Longshot of interest for the 2023 Irish Oaks

July 21st, 2023

On paper, Aidan O’Brien’s #7 Savethelastdance (even-money) checks all the boxes as the prohibitive favorite in Saturday’s Irish Oaks (G1) at the Curragh. But the 1 1/2-mile classic also features an up-and-comer from the Dermot Weld yard, #1 Azazat (15-1), who has plenty of appeal as an “each-way” proposition.

Irish Oaks (G1) – Race 5 (10:45 a.m. ET)

The odds were totally reversed when the two initially met in an April 5 maiden at Leopardstown. Azazat was the even-money favorite off her promising second on debut last fall, while Savethelastdance was an unheralded 20-1 chance. Savethelastdance sprang the upset in front-running fashion on heavy going. Azazat rallied for third, narrowly missing second, and appeared as though she already wanted to go further than 1 1/4 miles.

Savethelastdance backed up her maiden score in spectacular style with a 22-length rout of the Cheshire Oaks, also on soft ground. In the process, the daughter of Galileo and Daddys Lil Darling stamped herself the odds-on favorite for the Oaks (G1) at Epsom. On a much quicker surface, over an idiosyncratic course that connections believe didn’t suit her, Savethelastdance took the runner-up spot.

Epsom Oaks winner Soul Sister has since come back to finish a commendable third versus top-class colts in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). The form intersects with O’Brien’s highly-regarded Epsom/Irish Derby (G1) hero, Auguste Rodin; stablemate Adelaide River was second in both the Irish Derby and the Paris feature.

Back on softer going at a galloping course like the Curragh, Savethelastdance figures to be more in her element. The one scruple is that the other Epsom alumnae haven’t done much to advertise the form. It took a beating in the Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot, where #8 Warm Heart (3-1) rolled over #6 Lumiere Rock (10-1) and #3 Bluestocking (9-2) in a finish dominated by fillies who skipped Epsom.

Warm Heart is a logical alternative to Savethelastdance, as the next-best of the four Ballydoyle representatives in the Irish Oaks, but there is a question mark about her stamina in testing conditions. O’Brien said that they weren’t sure she’d stay the trip going into the Ribblesdale. The good-to-firm course might have aided her cause, and Warm Heart could find it harder to see out a strongly-run 1 1/2 miles on rain-softened going.

Of the Ribblesdale graduates, troubled third Bluestocking has the best claims to move forward. Trained by Ralph Beckett, the Juddmonte homebred was just edged by Warm Heart two back in the Fillies’ Trial at Newbury. As a blueblood daughter of Camelot with only three starts under her belt, Bluestocking brings considerable upside into a race that could set up well for her.

Yet an arguably stronger case can be made for Azazat, another lightly-raced Camelot filly, at about three times the price. The Aga Khan homebred is out of a Sea the Stars mare who is a half-sister to European champion Azamour, a four-time Group 1 winner.

With her pedigree, Azazat did very well to come as close as she did in her lone start at two over seven furlongs, and she’s progressed since her third to Savethelastdance at Leopardstown. Stepping up to 1 1/2 miles in another maiden at the same track, she dusted males on soft-to-heavy going as the odds-on favorite.

Azazat took a class hike to face older distaffers in the Munster Oaks (G3) at Cork, and she gave defending champion Rosscarbery perhaps more than she bargained for in her comeback. Tracking the pace on the rail, Azazat had to wait and come around horses before challenging. Had she gotten through on the inside, she might have put a bigger fright into Rosscarbery, who kept pulling out more to hold her off by a half-length.

Although Rosscarbery always had her measure, Azazat proved that she could mix it up with a bona fide Group 1-caliber older mare, albeit with a hefty weight allowance. Rosscarbery’s trainer, Paddy Twomey, rates her as a Breeders’ Cup candidate. The near-misser in last summer’s Prix Jean Romanet (G1), Rosscarbery has been unlucky in the past two runnings of the Pretty Polly (G1). Rosscarbery was disqualified from her third-past-the-post in 2022 and hampered when fourth in the July 1 renewal. Note that she’s a main player in the race immediately following the Irish Oaks, the Curragh Cup (G2) (11:20 a.m. ET), where she’s a close second in the betting to O’Brien’s Emily Dickinson.

Off that evidence, Azazat is capable of a bold show against fellow three-year-old fillies in the Irish Oaks. She holds additional high-profile entries against colts in the final British classic of the season, the St Leger (G1), and versus elders in the Irish St Leger (G1).