It’s been a wonderful weekend for Newmarket trainer Hugo Palmer, taking his first Group 1 when Covert Love ran out an impressive winner of the Darley Irish Oaks.
It was some performance from Palmer and his team, but the master-stoke appeared to be in acquiring the services of Pat Smullen . The Irish Champion jockey had Covert Love prominent throughout, and when long-time leader Together Forever began to fade approaching the furlong marker, Smullen was best placed to pounce. A power-packed drive ensured the filly held off the chasing pack with Jack Naylor and Curvy filling the places.
“She was given an incredible ride and the race worked out perfectly,” said Palmer. “Aidan's horse went off like a scalded cat and I just love the way Pat just let her go and made his own running. I was just waiting for those coming from behind to get to her but eventually they weren't going to get to us.” The thrilled 34-year-old went on: “I'm terrified I'll wake up still in my bed in Newmarket. I couldn't be more excited, for once I am completely lost for words. It's amazing. I think I'll be shaking for a little while yet.”
The St Leger and the Yorkshire Oaks were named as possible targets for the filly who was only rated at 83 a couple of runs back. Her listed win at Newcastle last month hinted at better things to come, yet this was still a huge step forward for the daughter of the famous Irish colt Azamour, himself a horse that had many a great day at the Curragh.
Not content with pocketing the main event on Saturday, Palmer then sent out Home Of The Brave to win the Group 3 Friarstown Stud Minstrel Stakes on Sunday. This time James Doyle was the man on top giving the horse a peach of a ride. The three-year-old was sent to the front from the start, with Doyle setting a sensible pace. Just outside the two furlong mark, the jockey visibly asked his mount to quicken, and gained a crucial advantage. The opposition were never able to land a blow, with Gordon Lord Byron claiming the runners-up spot over three lengths back.
Palmer had clearly anticipated a huge run when saying after the race: “I thought he would win but I didn't think he would win like that. He is quite an immature horse which is why he was so lightly raced as a two-year-old. The Hungerford Stakes is the next obvious target and the Prix Maurice De Gheest might be his Group 1 next year.”
It’s been a terrific period for the Newmarket trainer, with another classy filly New Providence taking her second Group 3 when successful in the Summer Stakes at York. The yard also unleashed an exciting two-year-old colt at Sandown last Wednesday. Zodiakos is the son of Kodiac out of a Zafonic mare and thrilled connections with a stunning win. It may not have been the strongest of maidens, but he looks a horse with a bright future.
A bright future also looks assured for the trainer. He praised the trust of Covert Love owners after this weekend’s outstanding success, saying: “Full credit to each of the guys in the syndicate, when I said I wanted to come here not one of them thought twice. Every penny she'd won we spent on coming here and I'm delighted, and I'm sure they are too.”
Those pennies, along with the faith commended to the talented trainer looks sure to yield many more memorable days.