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PJ McDonald believes Laurens will go distance in Yorkshire Oaks

21 Aug 2018

QIPCO 1000 Guineas runner-up part of a vintage eight-runner field for the Thursday showpiece

Laurens wins the Prix de Diane.

PJ McDonald believes triple Group 1 winner Laurens could prove herself to be “an absolute monster” when she steps up to a mile and a half for the first time in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks at York on Thursday.

A final field of eight has been declared for the Group 1 mile and a half feature, which forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series. It promises to be a compelling renewal with Sea Of Class, the Irish Oaks winner, also among those in the line-up.

Laurens, trained by Karl Burke and owned by John Dance, first struck at the highest level as a two-year-old, when landing the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket. She began this season by finishing runner-up to Billesdon Brook in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and has since landed two more Group 1 prizes in France – the Prix Saint-Alary at ParisLongchamp and then the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) at Chantilly.

McDonald has ridden Laurens in each of her seven career starts and was reunited with her on the gallops a couple of weeks ago. “I’ve been half-wishing my life away ever since because she felt as good as she’s ever been,” the 36-year-old said. “The Yorkshire Oaks cannot come quick enough for her.

“You could go through your whole career and not find a horse like her. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime filly. It’s been a privilege to be involved with her, but the exciting and scary thing is that she’s still improving, still getting stronger.

“I’m itching to ride her over a mile and a half because if she improves again for stepping up in trip then she could be an absolute monster. We always thought she would have no problem staying and I have no doubts in my mind, whatsoever, after the way she won the French Oaks.”

He added: “Most of them [the opposition] have all run over the distance, whereas my filly is still unexposed over that trip. None of us have a crystal ball and she might not get home, but I would be shocked if that was the case. The dam’s side of her pedigree is all stamina.”

Remarkably, Laurens’ five career wins have never been by a margin of more than a neck. She is photogenic, being a fine physical specimen, but McDonald believes her narrow triumphs reflect her running style.

“She only seems to do what she has to do, and at home it’s the same,” he said. “You drop her in and she goes past horses as if they are not there and then, once she’s gets passed, she’s like ‘I’m here now, I’ve done it’. It’s just her style. She loves running and wants to please you.

“If you keep squeezing, she keeps lengthening and I’ve never got to the bottom of her. The only day I was glad to see the line coming was in the Fillies’ Mile because we were very wary about stepping her up in trip as a two-year-old as she was such a big filly. We knew the last furlong was going to be tough for her because, physically, she wasn’t quite there. Mentally, she always has been.”

Tactically, the former National Hunt jockey, who guided Hot Weld to victory in the 2007 Scottish Grand National, will keep things simple. “She loves to get out on the front end and York will suit her down to the ground,” he said. “I tried to restrain her a little bit in the French Oaks and she wasn’t having any of it. She wanted me to drop my hands and let her do her thing.

“She’s got such a big stride and that’s why we let her do her thing because if you take that stride away then you are slitting her throat. That’s how she puts horses in trouble – the majority have to take two strides to her one. She doesn’t have to lead but she can cruise along at a high speed and then lengthen off it.”

By contrast, James Doyle is likely to bide his time on the William Haggas-trained Sea Of Class, who was having only the fourth start of her career when stepping up in distance and coming from last to first for a neck triumph over Forever Together in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh last month. Many observers rated it as a contender for ride of the season.

Doyle said: “I always thought I was going to get there. I was a little bit conscious of the [mile and a half] distance but she’s got a devastating turn of foot, so I don’t think she’s one to be in the mix early. She likes to relax, chill out out in the early part of a race and then come home really good.

“She showed what she could in Ireland and, being very lightly raced, I’ll be amazed if she has not improved since. She’s unexposed and if she keeps improving could be anything.”

Sea Of Class has flicked her tail on occasions and Doyle said: “She’s a feisty one and got a bit of character about her, which I think a lot of these fillies have, but it’s no bad thing. She didn’t flick her tail at the Curragh and even when she’s done so before, she’s still won.”

Regards tactics and another potential late show, he added: “I don’t think we have to sit last, that was the way it panned out at the Curragh. They can get away on the front end at York, so I will speak to William and we will come up with a plan.”

Coronet chased home her stablemate, Enable, in the Yorkshire Oaks 12 months ago and attempts to go one better. She finished third behind Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean in the QIPCO-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last month.

Horseplay and Eziyra also had the misfortune to bump into Enable last year. The former finished fourth behind her in the Investec Oaks, while the latter was when third to her in the Irish Oaks and has since won each of her three subsequent races.

The Andrew Balding-trained Horseplay won the bet365 Group 2 Lancashire Oaks at Haydock on her latest start and Oisin Murphy, who takes the ride, is hopeful of another bold show. He said: “When I won a maiden on her at Nottingham I told Andrew that she was a Group filly and thought the world of her, so the fact she’s really come good now is brilliant.

“That was a career best last time in the Lancashire Oaks and what we’ve always hoped for. She hits the line and tries hard and, while she’s going to have to improve again, she will be suited by the flat track, nice ground and decent pace. I’m sure she has a Group 1 in her.”