All eyes on Al Riffa for delayed reappearance at the Curragh

The exciting Al Riffa makes his eagerly-awaited return when he takes on four rivals in the Paddy Power International Stakes at the Curragh.

The son of Wootton Bassett stamped himself among the top juveniles in Ireland last season for Joseph O’Brien, winning the last two of his three starts, culminating in an authoritative success in the National Stakes at the Curragh.

That form was franked when Proud And Regal, trained by O’Brien’s brother Donnacha, subsequently took the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

A setback ruled out the long-time Irish 2,000 Guineas favourite from the first Irish Classic of the season, but now the Owning Mill handler hopes the colt can make up for lost time as he makes his three-year-old bow on his first run since September.

O’Brien said: “This is a nice race to start him back in. He has matured well from last year and we are looking forward to getting him started and hopefully it sets him up for a good season.”

He drops into Group Three company and steps up from seven furlongs to 10 for his first run, and O’Brien is not looking any further ahead than this weekend.

“We’ll take it one step at a time with him,” he added.

His opponents include Alfred Munnings, who has not run since finishing sixth in last season’s Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot for O’Brien’s father, Aidan.

He said: “He’s been off a long time because he fractured a splint bone running in the Chesham last year, so that is why he hasn’t run since.

“He’s just ready to start and we’re just trying to get him started really. We’re hoping that he runs a nice race.”

Last-time-out Limerick winner Layfayette, trained by Noel Meade, and Johnny Murtagh’s Mashoor, who is on a hat-trick after taking a Listed 12-furlong prize at the Curragh when last seen, also line up.

Aidan O’Brien’s Albany Stakes runner-up Matrika will be a warm order to go one better in the Group Two Airlie Stud Stakes.

The No Nay Never filly stuck to her task well when finding only Porta Fortuna too good in the 17-runner affair at Royal Ascot and Ryan Moore’s mount already has a verdict over Grand Job, who she beat by three-quarters of a length on debut.

The pair lock horns again over the same six furlongs with just five other opponents to contend with.

Aidan O’Brien said of Matrika: “Obviously she hasn’t done much since she ran, but she seems to be in good form.

“We’ve brought fillies that have run at Ascot before to this race and it is a bit close, but we’re happy enough that she’s in good form.”

Grand Job may lack for experience, but Joseph O’Brien is hopeful she can progress as he anticipates this summer.

He said: “She had a good run on debut over the course and distance and it would be great if we can get some black type with her. She is a nice Justify filly who is going the right way.”

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