Oaks favourite Curvy blossoms from relative obscurity as Wachman shows a dab hand with fillies

Curvy ridden by Ryan Moore wins the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot 2015. Photo: Racingfotos.com

There was nothing really remarkable about Curvy before she made her debut this season in a 10-furlong handicap at Navan in April. A half-sister to Irish Guineas winner Power she may have been, but she hadn’t won in three attempts as a juvenile, and a rating of 72 for her seasonal debut, her handicap debut, appeared to be realistic on all available evidence. However, sent off just third best of the nine runners by the bookmakers, she stayed on well to win impressively.

In so doing, she provided her trainer David Wachman with his first winner of the season. Nothing remarkable in that either, the season was only getting going and Wachman is a patient trainer who likes to allow his horses to ease their way into it.

When Curvy raced for the second time this season, in a fillies’ handicap back over 10 furlongs at Navan in May, bookmakers took no chances. Even though she was racing off a handicap rating that was 12 pounds higher than the mark off which she raced on her debut, and even though she was up in grade and one of just two 3-year-olds in a field of 15, she was sent off the 15-8 favourite. Once again, she stayed on willingly up Navan’s stiff incline to get home by a half a length.

Later that month, at the Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend, she stepped up in grade again, into Pattern company for the first time, to contest the G3 Gallinule Stakes. Derby aspirant Giovanni Canaletto was all the talk beforehand, but Curvy beat him. She showed her class that day, but it was her willingness that got her home by a neck from the colt, who closed at the finish but who was never really getting past. At the pull-up, Curvy was still in front.

Then Wachman took the Galileo filly to Royal Ascot, stepped her up in grade again, from a G3 race to the G2 Ribblesdale Stakes, stepped her up in trip and took on the Irish Guineas winner Pleascach. She won again.

This year’s Ribblesdale was a fairly messy race. Curvy had to be tough to engineer a run for herself among horses, but when she did she showed that trademark tenacity again. She and Pleascach had it between them from the furlong pole, and the pair of them drew clear of their rivals, but it was the Wachman filly who got home by a length.

She is now four for four this season, four runs, four wins, and she has earned her chance at a G1 contest. Next up, inevitably, is the Irish Oaks at the Curragh tomorrow evening. She didn’t hold an entry in the race, her rate of progression has obviously surprised her connections just about as much as it has surprised everybody else, but the €40,000 that they paid to put her in the race on Tuesday could be money very well spent. The bookmakers certainly think so -- the filly is a best-priced 5-2 favourite for the race.

It is difficult to know to what Curvy’s progression this season can be attributed, but it is probably down to a combination of factors. She wasn’t exactly exposed last year for starters, she raced just three times, so she retained plenty of potential for progression. She has obviously matured significantly both mentally and physically from 2 to 3. Also, she has stepped up in trip this season, from seven furlongs and a mile last year to 10 furlongs and 12 furlongs this year. She obviously has stamina and courage in abundance, and the longer distances have allowed her use those qualities to best advantage.

As well as that, she wears cheekpieces this year, and they are new. It is difficult to know if they have had any impact at all, it is possible that her progression just happened to coincide with the fitting of the headgear, but she is unbeaten now in four runs with cheekpieces on, and it would be a brave man who would remove them now.

Finally, her career has been expertly managed by David Wachman.

It has been a cracking season so far for Wachman. As well as Curvy’s four wins, he also sent out Legatissimo to win a listed race at Gowran Park in April, before sending her to Newmarket to land the 1,000 Guineas, when she got the better of Lucida in a thriller.

That was not Wachman’s first classic, but it was his first classic in Britain. And he would have landed a second had the Epsom Oaks been run over 50 yards less than it is. Legatissimo led deep inside the final furlong at Epsom, but was just mugged close home by the bob of Qualify’s head.

And it was another bob of a head – this time that of Diamondsandrubies – that deprived the Danehill Dancer filly of victory in the G1 Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh on Irish Derby day. So Legatissimo is a G1 winner, a classic winner, but she would be a triple G1 winner had the bobs of two heads gone with her instead of against her.

Wachman is one of the top trainers in Ireland. Now married to Kate Magnier, daughter of Coolmore supremo John, he learned his trade with some of the top trainers around the world – Michael Hourigan, Jessica Harrington, and Jim Bolger in Ireland; Jenny Pitman in England; Bill Mitchell and Brian Mayfield-Smith in Australia.

He is adept with fillies. It was in 2004 that he sent out Damson to win the G2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot before taking her back to the Curragh to land the G1 Phoenix Stakes. In 2008, he won the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes with the Danehill Dancer filly Again, and he won the Irish 1,000 Guineas with her the following year. In the interim, in September 2005, he sent Luas Line to Belmont Park to land the G1 Garden City Breeders’ Cup Handicap.

There have been other high class fillies who have benefitted from the Wachman touch, such as Fire Lily, who beat Gordon Lord Byron and Starspangledbanner in the Phoenix Sprint Stakes in 2012 under Wayne Lordan, and Windsor Forest Stakes winner Duntle, who had the G1 victory that she deserved taken away from her by the stewards after she had passed the post first in the 2012 Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.

However, Wachman can also train colts, as he proved with Sudirman, who won the G2 Railway Stakes and the G1 Phoenix Stakes in 2013, and with Bushranger, who won the G1 Prix Morny in France in August 2008 before landing the G1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket six weeks later, thereby claiming the champion 2-year-old title in Britain and in France that year.

This year, however, it is the fillies who are flying the Wachman flag at the highest level. As well as Curvy and Legatissimo, he also has an exciting juvenile in Most Beautiful – part-owned by the recently-retired Irish rugby star Ronan O’Gara – who has won her last two, including a listed race at the Curragh on Irish Derby weekend, and the 3-year-old filly Off Limits, who was impressive in winning a listed race at Killarney last Monday.

And with Curvy now ante post favourite for the Darley Irish Oaks, a very good season could get even better on Saturday evening.

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