2015 Oaks Preview, Trends, Tips, Pace
Friday will see the third of the five British Classics come and go, as Epsom stages the 238th running of the Oaks. Contested over ten yards further than a mile and a half, and on one of the most helter-skelter pistes in the world, the Oaks is a test of a filly's class, stamina and balance without peer.
This year's race looks set to feature 1000 Guineas winner Legatissimo, trained in Ireland by David Wachman, against a slew of improvers, headed by Sir Michael Stoute's Crystal Zvezda.
Investec Oaks Trends
15 of the last 18 Oaks winners (83%) finished first or second last time out. That was from 62.8% of the runners. Of the three who didn't, two were trained by Aidan O'Brien (Shahtoush, Was), and two had finished in the top six in the 1000 Guineas (Shahtoush, Casual Look).
Seven of the 19 favourites (including joint-favourites) since 1997 have won this, for a level stakes profit of 4.66 points. I include this to highlight that the market's view of the best filly is often accurate; and, at Group 1 level, I'd consider this to be more material than your average Class 5 handicap.
Testament to the progressive nature of many winners, it may be interesting to note that of the ten Oaks winners since 1997 to come to the race with an official rating, only three were rated above 107. Fillies have won the Oaks off perches of 94, 96 and 99 in the last eight years, and all of them at 20/1 or bigger.
Each of that trio (Look Here, Dancing Rain and Talent) was very lightly raced (two or three runs) and had yet to be out of the first three.
Investec Oaks Pace Profile
It is often dangerous to be too bullish about the pace shape of any race, but especially so when so many of the horses are stepping up in trip and/or yet to establish a run style preference.
Nevertheless, the below image does offer some insights:
Geegeez Gold scores each run from a pace perspective on a scale of 1 to 4:
1 - held up, in rear, etc
2 - mid-division, etc
3 - prominent, etc
4 - Led, pressed leader, etc
The figures are based on in-running comments and, as such, are indicative rather than precise. Despite this lack of hard science, they serve very well from a visualization perspective.
The Oaks field (note, Found will not run) has been sorted by total score. This seems to indicate that Star Of Seville, who has led in two of her last three races may be front rank, along with Bellajeu who has generally been raced prominently.
Thereafter, the picture is less clear, with most of the field habitually racing near to, but just off, the pace. That could lead to a packing field and, as often happens in the Oaks, a few hard luck stories.
2015 Oaks Preview
So much for trends and pace, what about actual form? The market is led by 1000 Guineas heroine, Legatissimo and rapidly progressive Crystal Zvezda at around 3/1 each.
David Wachman's Legatissimo needed all of Newmarket's Rowley Mile to get on top of Lucida in the first fillies' Classic, but was going away at the end in the manner of a lass needing further. That marries well with her previous run where she prevailed over nine furlongs in Listed company.
However, nine furlongs and twelve furlongs (the Oaks trip) are some way distant from each other. Hope that she'll see the trip out comes from her extended family, with her mum - or dam, as we should say - winning over ten furlongs, and her uncle being none other than Ascot Gold Cup (2m4f) winner, Fame And Glory.
Despite possessing the class to win a 1000 Guineas, and probably having the stamina to win an Oaks, she's tight enough at 3/1 in a field of unexposed sorts.
Similar comments apply, for differing reasons, about Crystal Zvezda. Sir Michael Stoute's easy Newbury winner is progressing apace, but the form of the fillies she beat there has not worked out at all well. It may be that she was flattered there but, regardless, she has an awful lot of assumed improvement already factored into best odds of 7/2.
The buzz horse in the past week, and probably still a sliver of value at 7/1, is Jessie Harrington's terribly named Jack Naylor. Calling a filly - and a potentially high class filly at that - Jack is almost as bad as calling a horse The Geegeez Geegee, but we won't get into that here.
She has two pieces of form that her growing legion of fans can point to as giving her a big chance. First, she beat Legatissimo last season in a mile Listed contest when giving that one five pounds. With no hard luck stories about their respective passages through the race, it is easy to argue for Jack over Legat.
And secondly, she was the big eye catcher in the Irish 1000 Guineas: given a mountain to climb under exaggerated waiting tactics, she fair flew for fourth, just a pair of lengths behind the winner. She has a rock solid ten furlong pedigree and a robust chance of staying the extra quarter mile required to see out the Oaks range.
Three horses into the market and we're yet to mention a Ballydoyle filly. Let's put that right with a brace of O'Brien runners: Diamondsandrubies and Together Forever.
The former was a ready six length winner of the Cheshire Oaks over an eighth of a mile shy of the Epsom Oaks, having previously finished two lengths behind Irish 1000 Guineas fifth, Bocca Baciata, over a mile and a quarter.
With three runs to her name this season already, it's hard to see Diamondsandrubies progressing as much as many of these, and on what she's achieved so far it's hard to see her being good enough. I may be wrong - it happens quite a lot, you know - but as short at 6/1 about her chance is not remotely attractive to me.
Much more tasty is the general 10/1 about stable mate, Together Forever. True, she's more exposed than most, but she also has a higher level of form than most. And, as my teenage mates used to say back in the 80's, a bird in the hand is... well, let's leave it at that, shall we?
To her form: winner of the Group 1 Fillies' Mile on soft last October, that established level of high class ability has been somewhat overlooked in my opinion. The two and a half length fifth, Lucida, was second to Legatissimo in the Newmarket Guineas; and on a barmy collateral line that gives Together Forever the beating of David Wachman's filly.
I say "a barmy collateral line" because of the ground - soft - as well as the fact that collateral lines are pretty unreliable. But she'd recorded a pair of wins before that Newmarket run, both by wide margins - five lengths and three lengths.
Since then, on seasonal debut, she was a head second to Star Of Seville in the Musidora Stakes, a fine trial for the Oaks. She looked set to be beaten a long way there but rallied takingly to go down by just a head at the line.
The comment in the Racing Post - "no extra towards finish" - is plain wrong in my opinion, and Together Forever is bred to be a smart middle distance three-year-old: by Galileo out of a Theatrical mare. She's susceptible to a big improver but, at beyond a mile, I think she has the best level of form (and she's also won a Group 1 at a mile).
Her last day vanquisher, Star Of Seville, may have dossed in front there; or she may have run out of petrol. Breeding hints at the latter without being definitive. Certainly there's plenty of speed in her family (the likes of English Ballet and Spectacular Show).
Trained by John Gosden, who has two of the top three in the Derby betting at time or writing, Star Of Seville has moved up from a Class 5 maiden to a Class 3 conditions race to that Group 3 victory. She may yet have more to come, and with her pace-pressing style she'll probably be less likely to encounter a troubled trip than some. But will she stay? She's around 14/1 if you'd like to find out.
Currently the same price but taking a lot more support as I write is the same trainer's Jazzi Top, half-sister to Izzi Top. She has enough stamina in her pedigree to suggest she'll see out the trip, and was a good winner of the Pretty Polly Stakes, a decent trial for the Oaks.
Indeed, the last two Pretty Polly winners, Taghrooda and Talent, both went on to Oaks glory, as did super-mare, Ouija Board back in 2004.
Jazzi Top is just the sort of 'now' filly that could run a big race, and I'd far sooner chance her at 14's than Crystal Zvezda at 7/2. The reason for being in vogue with the bookies is that Frankie Dettori, enjoying a renaissance with John Gosden this season, has elected to ride her rather than the Musidora winner.
There is another pair of lurkers in Lady Of Dubai and French entry Al Namaah, but neither has the level of form or promise that others already mentioned possess.
For those looking for a runner lurking in the long grass - after all, this race has thrown up winners at 33/1 and 20/1 twice since 2008 - Wedding Vow is perhaps the most appealing. By Galileo out of Oaks second, Remember When, she's certainly bred for this job.
And, like Wedding Vow, Remember When also entered the Oaks as a maiden. True, 'mum' was a close fourth in the Irish 1000 Guineas, but it's easy enough to excuse Wedding Vow's last day flop (a rare-as-hen's-teeth Ryan Moore misjudgement).
Prior to that she was second to Legatissimo over nine furlongs, and she looks to be screaming for the Oaks trip. She'll stay - forever probably - though she may well be too slow to make the frame at Epsom. Still, 50/1 non runner no bet (trainer states she may not run) could be fun.
2015 Investec Oaks Tips
As always, the Oaks is a race around which to tread very carefully. A lot of fillies are brought to the Downs via a 'softly softly' campaign, compared with the boys and the Derby. It is no surprise then that the average winning odds in the last decade are just over 12/1.
Legatissimo and Crystal Zvezda will shock nobody by winning, but nor do they offer an attractive risk-reward proposition, for me at least.
Jack Naylor is a likely contender and, had I previewed the Oaks last week (when she was a 14/1 chance), she might have been the one. But we've missed the boat there.
I do like Together Forever as a reliable sort, and Jazzi Top as a progressive sort. Picking between them is difficult, but I felt that Together Forever was given a perfect pipe opener for the season in the Musidora, and I'm a bit surprised she's not the Ballydoyle first choice.
At windmill-tilting prices, Wedding Vow has just a hint of je ne sais quoi about her. She needs to step up seven pounds or so to even make the frame, but over a trip she's bred for, that could happen.
1 pt win Together Forever 10/1 (bet365, best odds guaranteed, non-runner no bet)
0.5 pt win Jazzi Top 14/1 (Boyle, BetVictor, PP, Hills, all non-runner no bet)
0.25 pt e/w Wedding Vow 50/1 (bet365, best odds guaranteed, non-runner no bet and 1/4 1-2-3; 66/1 available with NRNB, but she may not run)