Heavy going at the Curragh on Sunday prompted Aidan O’Brien to withdraw two of his entrants from the Beresford (G2), but his odds-on favorite, Innisfree, was all he needed to register an amazing 19th victory (and ninth straight) in the juvenile feature. O’Brien was also sweeping the first two scoring races on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, after Royal Dornoch upset Saturday’s Royal Lodge (G2).
Not that it was easy for Innisfree. Familiar foe Shekhem, who went down by just a neck in their pitched battle in a Galway maiden, again forced him to pull out all the stops. Unlike that occasion when Innisfree set the pace, Shekhem took the initiative here and nearly went wire to wire.
Innisfree settled in second, several lengths back, and smoothly drew nearer in the stretch. But Shekhem lifted as well, responded to the favorite’s challenge, and desperately tried to keep a narrow advantage. Under Donnacha O’Brien, the trainer’s son, Innisfree wore Shekhem down in the final yards.
The margin was the same as at Galway – a neck – despite the different course, tactics, distance (a mile versus seven furlongs), and state of the ground. As a barometer of how much rain had soaked into the turf, Innisfree needed 1:50.06 to slog through the mile.
The remaining three contenders didn’t change their order in running. Gold Maze raced in third, briefly bid to get closer to the top two in the stretch, but retreated 3 3/4 lengths behind Shekhem. Fourth-placer Camorra trudged home another 6 1/2 lengths back, and Silvertown trailed throughout. O’Brien’s two withdrawals, Cormorant and Royal County Down, are worth watching.
Innisfree banked 10 points to join stablemate Royal Dornoch at the head of the European leaderboard. The second through fourth in the Beresford – Shekhem, Gold Maze, and Camorra – earned 4 points, 2, and 1 respectively.
Innisfree’s pedigree makes him far likelier to pursue the European classics. Bred by O’Brien’s Whisperview Trading, and co-owned by his wife, Anne Marie, in partnership with the Coolmore principals, the dark bay colt is by supersire Galileo. His dam, the Group 3-placed stakes winner Palace by Fastnet Rock, is a half-sister to French classic-placed Furners Green; Lady Lupus, third in the 2010 Irish Oaks (G1); and Mystical Lady, the dam of Kingfisher, runner-up in the 2014 Irish Derby (G1) and 2015 Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot.