February 24, 2024

Forever Together first to break maiden in Epsom Oaks since 1983

Forever Together stayed on best of all on the stands' side rail to give Aidan O'Brien a seventh Oaks (Photo courtesy of Epsom via Facebook)

Friday’s Oaks (G1) at Epsom had an open feel since antepost favorites Lah Ti Dar and Magical were ruled out by ill-timed setbacks, and the promising Sea of Class opted to await the Irish Oaks (G1). Soft ground injected yet another variable into the fillies’ classic, likely contributing to the maiden-breaking score by Aidan O’Brien’s apparent second-stringer Forever Together.

But Forever Together was no fluke off her eye-catching second to stablemate Magic Wand in the Cheshire Oaks. The Galileo filly can also take heart from the example of the last maiden to win the Oaks, Sun Princess (1983), who went on to garner the St Leger (G1) and Yorkshire Oaks (G1) and finish second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).

Let go at odds of 7-1 with the trainer’s son Donnacha aboard, Forever Together settled about midpack on the outside, flanking Godolphin’s 5-2 favorite Wild Illusion. Most of the O’Brien posse were ahead of her, Bye Bye Baby leading the way from Flattering and the 4-1 Magic Wand, the mount of Ryan Moore.

The field split into two as they entered the straight. While Bye Bye Baby and several others steered a middle course, Forever Together, Magic Wand, and Wild Illusion made a beeline for the stands’ side rail. Wild Illusion and Forever Together hunted down the laboring leader, but the Ballydoyle filly had more up her sleeve than her Godolphin foe.

Kicking away from Wild Illusion, Forever Together crossed the wire an emphatic 4 1/2-length winner. The full sister to Group 1-winning miler Together Forever, and half-sister to another Group 1 mile hero in Lord Shanakill, proved her stamina over 1 1/2 miles in testing conditions. Her final time of 2:40.39 was partly attributable to the going, but still nearly two seconds off Cracksman’s 2:38.49 in the Coronation Cup.

Bye Bye Baby churned on in third, followed by Magic Wand, Flattering, and the rest who never picked up on the ground. Give and Take, Perfect Clarity, and the tailed-off I Can Fly and Ejtyah raced in the latter part of the field throughout.

Donnacha again made the most of his opportunity, with Moore choosing elsewhere, to score a second classic after Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas (G1). Moore gave up the mount at Newmarket to pilot Mendelssohn in his Kentucky Derby (G1) debacle, but will be back aboard the hot Epsom favorite in Saturday’s Derby (G1).

O’Brien is now in line for an Epsom classic double after this seventh career Oaks victory, bringing up his British classic total to 31.

Forever Together’s maiden status was probably prolonged by the atrocious weather in Ireland this spring. Fourth and third in her two outings last October, she would have resumed in a maiden but for the heavy ground besetting the early Flat season. Hence O’Brien sent Forever Together and Magic Wand straight to the May 9 Cheshire Oaks. Magic Wand capitalized as speed on the rail around the tight track at Chester, but Forever Together was strung up in traffic before finishing fast late. The tables were eligible to be turned on the rematch.

Hopefully better ground will be on offer in the July 21 Irish Oaks (G1) at the Curragh, where Forever Together can try to back up her Epsom tally.

Bred by Vimal and Ghillian Khosla in Ireland, Forever Together was a very late foal born on May 25, but still a pricey yearling when selling for €900,000 at Goffs Orby. She was produced by the Theatrical mare Green Room, herself a half-sister to ill-fated Grade 1 winner Spanish Fern, from the family of Grade 1-winning millionaire Heatseeker and champion and noted matron Al Bahathri.

Quotes from Racenews

Winning trainer Aidan O’Brien: “This is incredible. I am so delighted for everyone; Padraig who looks after her, Emmet who rides her, then John [Magnier], Michael [Tabor], Derrick [Smith], Sue, Gay and Doreen. It is brilliant for everyone.

“Forever Together is a staying filly who gets the trip very well and is obviously by Galileo, which is a massive advantage.

“Donnacha gave her an unbelievable ride. I am over the moon.

“It went according enough to plan. We weren’t sure about the ground – who would act on it and who wouldn’t. Donnacha rides her in all her work and he was very happy with her after Chester. She was still a maiden until today, but the ground was so bad we couldn’t stand it, so we skipped the maidens and she ran a lovely race at Chester.

“I think we will go to the Irish Oaks now. Obviously we will have to see what the lads want to do, but you’d be thinking she’d love the Curragh. We’re very happy with all the fillies, really.

“We’re delighted and so grateful to a lot of people that we are in this position and we don’t take that for granted for one minute. Donnacha is a very good rider – he’s very cool and confident. He’s been watching races since the day his eyes opened so tactically he’s very aware, and very confident to make his own decisions and stand by them.”

Donnacha O’Brien, 19, celebrates his second classic score (Photo via Racenews)

Winning rider Donnacha O’Brien: “I got a beautiful trip through the race following Ryan (on stablemate Magic Wand). He edged over and kept me company over to rail. It played out perfectly and the rail seems to be the place to be. She is very genuine and galloped out to the line really well. She is a proper staying filly.

“When you are riding one of his (father Aidan’s horses), you have a chance. It does not matter what it is. He is an absolute genius and is able to do things with these horses that I don’t understand. He just tweaks little things and brings out massive improvement. I don’t know how he does it but am trying to learn as much as I can.”

Jockey William Buick on runner-up Wild Illusion: “I’m very proud of her. She has grown up a hell of a lot and had only one run this year (when fourth) in the 1000 Guineas (G1).

“Me and Donnacha were basically in the same place and it was a great fight but full credit has to go to the winner.

“There weren’t any challenges to the draw (in post 1). Up the hill, you have to use a bit of speed. The ground has changed a few things but I wouldn’t know if that would affect things tomorrow.

“We were drawn one but we weren’t unlucky in any way and I wouldn’t call it a bad draw.”

Wild Illusion’s trainer Charlie Appleby: “Wild Illusion ran really well. She has just been outstayed I think. She has run a very solid race there.

“We thought stamina would be her real forte and when William (Buick) made his move, I thought we were going to go through and win it, but Forever Together was on the rail and as we’ve already seen this afternoon, it is a little bit of an advantage.

“She didn’t look that comfortable coming down the hill but she came there to win her race and we got beaten by a better horse on the day.

“We didn’t lose too much in defeat, we just met one on the day who was a superior stayer.

“Wild Illusion has lost nothing in defeat and lives to fight another day.”