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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 19 June, 2019
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Hermosa reasserts her star quality in dominant Irish Guineas victory

Donn McClean reflects on a busy weekend of racing action at The Curragh.

ONE OF THE main questions going into Sunday’s Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas was whether or not Hermosa could be as good at The Curragh as she had been when she won the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks earlier.

She wasn’t. She was better.

Ryan Lee Moore on Hermosa on his way to winning The Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas Ryan Lee Moore on Hermosa on his way to winning The Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There were parallels with Newmarket. Qabala lined up against her and Fairyland lined up against her and Iridessa lined up against her and Just Wonderful lined up against her, just as they had at Newmarket.

And, as at Newmarket, Hermosa trapped well and set the early pace.

But there were differences too. At Newmarket, Hermosa was an underdog, a 14/1 shot, unconsidered by most. On Sunday, she was favourite, the Newmarket Guineas winner and all the eyes and the pressure that goes with that. And there were new opponents, most notably last year’s Duchess of Cambridge Stakes and Prix Morny winner Pretty Pollyanna, and this year’s French Guineas third East.

The other difference was this. At Newmarket, Aidan O’Brien’s filly came under pressure early, she was challenged on all sides but she kept on gallantly for Wayne Lordan to fight off her opposition and get home by a length. At The Curragh, she oozed class. She travelled like the most likely winner just about every step of the way and, when Ryan Moore asked her to pick up on the run to the furlong pole, she picked up impressively.

She showed a top class turn of foot to come clear of her rivals, and she was strong all the way to the line. There was never a point in the race at which you thought that she would not win.

There was Oaks talk after Newmarket. A full-sister to Hydrangea, a Group 1 winner over a mile and a half, and by Galileo, it was legitimate to think that Hermosa might not be seen at her best until she stepped up to middle-distances. But she obviously has pace. You don’t win a Guineas, a Classic over a mile, in this manner if you don’t have one-mile pace.

And yet, she could still be even better over further. It looks like the Prix de Diane, the French Oaks, over 10 and a half furlongs, is next up. There is no telling how high she could go now.

Michael Tabor and Ryan Lee Moore with Hermosa after winning The Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas Michael Tabor and Ryan Lee Moore with Hermosa after winning on Sunday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Similar tactics worked in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas on Saturday. Jamie Spencer kicked Phoenix Of Spain out of the gate, they led from early and they never saw a rival.

The preamble was all about the match: Newmarket 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia versus last year’s champion juvenile Too Darn Hot, second in the Dante on his debut this season. The fact that Phoenix Of Spain finished just a head behind Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futiruty Trophy at Doncaster last October got a little lost in the pre-race chat.

That said, Charlie Hills’ colt hadn’t run this season before Saturday. A setback ruled him out of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. And history tells us that you don’t win an Irish Guineas on your seasonal bow.

It was some training performance by Hills to get him up to this level, a level at which he could win an Irish Guineas by three lengths, on his seasonal debut. And it was a fine ride by Jamie Spencer, still a top class rider, 21 years and one day after he had won the Irish 1000 Guineas on Tarascon.

The similarities between Hermosa and Phoenix Of Spain do not end with the fact that they both made all to win their Classics, because Charlie Hills’ horse may be better over further too. By the Ballylinch Stud stallion Lope De Vega, he is a half-brother to Central Square, whose three wins were over 10 furlongs. He shapes as if he will get further than a mile too.

His trainer said that the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot over a mile was next for Phoenix Of Spain, a race in which he should have a favourite’s chance, and that, after that, it was the Eclipse. And you sensed that he couldn’t wait to step him up to 10 furlongs for the Eclipse.

Curragh Spring Festival - Day One - Curragh Racecourse Phoenix of Spain ridden by Jamie Spencer wins the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

There was a lot going on over the weekend besides the two Classics. Magical was very good again in winning the Tattersalls Gold Cup.

Three for three this season now, all three wins gained relatively bloodlessly, Aidan O’Brien’s filly may have a break now, or she may roll on to the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and then have a break. Either way, she should have an exciting rest-of-season ahead and, wherever she and Enable and Sea Of Class meet, that’s where you would like to be.

Hathiq showed buckets of speed in winning the five-furlong handicap on Sunday. Denis Hogan’s horse was racing off a handicap rating that was 11lb higher than the mark off which he won at Tipperary last month, but he made light of it.

He is a ridiculously well-bred horse, a half-brother to Group 2 winner and 2000 Guineas runner-up Massaat and to Commonwealth Cup winner Eqtidaar. So it was some piece of shopping by owner James McAuley and Denis Hogan to pick him of for £3,000 (€3,400) at the Goffs UK January mixed sale just three months ago.

The Exceed And Excel gelding holds an entry in the Investec Dash on Derby day at Epsom on Saturday. If he takes his chance in the race, he will race under a 4lb penalty, which would leave him 2lb out of the handicap if top weight Caspian Prince runs.

But the Irish handicapper raised him by another 11lb to a mark of 95 for Sunday’s win so, in theory, he would be still be 5lb well-in in Saturday’s race, even if he was 2lb out of the handicap.

It looks like he has the speed to cope with Epsom’s downhill five-furlong run and, if he does take his chance on Saturday, he will be the one that they will all have to beat.

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Donn McClean

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