Relief for Aidan O'Brien as superstar Love returns with a bang
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Watching Love illuminate Royal Ascot by making a blistering return in the Prince of Wales's Stakes proved how much we had missed one of the most exciting horses in training.
The best may yet be to come. Last season's Guineas and Oaks heroine, Love looks to have carried her progression into her four-year-old campaign judging by a no-nonsense performance in the day-two feature.
Despite being deprived of racecourse action since last August, Love showed no ring-rust in bursting out of the stalls under Ryan Moore. From there, the pair dictated the tempo.
For all that her rivals tried, and last season's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Audarya was the one who put up the strongest fight, nothing could wrestle the lead from Love, who held that rival by just under a length at the winning line.
"We are absolutely delighted," a visibly relieved Aidan O’Brien said. "It was a little bit of a risk coming here first time. Often, when you prepare them and don't run them, it can be a little bit tricky.
"She was ready to run but wasn't cherry ripe today. It was lovely to start her here on beautiful ground. Where better to start?"
Love became O'Brien's fourth Prince of Wales's winner, following on from Duke Of Marmalade, So You Think and Highland Reel. She returned the 11-10 favourite and quotes of 6-1 were handed out by some firms about the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, although O'Brien was non-committal about future plans.
He said: "The lads will decide what they want to do. She can go anywhere really – the King George, the Eclipse, all those types of races."
O'Brien added: "Ryan gave her a lovely ride. It was a balancing act and he did a brilliant job. We spoke beforehand and we thought there wouldn't be a lot of pace on.
"She's very versatile and has made the running before so it wasn't a problem. Ryan was happy to get a lead if someone was going to lead him but it just happened that nothing led him."
When asked how Love had done physically over the winter, O’Brien went to great lengths in explaining how well his star filly has strengthened up.
He said: "It was unusual when we were tacking her up, a filly like her would usually be a fifty girth, maybe a fifty two, but the fifty two wouldn't fit her and we had to go back for a fifty four. So obviously she has really filled into her chest and it's unusual for a filly to have that deep a girth."
Moore recorded his second success in the Prince of Wales's, the other win coming aboard Highland Reel in 2017, and he was optimistic that Love could build on her return win in all of the top races this season.
Moore said: "It's great to have Love back. She's a high-class filly. It was her first run since last August and she was able to beat a Breeders' Cup winner so I am sure she will improve but I am delighted with her today.
"I am sure she will come on from the run. She is a very honest filly with a lot of ability. Hopefully she will be better as the year goes on.
"I'm not sure what's next. I'll go home and think about it. You'd say keep her against her own sex but she's been beaten by her own sex, but whether we go for the Romanet or the Nassau or something like that, I'm not sure."
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