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Matron mission for Mother Earth

Aidan O’Brien’s Classic heroine Mother Earth is primed to bid for her third Group One of the year in the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes.

Mother Earth, who has already put the 1000 Guineas and Prix Rothschild titles in the Ballydoyle cabinet this year, will be joined in a 13-strong field by O’Brien’s Empress Josephine – an Irish Guineas winner in May – and a third stablemate, Friendly.

Strong opposition for them at Leopardstown on Saturday includes Paddy Twomey’s dual Group Three winner Pearls Galore, Ger Lyons’ Acanella and Willie McCreery’s Epona Plays.

Another out to make her seniority count is Ed Walker’s four-year-old Dreamloper, who crosses the Irish Sea from Lambourn after managing only fourth in Newbury’s Hungerford Stakes last time but as an emphatic Group Three winner at Ascot before then.

Last year’s winner Champers Elysees has run well in defeat several times for Johnny Murtagh this summer – while old rivals Shale and Pretty Gorgeous, for brothers Donnacha and Joseph O’Brien respectively, are also very much in the reckoning.

Mother Earth is nonetheless clear favourite to augment her already successful campaign, under Ryan Moore.

O’Brien said: “She is a lovely filly who probably doesn’t want to be in front too long.

“She’s a great traveller and very enthusiastic and usually very consistent.”

As well as her two triumphs this summer, Mother Earth has performed with significant credit in three defeats – at the top level throughout.

Empress Josephine has twice failed to reach the frame in Group One company since her Classic win at the Curragh – including when upped to 10 furlongs last time in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood.

O’Brien said: “Empress Josephine went a mile and a quarter the last day, and it just didn’t work for her – they didn’t go fast enough for her.

“We’re going back to a mile with her and will ride her a bit patiently this time.”

Dreamloper has established her niche at a mile or seven furlongs – but will not appreciate any easing of the ground from the current good.

“She wants any rain to stay away,” said Walker.

“She’s really got her act together this year and was brilliant in the Valiant (at Ascot).

“The race unfolded the wrong way for her at Newbury, but still she did not disgrace herself.

“Back to a mile, hopefully there will be a good pace and she can switch off – then I think she’ll run a big race. It’s very exciting.”

Classic pair Mother Earth and Empress Josephine set for Coronation clash

Classic winners Mother Earth and Empress Josephine head 13 contenders for the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The pair are both trained by Aidan O’Brien, with Mother Earth having lifted the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket at the beginning of May – before finishing second when trying to double up in the French equivalent later in the month.

Empress Josephine landed the Irish 1,000 Guineas for the Ballydoyle team, despite not making her racecourse debut until March this year.

O’Brien’s sons Joseph and Donnacha will be in opposition on Friday – respectively with Pretty Gorgeous, a Group One winner as a juvenile but only seventh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on her seasonal bow, and Shale, also a top-class two-year-old who finished fifth in a Guineas trial in April.

The home defence is headed by Primo Bacio – bidding to continue her swift rise through the ranks for Ed Walker, having won a York Listed heat by a cosy three lengths last time after finishing a close-up fourth in the Fred Darling as a 100-1 shot.

Fred Darling winner Alcohol Free will re-oppose, but she has two lengths to find with Mother Earth from Newmarket – where she finished fifth in the Guineas.

Newmarket third Fev Rover will try her luck again – with Potapova, an unbeaten eight-length Redcar novice winner, a fascinating entry for Sir Michael Stoute.

Jessica Harrington’s Oodnadatta and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Flirting Bridge further enhance the Irish challenge, while German 1000 Guineas winner Novemba adds an extra international element.

Richard Hannon’s Snow Lantern and Lullaby Moon, from Ralph Beckett’s yard, complete the line up.

Empress Josephine rules over Joan Of Arc in Irish 1,000 Guineas

Empress Josephine produced a relentless late charge to beat stablemate Joan Of Arc to victory in the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien saddled three runners in his bid for a 10th victory in the fillies’ Classic, with Joan Of Arc very much his main hope following her triumph in the Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown a fortnight ago.

Empress Josephine was a 14-1 chance off the back of finishing second in a Listed contest at Gowran Park on her latest appearance and tracked 15-8 favourite Pretty Gorgeous for much of the way.

With the latter’s effort petering out on her belated first run of the year, it looked like Joan Of Arc would claim top honours after eventually mastering No Speak Alexander at the head of affairs.

However, Empress Josephine really found top gear in the last half-furlong and beat her stablemate on the bob by a short head – providing jockey Seamie Heffernan with his fifth success in the race.

No Speak Alexander finished third, with 125-1 chance Belle Image a close-up fourth.

O’Brien said: “We thought she was lovely – she’s a sister to Minding.

“We thought she was lovely when she won the first day and then she went to Leopardstown and they went too fast over seven furlongs.

Aidan O'Brien with Empress Josephine and Seamie Heffernan
Aidan O’Brien with Empress Josephine and Seamie Heffernan (PA)

“We ran her over nine furlongs in Gowran Park and had a lovely run, but we just felt the trip maybe caught her out.

“She’s quick and Seamus gave her a lovely ride. She’s a classy filly.

“It’s a long time since Seamus rode his first Group One winner for us. He’s a great fella who works with us day in day out.

“Joan Of Arc ran a lovely race. We were going to step her up to a mile and a quarter after today. She might go to the French Oaks.

“The winner might go for the Coronation, but we’ll speak to the lads and see what they want to do.

“She has the option of the French Oaks or coming back here for the Pretty Polly, but she’s not slow and I’d say a mile maybe suits her better than a mile and a quarter.”

Seamie Heffernan celebrates winning another Irish 1,000 Guineas
Seamie Heffernan celebrates winning another Irish 1,000 Guineas (Brian Lawless/PA)

Heffernan – who picked up a six-day ban for his use of the whip in the earlier Gallinule Stakes – said: “I thought I had got there. I had a willing partner.

“I should have won well, I got (knocked) sideways two (furlongs) down and it knocked her off balance. I was a lucky winner, but I should have won well.

“I’m delighted to be on this one. It’s my fifth Guineas, I’m as hungry as ever. I won on her in Naas on similar conditions and she’s very well bred – I’m delighted to be on a winner.”

Of Pretty Gorgeous, who had not been seen since her victory in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in October, Joseph O’Brien said: “I thought she ran very well.

“It’s a tough mile up there in that ground without a prep run and she was only beaten three lengths. We’re looking forward to the rest of the year with her.

“She’ll probably go to Ascot. It’s a long year.”