The bluest of blueblood breeding taking each other on at one of the most unique courses in the most historical of races, the Oaks and Derby meeting is the pinnacle of flat racing, or at least that’s what it should be.
The questioning of relevance and criticism around quality of The Derby has loomed recently, probably with a certain degree of overstatement as seems to be the habit these days, but the line-up for this year’s race won’t have helped matters with The Derby certainly looking to lack in clear star quality. That’s not to say a star cannot emerge or that it will not be interesting, but it does seem a little underwhelming this year.
The Oaks on the other hand looks to have the star quality The Derby is lacking, with a clear favourite who appears to have superstar potential and plenty of other contenders lining up who could conceivably go on to be Group One performers. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to suggest at least one of the contenders for The Oaks would stand a chance of success in this year’s Derby field.
The Oaks (4:30 Epsom): It is pretty difficult to see beyond the current favourite RHODODENDRON for win purposes; she may now be a shade of odds-on but is clearly a deserved favourite and she looks to be a step above a decent enough field of fillies. She was perhaps a shade unlucky in the 1,000 Guineas when denied a clear run, but that’s not to say she would have won. However, whatever opinion you take regarding that it is clear to see that she was beaten by a top class filly and the form couldn’t look any stronger now. She clearly has the best form in the book and her style and pedigree suggest she’ll improve with the step up to a mile and a half, so it is difficult to see beyond her for win purposes.
Although a deserved favourite and the likely winner, backing odds-on shots isn’t my thing and finding an each way angle will be my approach to this race. With an odds on favourite and ten runners there is certainly some place value to be had.
The most obvious place to look would be with the current second favourite Enable; having run behind her impressive stablemate Shutter Speed she followed up by winning the Cheshire Oaks in style. Her form is certainly second best behind the favourite but there has been a degree of negativity around her recently and at a general 6/1 maybe isn’t the best choice for each way value.
Finishing behind Enable at Chester was Alluringly who was sent off as favourite that day. Despite being beaten and the fact that Aiden O’Brien has the odds-on favourite, I could easily see her showing massive improvement from that run and figuring here. The O’Brien fillies typically improve from their first run and there was a lot of confidence behind her that day to suggest she is fairly well thought of and the top price 25/1 might just be too big. O’Brien also has Pocketfullofdreams but I expect her to be performing pace making duties.
One of the key pieces of form for The Oaks came at Deauville where Sobetsu beat Coronet fairly comfortably. As such Sobetsu is marginally favoured in the betting, however, Coronet didn’t get the best of runs there and looks to be crying out for a longer trip and better ground, so I could easily see her improving past Sobetsu, who I suspect will probably be better on softer ground. The margin of victory that day was around four lengths so Sobetsu deserves to be ahead in the market but I’d favour Coronet under the conditions and at the prices.
The Pretty Polly at Newmarket has generally been a pretty good signpost for The Oaks and the first and second from that feature here. Horseplay won well in that race and is sure to come on massively from that run, whilst the second home, Isabel De Urbina, is also sure to improve and represents Ralph Beckett who is a master at training fillies. Natavia was also an impressive winner last time but that was on soft ground and she looks a bit too inexperienced for me.
Perhaps the most fascinating contender is Daddys Lil Darling who represents American connections. It’s great to see them sending her here but it’s hard to see how this will suit her given the fact she is a half-sister to star sprinter Mongolian Saturday and she is out of Scat Daddy.
VERDICT: I can’t really see beyond RHODODENDRON for win purposes but she’s not a price for me to be betting on. Enable looks a clear second best on form but doesn’t appeal at the prices, so in a bid for a bit of value at bigger prices Alluringly at 25/1 and Horseplay at 18/1 are worth an each way play.
Coronation Cup (3:10 Epsom): The betting suggests that Aiden O’Brien is in for a Group One double and to be honest it’s hard to see beyond that reasoning. Highland Reel may have been a late substitute for the intended runner Seventh Heaven but he is top class and has the stand-out form; he consistently performs well at the highest level and will enjoy the likely quicker ground. If he runs to form surely he wins.
O’Brien has two other contenders in Idaho, a brother to Highland Reel, and US Army Ranger. Although he has let his backers down on numerous occasions I’m not sure why US Army Ranger is more than double the price of Idaho and with his best piece of form coming over course and distance in last year’s Derby I’d favour him of the two.
Godolphin have two interesting contenders in Hawkbill and Frontiersman. Hawkbill has some impressive form at the highest level and if this was run on softer ground the 10/1 would be way too big, but I just fear he’s not quite as good on the likely quicker ground. The second Godolphin runner is Frontiersman; he has an impeccable pedigree being out of Ouija Board and has shown some good progress of late but this is a massive step-up in class and the 9/1 available doesn’t look like great value.
It’s interesting to see that connections have persevered with Journey given she is already a Group One winner and could have been sent off for breeding, so the fact they are targeting an open Group One must be a positive sign. However, she has typically needed her first run of the season so may be best watched after being off the track for 230 days.
VERDICT: Highland Reel has had plenty of racing and there is the danger that could eventually take its toll but if the ground remains on the quicker side of good I expect him to be good enough to bag another Group One prize.
The best angle may be to pair Highland Reel and Rhododendron in a short priced double.