2014 Epsom Oaks Preview, Trends, Tips
The three-year-old middle distance fillies' championship, The Oaks is a true test of stamina and balance, as well as speed. Run over the same course and distance as the Derby a day later, the Oaks is for fillies only, and has been won in recent times by such fantastic race mares as Snow Fairy (five Group/Grade 1 wins) and Ouija Board (seven Group/Grade 1 wins).
With all of the trial form now in the book, let's take a look at the trends, dosage profiles, and form for the main contenders.
2014 Oaks Trends
The thing I want to open with is that four of the last six winners have been priced at 20/1 or bigger. Now, whilst that is very far from a bombproof trend, it does open the mind somewhat to the prospect of taking a chance on a horse at a decent price. That, however, is counter-balanced by seven winning favourites since 1997, a 39% hit rate.
Fifteen of the last seventeen winners were either first, second or third on their previous start. Hardly surprising in such a high class contest, but the 9.2% strike rate for last day medallists compares well with the 4.35% strike rate for last day non-placers.
Since 1997, the winners had raced last time at Newmarket (four); York (three); Curragh, Goodwood, Lingfield, Newbury (all two); Chester, or Naas (both one).
In truth, it's a poor trends race and trying to flag things like official rating would be to ignore the propensity of fast-improving fillies to record a much higher level of performance than previously shown from very limited racecourse evidence.
However, I'd be narrowing things down to placed effort last time out in a race at one of the key trial tracks.
2014 Epsom Oaks Dosage Profiles
As with the Derby, plenty of the runners in this event are stepping into uncharted stamina territory. And, as with the Derby, it can help to use dosage profiles when projecting whether a filly will stay this far or not.
Dosage, lest you didn't know, is a points system for establishing various attributes of a nag, including its speed, stamina and 'brilliance'.
Below are the dosage profiles of Oaks winners since the turn of the century.
When looking at the total points scored, we can see that winning fillies were either exceptional - in the cases of Kazzia (won the 1000 Guineas beforehand and a Grade 1 after, both those races at nine furlongs or less), Snow Fairy, Ouija Board and the latterly recalcitrant Sariska - or had 20+ dosage points.
Whilst it is possible that one of the sub-20 dosage point fillies in the field turns out to be exceptional, as you can see below, there are more obvious profiles against which to hitch one's punting apple cart.
Those that most closely match the historical dosage patterns are favourite Taghrooda, fancied Ihtimal, and a trio of outsiders worth a second glance in Madame Chiang, Bracelet and Inchila.
2014 Oaks Form Preview
The favourite for the Oaks is John Gosden's Taghrooda, unbeaten in both starts to date. She followed up a win in a typically strong back end Newmarket maiden with a six length verdict in the Listed Pretty Polly Stakes, again at Newmarket. That race has provided two recent winners of the Oaks - last year's winner, Talent; and the brilliant Ouija Board - and Taghrooda has rock solid credentials, albeit with a price that reflects it.
Looking for possible chinks in Taghrooda's armour, both her runs have been on the Newmarket Rowley course, so her liking for an 'away' track - especially one as quirky as Epsom - remains to be seen. As well as that, she has yet to race on turf softer than good and, with the weather as it has been, there remains a fair prospect of it coming up on the soggy side.
It is of course too early to establish the likely ground but, as a daughter of Sea The Stars out of a Sadler's Wells mare, she'd not be certain to appreciate it soft. The forecast is for a fair amount of rain both this week and next. Still, she is the solid if unspectacular wagering option.
One with better form - by dint of her third, beaten three-quarters of a length - in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, is Ihtimal. Godolphin's Shamardal own-bred doesn't have the improvement of some of these after nine careers starts already. But, in winning two Group 3's and a Group 2 - and placing in two Group 1's - she has achieved a lot.
Her followers will be pinning their hopes on a squeak of further development for the longer trip. Given her near perfect dosage profile, and the fact that she won a Group 3 by ten lengths over ten furlongs - the furthest she's raced to date - there is much to like about her chance.
To balance the argument, it should be said that it - the UAE Oaks - looked a very weak Group 3. Still, ten lengths is ten lengths. Or maybe ten lengths are ten lengths. And, again on the up side, horses returning from Dubai often take time to settle back in, so to run within a length in a Guineas was impressive.
I think she has a really good chance at Epsom and, with form on quick and being bred for slower, she ought to act on any surface. 15/2 (7/1 non runner no bet) looks good.
Marvellous rocketed to near the top of the Oaks market after outstaying her rivals in the Irish 1000 Guineas on Sunday. She beat Lightning Thunder there, who herself had a half length to spare over Ihtimal at Newmarket, and was staying on stoutly in the ground. She does have a fine chance of staying the Oaks trip and, if it comes up soft, she'll be a player.
Do keep in mind, though, that the O'Brien stable, despite perennially strong representation in the race, have only won one Oaks since 2006, and that was with a 20/1 shot (Was).
Tarfasha, a general 6/1 shot, won the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas last time, the race in which Was finished third en route to Oaks glory in 2012. She stayed on well enough there, over ten furlongs, though quite what she beat is hard to say. There does remain a slight stamina niggle - both sire and damsire are influences for that Blue Wind Stakes trip - but she's gone further than plenty of these already, so it's not a knockout blow.
The possible French raider, Shamkala, comes next. She's a real conundrum, a fact reflected in quotes ranging from 6/1 to 10/1. On the plus side, she won a Group 3 last time over a mile and three furlongs - with great ease - on ground that also had great ease. She's an impeccably bred Aga Khan filly and her trainer Alain du Royer Dupre is a master of his craft.
On the minus side, she got first run there in a muddling contest, and one well-timed kick was all it took to win. She is a daughter of Pivotal, a brilliant stallion and an influence for sprint to middle distances, generally. Thus, she's not certain to get a true run mile and a half, despite Sariska - also by Pivotal, but with far more stamina on the dam side - winning the Oaks in 2009. And, most tellingly of all, she's more likely to run in the Prix de Diane - the French Oaks - than the Epsom variant.
8/1 is the price with the only non-runner no bet firm at time of writing - Seanie Mac - so that might be of interest to some.
If it's a daughter of Pivotal you're after, perhaps the yet-to-be-supplemented Marsh Daisy is for you. She's stoutly bred on the dam side - mum's dad was the great Lammtarra, winner of the Derby, King George and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in just a four race career - and she bolted up in the Listed Height Of Fashion Stakes at Goodwood last week. That race has been a decent pointer to Oaks glory, with Snow Fairy doubling up in 2010.
Marsh Daisy would need to be supplemented, as I've written, and with the non-runner no bet firm not having priced her up, it'd be a brave - or in the know - punter that backed her just now.
Madame Chiang is a general 16/1 chance, and is the first of a trio of dosage outsiders deserving of a second look. Apart from her robust pedigree, she won the Musidora Stakes on just her second start, outstaying her field comfortably enough. She does need soft ground and will be given options in France but, after just two runs (both wins) and having claimed one of the major trials for the Oaks, 16/1 looks all right, despite a suspicion it may have been a weak enough renewal of the Musidora.
If Ballydoyle is to replicate the 'unfancied outsider' route to victory of Was, it might be with Bracelet. A daughter of Montjeu, I'd be fairly confident that it was the good to firm ground, rather than a lack of ability, that led to her ten length fourteenth in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Previously, on softer turf, she'd bagged a brace of seven furlong Leopardstown heats - the latter a Group 3 - and her previous debut defeat, also a well beaten one, was also on good to firm.
If you can forgive her quick ground efforts, she'd be unbeaten in two. Sure, she'd also have to step up significantly on that level, but given she was pitched into a Listed contest on debut, and deemed good enough for the Guineas squad, she clearly shows plenty at home. Interesting at a price on softer ground: 25/1 with bet365.
And the last of the dosage rag trio is Inchila, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam. She's won just once from four career starts, and that a maiden, but it was on good to soft ground and over a mile and a quarter. A daughter of Dylan Thomas, she'll stay all right, and looks like she'll appreciate rain. The major stumbling block is that she doesn't look good enough, despite the second from her maiden win, Cascading, going on to run a close second in the Lingfield Oaks Trial.
I can't really recommend the 50's top price with the bookmakers, but if you want to hurl a couple of pounds into the ether, Inchila is currently a 140 shot on Betfair. She will appreciate the longer trip and she'll likely love any give in the ground. If it came up super-boggy, she might go off around 20/1. If.
2014 Oaks Tips
As you'll have gathered, there are lots of imponderables in play for this race. The state of the ground - which I suspect will be on the soft side of good, at least; the final field for the race; and which horses will stay the trip.
Ante post caveat emptor, then, as I make a couple of suggested value plays.
From the top of the market, I think Ihtimal looks solid. With some of the best form in the book already, she looks a likely improver for the longer trip, and good to soft would be optimal, I suspect.
Marvellous commands respect after her Irish Guineas triumph at the weekend, and she could go off favourite if the ground is soft. As such, 11/2 might represent a trading opportunity at least... at least if you know a good meteorologist.
At the bigger prices, Madame Chiang has the look of a hindsight 'why didn't I back that?' horse. She won the Musidora. Tick. She will likely stay. Tick. She has plenty of scope after just two runs. Tick. She's proven on soft. Tick (assuming it's on the soft side). 16/1? Tick.
2014 Oaks Selection: Ihtimal 15/2 888sport
2014 Oaks Each Way Play: Madame Chiang 16/1 Skybet, BetVictor, PP, 888sport, Winner