though surely by now used to rewriting record books, would be the last man to count any chickens and, typically modestly, deflected any praise yesterday in the direction of anyone but himself. "It's great to do this sort of thing," he said, "but it's teamwork that does it and it's just a privilege for me to be involved with the people who make it happen."

Not for the first time, it was a touch of magic from Johnny Murtagh in the saddle that put Moonstone's muzzle in front, though the rider's relief in waving the wand successfully was apparent as he patted his heart as he pulled up. The daughter of Dalakhani was fourth of the five from Ballydoyle who led the way into the straight, with Adored, Perehelion and Ice Queen in front and Honoria behind.

Two furlongs out Colm O'Donoghue went for home on powerful, streetwise Ice Queen, racing for the 10th time. It was taking Murtagh longer to stoke up Moonstone, whose second place in last month's Oaks was only the third outing of her career, and once she hit her stride her cause was not helped by her comrade-in-arms' left-handed drift across the wide Curragh course. Murtagh and she deserve utmost credit for maintaining both balance and momentum. "It was a masterful ride from Johnny," O'Brien added, "and great to watch two fillies and two jockeys giving it their all."

The winner, who has a rematch with her Epsom conqueror Look Here in next month's Yorkshire Oaks pencilled in, carried the dark blue Magnier silks and Ice Queen Michael Tabor's orange-and-blue, as did the third-placed Gagnoa, from the André Fabre stable. Chinese White came in fourth and the second favourite Katiyra fifth.

On the evening of Bastille Day, O'Brien will try to breach the local defences in the Grand Prix de Paris, the 12-furlong three-year-old contest that is now France's closest facsimile to a Derby, with a three-pronged attack led by Murtagh on naughty Alessandro Volta, demoted from third to fourth in the Irish Derby after veering violently in the closing stages. The worst sufferer from his antics appeared to be Curtain Call, who finished fifth and will oppose again today. The Luca Cumani-trained colt is joined from Newmarket by the Derby fourth Doctor Fremantle and Centennial.

If two Group Ones in as many days would be good, a pair within three days is not too shabby either. Yesterday, in the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly, Tamayuz carried on the good work started by Marchand d'Or in the July Cup on Friday for his trainer, Freddy Head, and rider, Davy Bonilla.

It was another first-class piece of jockeyship by Bonilla, who executed his field-slipping first run on his rivals to perfection, accelerating impressively clear more than a quarter of a mile out. He had a length and a half in hand of four bunched raiders from Britain, in order Raven's Pass, Rio De La Plata, Cat Junior and Kandahar Run, with another, Winker Watson, seventh.

Tamayuz, a son of Nayef who races for Sheikh Hamdan, has been beaten only once, in his messy local Guineas. "That turned out to be a stupid race," Head said. "We kept him fresh to come here and he quickened like I know he can. It has been a great few days, the sort of thing you dream of but say will never happen."

Another dream on the other side of the Atlantic is still running, just. The Stateside dirt champion Curlin went under by two lengths to Brian Meehan's charge Red Rocks on his first turf venture, the Man O'War Stakes in New York on Saturday night.

The jury is still out on whether Curlin will come to Paris in October for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. "I would like him to have another shot on turf," said his rider, Robby Alborado. "This was only the first race of a new chapter." Red Rocks, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf two years ago, will be aimed there again.