A cracking Friday evening card at Cork is headlined by the Group 3 Munster Oaks for fillies and mares over 1m 4f (18:55), and Who’s Steph looks a worthy 6/5 favourite with Ladbrokes to resume winning ways.
Trained by Ger Lyons, the four-year-old daughter of Zoffany has been very consistent this season and by and large throughout her racing career.
Who’s Steph won the second of two starts as a juvenile, then stepped up on that form last term with back-to-back Group 3 successes.
Although then finding the highest level too hot when a 6 3/4 lengths seventh to Jessica Harrington’s sensational Alpha Centauri in the Irish 2000 Guineas, she hasn’t been outside the first two since.
Who’s Steph ran a blinder after 112 days off the track when chasing home Eziyra in the Group 2 Blandford Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend.
As the winner was rated 111 going into that and she only won by three-quarters of a length, it was a huge performance.
There were excuses for Who’s Steph in a Listed contest over course and distance on reappearance when she clipped heels with a rival and stumbled early on, before keeping on well into second behind Cimeara. Again, she went down by a narrow margin – just three-quarters of a length.
Connections then dropped Who’s Steph back in trip and she bolted up to land a Listed contest at Gowran Park under a hands and heels ride from regular jockey Colin Keane, who eased her close home.
She was thus value for more than the eight-length winning margin over the re-opposing Moteo, who on that form is no threat at all.
Peach Tree taken on with stamina doubts
Who’s Steph was far from disgraced last time out in the Group 3 Blue Wind Stakes at Naas when headed close home and beaten a neck when trying to give Tarnawa a whopping 14lb.
Although the re-opposing Peach Tree meets her on the same terms here and only has about a length to find, that Aidan O’Brien trained rival shaped as though this trip was beyond her last time out.
As a three-year-old, Peach Tree gets a stone from the older fillies and mares, and had previously beaten Naas conqueror Tarnawa on her final start last season.
Although the clear adjusted ratings picks off a mark of 102 that puts her 8lb well-in on Who’s Steph, Peach Tree found Group 1 company too tough when a fading tenth in the Epsom Oaks.
While this is a return to much calmer waters, the fact she was beaten well over a furlong out and trailed in 13 1/2 lengths behind Anapurna in that Classic suggests Peach Tree may not get home.
For all any Ballydoyle inmate commands respect and her blueblood pedigree, she is a best-price 3/1 with BetVictor.
Peach Tree must prove she stays this trip and her back form arguably doesn’t read as well as that achieved by Who’s Steph.
The other five runners look to be playing for places, and it will be a major surprise if the two top rated fillies aren’t fighting out the finish of this.
Hasanabad the Cork Derby choice
A typically competitive renewal of the 1m 4f Cork Derby follows (19:25), and the lightly-raced Hasanabad is 3/1 with Bethard to follow-up on breaking the maiden tag last time out .
Trained by Dermot Weld for the yard’s great backer, the Aga Khan, this Nathaniel colt has only had three career starts and ran some fine races in defeat.
The form of Hasanabad’s debut maiden at Naas from last April is very strong as the winner, Hunting Horn, went on land the valuable Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Meanwhile, the runner-up was none other than subsequent Irish Derby hero Latrobe. As Hasanabad was less than fourth lengths behind the Classic winner in third, that reads very well in the context of this Premier Handicap.
He was then a dead heat fourth when stepped up to 1m 6f on reappearance at Gowran Park. Hasanabad now meets the winner, Whirling Dervish, off 12lb better terms dropping back in trip with only 2 1/2 lengths to find.
That gives him major claims from a handicapping perspective of reversing the form. The runner-up Twilight Payment has come out and won the Listed 1m 6f Saval Beg Stakes at Leopardstown.
Hasanabad too has advertised the form when making it third time lucky at Tipperary and scoring by three-quarters of a length.
After just three starts, an opening mark of 86 may seriously underestimate his ability when you consider Twilight Payment is rated 109 and Latrobe 113.
With Hasanabad open to the most improvement in the 10-runner field, a bold bid looks assured.
Consistent sort Inscribe another with claims
A big race double for Lyons and Keane cannot be ruled out as they saddle and ride consistent handicapper Inscribe.
The five-year-old gelding is four from eight in this sphere and looks fairly treated by a 2lb rise for victory when last in action.
That came in a 1m 5f handicap at Navan where Keane timed his challenge just right to hit the front close home and win going away by half-a-length.
Inscribe clearly came on for his return to action at Limerick and previously ran well on his final start of last season.
He was a 2 1/2 lengths third over 1m 2f in a Premier Handicap on Irish Champions Weekend at The Curragh when rated 89, and prior to that an unlucky in-running sixth when beaten the same margin off 91 over a mile at the Galway Festival.
Judged on these displays and the pick of his form, a career high mark of 92 should not be beyond Inscribe who is 5/1 with Unibet to follow-up here.
Another to take a market check on here is Tony Martin’s French import Melburnian.
The four-year-old filly makes her Irish Flat debut here after three hurdles runs and won two of her last three starts on the level before joining her current handler.
French form is always difficult to assess; so, in alloting her an opening mark of 78, the handicapper may be taking a chance with Melburnian given her shrewd connections.
Getting well all-round bar one rival, she is 16/1 with Betfred to make a winning return to the Flat.