Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

He had to work harder than expected, but odds-on favorite Innisfree gallantly wore down pacesetting Shekham to win Sunday’s Beresford Stakes (G2) at the Curragh in Ireland by a neck.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained 2-year-old faced challenging circumstances in the one-mile European Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race, which awarded qualification points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis. Rain reduced the course to “heavy,” which caused O’Brien to withdraw Innisfree’s stablemates Cormorant and Royal County Dawn. Innisfree also had to deal with the stubborn speedster Shekham, who finished just a neck behind Innisfree in a July 29 maiden race at Galway.

The boggy and tiring nature of the course also proved problematic. When the gates opened, Shekhem sprinted to the front and opened up a three-length advantage over the pace-tracking Innisfree. When jockey Donnacha O’Brien called upon the favorite to accelerate in the home straight, the son of Galileo found it difficult to close the gap.

But with less than furlong remaining, Innisfree found a something extra and forged past Shekham to prevail by a neck. Illustrating the slow nature of the course, Innisfree required 1:50.06 seconds to negotiate the mile. Gold Maze raced in third from the start and rounded out the trifecta, four lengths behind the winner.

For O’Brien, Innisfree’s triumph marked his ninth consecutive victory in the Beresford and his 19th win overall in the race. O’Brien’s previous Beresford victors include classic winners Capri and Saxon Warrior, plus Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) victor St Nicholas Abbey.

Innisfree is the second named foal produced by Palace, an O’Brien-trained daughter of Fastnet Rock. Although Palace wasn’t a superstar, she was group 3-placed and ran seventh in the 2014 Epsom Oaks (G1).

Future plans for Innisfree have yet to be determined, though he is among the early entries for the October 12 Darley Dewhurst Stakes (G1) at Newmarket and the October 26 Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes (G1). The latter race is part of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, and a victory there would give Innisfree a total of 20 qualification points and place him in a strong position to qualify for the 2020 Kentucky Derby, should his connections choose to pursue a path to Churchill Downs.