It might not have been with the contender he was expecting but Aidan O’Brien nonetheless made it a perfect ten of Irish 1,000 Guineas wins at the Curragh, writes Bradley West.
For 99 years the €400,000 one-mile contest, the second Irish Classic on the calendar, has thrilled racing fans and it was no different in 2021.
His leading pre-race charge may have been Joan Of Arc but, just as in 2014 with Marvellous, it was the second string in Empress Josephine who nipped through to win with a late dart to pip her stablemate in a photo finish.
It meant a tenth Ballydoyle win in the race, making up over ten per cent of its entire running, while jockey Seamie Heffernan bagged a fifth win in the race with a five-star performance.
“We thought she was lovely,” O’Brien said.
“She’s quick and Seamie gave her a lovely ride. They’re really well-bred fillies, the lads do a great job with them.
“It’s a long time since Seamie rode his first Classic winner for us, I’m delighted for him.
“She [Joan Of Arc] did a lovely race, we were going to step her up to a mile and a quarter after today so that was the plan, she might go to the French Oaks or something.
“She’s [Empress Josephine] not slow, she would have an option of the French Oaks, I’d say a mile probably suits her better than a mile and a quarter.”
It was Jessica Harrington’s No Speak Alexander who hit the front in the early running but Joan Of Arc soon joined the battle, with the duo fighting it out for much of the race.
Indeed, it was only as Joan Of Arc started to edge clear that a challenger emerged in the form of Naas Maiden winner Empress Josephine.
On a day of photo finishes another fight ensued, with Empress Josephine doing enough to win by a short head.
“She didn’t run as a two-year-old and she did her job today,” Heffernan said.
“I followed her [Joseph’s horse] everywhere she went, I was happy where I was every stride I went.
“I won’t tell you what I was thinking but it’s my fifth Guineas, it’s a pleasure to ride good horses.
“In a couple of months’ time when she’s stronger, more relaxed and mature she may stay longer.”
Meanwhile, it was fourth time lucky for Helvic Dream in a fascinating Tattersalls Gold Cup which also went to a photo finish.
Having been beaten by Ballymore’s favourite Broome on all three starts this season, a ding-dong battle ensued between the pair in the 1m2f110y contest which went all the way to the wire.
In fact, the duo crossed the winning post so close together that we were then treated to a tension-filled few minutes with a photo finish used to decide the result.
Eventually, it was confirmed that challenger had usurped champion with Noel Meade earning a first Group 1 win on the Flat and a first Tattersalls Gold Cup triumph in sensational fashion.
“I can die happy now, I was roaring,” Meade said.
“He [Colin Keane] said he went too soon on him last time and he said he went too soon this time too but it was a lovely ride.
“He doesn’t take much work, I can’t believe it to be honest, I was afraid to even dream it. Things have gone very well recently.
“Colin said going out today he was going to sit a bit closer to him [Broome] and have one pop at him at the end and that's exactly what he did.
“Colin is such a smashing chap as well. What you see is what you get with him.”
Elsewhere, Earlswood took his form to a new level with a first Graded success in the Group 3 Heider Family Stables Gallinule Stakes.
After Johnny Murtagh and Ben Coen combined to win the Spring Fillies Handicap with Create Belief on day one of the festival, the pair were at it again as the three-year-old continued a promising campaign to beat the Ballydoyle-trained Arturo Toscanini
into second by one-and-three-quarter lengths.
And Willie Mullins’ Baby Zeus claimed the Betway Handicap on a thrilling weekend of racing at the Curragh.