INVESTEC OAKS – 3.40pm – 1m4f 3yo Fillies Group 1
Just 8 fillies come forward for the smallest Oaks field since Ouija Board’s (Cape Cross x Selection Board (Welsh Pageant)) 7 length trouncing of All Too Beautiful (Sadler’s Wells x Urban Sea (Miswaki)) in 2004.
Aidan O’Brien & John Gosden have dominated the Oaks in recent years, winning the last 6 renewals between them (at three apiece), and that trend looks likely to continue this year as (between them) they cover 62.5% of the field and 92.5% of the market at the time of writing.
John Gosden’s three Oaks winners have borne similarities, in the sense that they were given just one start at 2 and were coming into the Oaks off the back of impressive victories in a recognised trial. Owing to the unique circumstances of the 2020 flat season, the Ribblesdale Stakes has played the role of an Oaks trial, and this year’s winner Frankly Darling (Frankel x Hidden Hope (Daylami)) fits the ‘John Gosden mould’ perfectly, having been given just one start as a juvenile prior to running out an impressive winner of the Ribblesdale at this year’s Royal Meeting. Frankly Darling wore a hood in the preliminaries that day, but still proved keen to post and raced keenly through the first half mile before settling through Swinley Bottom. In fairness, she was just having her 3rd start, and raced keenly on a downhill part of Ascot’s course whereas today she has a steep uphill climb for the first 5 furlongs of the Oaks, as well as the assistance of stablemate Tiempo Vuela (Lope De Vega x Tempest Fugit (High Chaparral)) to ensure a sound gallop to settle in behind. With regards to the business end of the race, Frankly Darling more than proved her worth in the Ribblesdale, needing just one smack from Frankie Dettori 300 yards out to see her take 3 lengths out of the field prior to easing down late, with the official 1 3/4 length winning margin an unfair reflection of her dominance that day. With stamina assured, and no crowd to further exacerbate her potentially buzzy nature, Frankly Darling holds excellent claims of giving her owner/breeder Anthony Oppenheimer a first win in the Epsom Oaks, and giving her trainer John Gosden a 4th win in the last 7 years.
In John Gosden’s way stands Aidan O’Brien, who has won the Epsom Oaks 7 times and has successfully used an English or Irish Guineas as his launchpad on 4 occasions, most recently when Minding (Galileo x Lillie Langtry (Danehill Dancer)) took in both the English & Irish Guineas prior to winning the 2016 Oaks. Aiming to follow in her footsteps is Love (Galileo x Pikaboo (Pivotal)), who built on a busy juvenile season in no uncertain terms by slamming 14 rivals by upwards of 4 1/4 lengths in this year’s 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last month. Sent for home a full 500 yards from home by Ryan Moore, Love galloped powerfully all the way to the line, never looking stronger than at the finish in a performance that smacked of a filly who would relish further than a mile. However, the Guineas form has taken a few knocks since (most pertinently with the 2nd, 3rd & 4th that day all failing to better market expectations on their next starts), and there is still a question mark over whether Love can be as effective stepped up a full 4 furlongs in distance. Moreover, any significant rainfall will likely hamper chances (not only based on her action, but also in placing greater emphasis on stamina).
Deputising Love is stablemate Ennistymon (Galileo x Lahinch (Danehill Dancer)), who was last seen chasing Frankly Darling’s tail in the Ribblesdale. Held up towards the rear in a slowly-run affair, Ennistymon was noted for clocking the fastest last 3 furlongs in the race and can be upgraded for finishing where she did from her position (with Frankly Darling positioned to much better effect throughout). On the clock, Ennistymon looks a good chance of getting markedly closer to Frankly Darling today, with her chance likely correlated to the strength of the pace throughout; she looks a strong stayer at the distance and can be finishing late.
Roger Varian is having a fantastic season so far, headed by four winners at this year’s Royal Ascot, and sends two lively outsiders forward for this year’s Oaks, headed by Gold Wand (Golden Horn x Los Ojitos (Mr Greeley)), who was flagged up as one of the “11 Non Winners To Follow” in this blog, and comes forward off the back of an unconvincing win at Newbury, where she was hooded in the preliminaries, was keen to post and proceeded to race keenly through the race. Running out a 1 1/2 length winner at the line, Gold Wand had her head up in the closing stages and may well have just been doing things easily, but visually it was not the obvious performance of a potential Oaks winner (a view that is readily backed up by the clock at Newbury), and Gold Wand looks up against it today. Stablemate Queen Daenerys (Frankel x Song To Remember (Storm Cat)) has arguably clocked the 2nd best figure of 2020 of any filly in this race (behind Love), doing so when finishing 2nd to Run Wild (Amaron x Rondinay (Cadeaux Genereux)) in the Listed Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket, a race that produced Talent (New Approach x Prowess (Peintre Celebre)) & Taghrooda (Sea The Stars x Ezima (Sadler’s Wells)) to win the 2013 Oaks & 2014 Oaks respectively. Queen Daenerys found herself towards the rear of the field at Newmarket that day, staying on strongly all the way to the line in the manner of a filly who should relish this 1m4f trip, and she would rate a lively outsider in this field were it not for the 1st & 3rd from that day being well-beaten on their respective next starts. Despite this, Queen Daenerys is not without hope.
Completing the field are the Ribblesdale Stakes 3rd & 4th, namely Passion (Galileo x Dialafara (Anabaa)) & Bharani Star (Sea The Stars x Bay Of Islands (Dubawi)), who have plenty to find in this context. If either of those has been a touch dismissed in the market, it may well be Passion, who ran well in spite of a late drift in the Ribblesdale and, much like stablemate Ennistymon, her chances look to be aligned with the strength of the pace; she may even go forward herself, and it is not impossible that she outruns her big price.
Frankly Darling can take advantage of an Epsom Oaks without its infamous preliminaries, and can continue her perfect season with a win here. Ennistymon is fancied to prove better suited to this test, and can uphold the Ribblesdale form by chasing her home, with Love taken to fill the frame behind those two.
INVESTEC DERBY – 4.55pm – 1m4f 3yo Colts Group 1
Another Epsom Classic which has not only been historically dominated by Aidan O’Brien (having trained 5 of the last 10 winners), but is also dominated numerically this year by Aidan O’Brien, who saddles 6 of the 16 Derby runners.
It may therefore be wise to start by attempting to sort out the Ballydoyle battalion that looks headed (at least on jockey bookings) by Mogul (Galileo x Shasteye (Danehill)), who has carried a lofty reputation with him since birth, with his 3,400,000 guineas price tag as a yearling likely to have helped that along. Indeed, Mogul has gone to post as market leader on four of his five starts to date, yet has only come home in front twice. It is understandable that Newcastle’s tapeta surface (in the rerouted Vertem Futurity Trophy) may not have been to Mogul’s liking last year, but his one start this year, namely finishing 4th in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, leaves him with plenty of work to do in this context. On top of that, if he is to be held up (as he has the last twice), Mogul has a very tricky draw in stall 2 to overcome and is readily taken on in this context.
Were Mogul & Russian Emperor (Galileo x Atlantic Jewel (Fastnet Rock)) in the exact same ownership, it would not be impossible to envisage Ryan Moore riding the latter-named, who passed his Royal Ascot test with flying colours and comes here with very solid form claims. Russian Emperor is bred just as well as stablemate Mogul as the son of 4x Group 1-winning mare Atlantic Jewel (Fastnet Rock x Regard (Zabeel)) and looked very useful in seeing off the highly-regarded First Receiver (New Approach x Touchline (Exceed And Excel)) & Group 3 winner Berlin Tango (Dansili x Fantasia (Sadler’s Wells)) to win the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes over 1m2f, defying a late drift in the process. The time of that race was excellent for the grade, and Russian Emperor did well to come from where he did to score. Russian Emperor ticks lots of boxes in this context, and rates a very solid player; however, he has been known to take plenty of winding up in his races and there is a concern that he might find several others having that bit more ‘toe’ than him, even stepped up to 1m4f.
Like several others in this line-up, Vatican City (Galileo x You’resothrilling (Storm Cat)) is another stunningly-bred son of Galileo as a full-brother to no less than three Group 1 winners. He can be considered a touch unlucky not to have been the 4th when meeting plenty of traffic in a rough renewal of the Irish 2000 Guineas. It would not be unfair to suggest that Vatican City lacked the toe to manoeuvre himself out of a tight spot in the closing stages; however, once Vatican City saw daylight, he stayed on strongly late to finish 2nd, hitting the line in the manner of a colt who would relish further than a mile. Whether he will relish another 4 furlongs remains to be seen but, if he can see out the extra distance, Vatican City showed more than enough at the Curragh to put him firmly in the mix here.
Of the remainder of Aidan O’Brien’s team, Serpentine (Galileo x Remember When (Danehill Dancer)) was a wide-margin winner of a 1m2f maiden at the Curragh just 7 days ago, looking increasingly stronger with every yard he took. He should improve for an extra 2 furlongs, and is taken to go forward from his draw in stall 12. However, if sent forward, Serpentine will not just be making up the numbers, and may just surprise a few upped in trip. Mythical (Camelot x Inchina (Cape Cross)) didn’t look to go at all on the fast ground last time and can do better here, especially if the forecast rain arrives; however, he has a mountain to climb still. Amhran Na Bhfiann (Galileo x Alluring Park (Green Desert)) is a full-brother to an Oaks winner (in Was (Galileo x Alluring Park (Green Desert))) as well as two further Epsom Classic runners, so is certainly bred for the job. However, he has too much to find in the book, and stands next to no chance on form; it remains to be seen how he will be deployed in the run.
Heading up the English hopes is the aptly-named English King (Camelot x Platonic (Zafonic)), who looked every inch an Epsom colt when running out a facile 2 3/4 length winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial last month. He settled, he travelled, he quickened, he stayed: tick, tick, tick, tick. However, he has a much bigger task on today, a task that was made all the greater on Thursday when English King was handed stall 1: if he is to be held up in-running, much like he has on his last two starts, English King is going to need a lot of fortune and the very best of Frankie Dettori to be taking a hand here.
Bolstering a strong English resistance to the Ballydoyle sextet is Kameko (Kitten’s Joy x Sweeter Still (Rock Of Gibraltar)), the sole Group 1 winner in the field and a two-time Group 1 winner at that, who comes forward having emerged victorious in a furiously-run 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. That form had taken a few knocks until the 2nd & 3rd that day, namely Wichita (No Nay Never x Lumiere Noire (Dashing Blade)) & Pinatubo (Shamardal x Lava Flow (Dalakhani)) held up the form in no uncertain terms when filling the placings behind potential superstar Palace Pier (Kingman x Beach Frolic (Nayef)) in the St. James’s Palace Stakes, a race that represents far and away the leading 3 year old form seen on this continent so far this year. It can be argued that the pace of the Guineas fell kindly into Kameko’s lap at Newmarket, having sat further off a furious gallop than two colts who look stretched in that race. On form, Kameko rates the leading prospect in this race, with the obvious query being his stamina at the trip: he looks certain to prove as effective at 1m2f, but can he do it at 1m4f? The feeling is that Kameko can get the 1m4f today and can prove to be the one they all have to beat.
There would be few more popular winners of the Derby than Pyledriver (Harbour Watch x La Pyle (Le Havre)), a 10,000gns buyback as a foal who has more than proven himself on the track in the last two seasons, winning the Listed Ascendant Stakes at Haydock as a two year old prior to running a clear career-best in winning the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot this year, seeing off the re-opposing pair of Mohican Heights (Australia x Mohican Princess (Shirley Heights)) & Mogul in the process. Pyledriver travelled beautifully that day and won with authority; however, that race was not truly-run, and he still needs to not only prove his effectiveness at what will likely be a strongly-run 1m4f, but he needs to prove he can mix it with the best of these; he looks up against it today.
The aforementioned Mohican Heights was behind Pyledriver at Royal Ascot, but he was having his first run in nearly 10 months and ran a race full of promise, sat out the back in a relatively slowly-run affair and staying on all the way to the line to finish 3rd. Mohican Heights has plenty more work to do to figure here but, from a good draw, he could be finishing late in the piece and may well advertise his claims for the St. Leger with a big run here. Andrea Atzeni takes the ride on Mohican Heights, having appeared to get off Highland Chief (Gleneagles x Pink Symphony (Montjeu)) in the last week, and it remains to be seen whether he made the right decision. Highland Chief ran on very different ground to Russian Emperor at Royal Ascot, but they ran over the same course and distance and it can be argued that Highland Chief achieved just as much on the clock in winning the newly-instated Golden Gates Handicap, giving 6lb and a half-length beating to Tritonic (Sea The Moon x Selenography (Selkirk)). That win represented a massive effort from Highland Chief, and something close to a repetition of that puts him right in the mix here. However, having not seen a racecourse since September 2019 prior to this year’s Royal Ascot, there is a small chance that Highland Chief could ‘bounce’ from his massive Royal Ascot performance. All told, he is a hard colt to weigh up, and the percentage call is that he struggles today.
Of the outsiders, Khalifa Sat (Free Eagle x Thermopylae (Tenby)) & Emissary (Kingman x Soviet Moon (Sadler’s Wells)) went toe to toe in a narrow finish of the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood, with Khalifa Sat enjoying the benefits of a soft lead and showing the battling qualities in the finish to repel Emissary, who would have been fancied to turn the tables here but for a more difficult draw in stall 4; both colts look set to struggle here on all known form. Worthily (Point Of Entry x Vignette (Diesis)) rates a most interesting outsider: Worthily has had just the one start in a 1m2f maiden at Newbury, where he proved coltish in the parade ring and was sluggish from the gate, yet powered home with ease to score by 2 lengths with his ears pricked, looking value for much more than the official margin. In the process, Worthily smacked of a St Leger prospect, and is very much bred for the job as a 3-parts brother to 2007 St Leger conquerer Lucarno (Dynaformer x Vignette (Diesis)). It is therefore most eyecatching that John Gosden has opted to pitch him into the Derby on just his 2nd career start; that move has to be respected. Finally, Max Vega (Lope De Vega x Paraphernalia (Dalakhani)) looks unlikely to have seen the necessary rainfall to give him a chance here, for all that he is respected to a degree on his wide-margin win in the Listed Zetland Stakes on soft ground at Newmarket, and Gold Maze (Golden Horn x Astonishing (Galileo)) is well-drawn, but ultimately has far too much to find here and can be readily left out of calculations.
A chance is taken on Kameko, who is far and away the form horse in the race and looks likely to be given every chance of staying 1m4f by Oisin Murphy. Russian Emperor rates very solid in this context, and has to be in the mix. English King has so many ingredients for a Derby winner, but could come unstuck from his draw. Worthily’s place in the line-up does not look like a day out for John Gosden, and he is taken to run a big race at a massive price and is likely to strongly advertise his St. Leger claims in the process. Finally, if Serpentine is left alone off the front end, he might just take a bit of pegging back and can reward each-way support at long odds.