Epsom Oaks 2013 Preview, Trends and Tips
It's the end of May, so of course, it's time for the third of the five Classics for three year olds, The Oaks. Yes, folks, due to what I reckon is a preposterous anachronism, four of the five Classics are run by the first Saturday in June which, this year, happens to be the first day of June!
No matter, for there are winners to be had, and there is top class fare to savour.
Epsom Oaks Course Constitution
Before we dive headlong into the form book - such as it in some cases - let's first consider the constitutional quirks of this most demanding of flat tracks.
While the five furlong course - which is downhill all the way - is considered to be the fastest five in the world (or, at least, in Britain), some of the longer distance races are akin to horses enjoying a day at the fun fair, such are their helter-skelter, roller-coaster, and occasionally dodgems, nature.
The five furlong races are run down the straight course, but all other distances feature at least one turn. Over six furlongs, runners and riders must navigate a the turn within the first quarter mile, and this offers an advantage to those closest to the rail, though perhaps not a huge one.
Over seven furlongs, the turn is far more material as it comprises the first three furlongs of the races! Low is usually the place to be, though a couple of the big field 7f handicaps have gone to higher. The key is to have a low drawn stalker, which doesn't get crowded and does have something left at the end. Not asking for much then...!
The other thing to note about that turn is that it has a reverse camber. That means that, as the horses turn, the ground runs away from them on the outside and big awkward types can roll around away from the rail. This is what people mean when they say 'some horses don't act on the track'. And it's a serious point to which you should give consideration if you're sufficiently attuned with your fancy to know its size/scope.
The Derby and Oaks trip of a mile and a half goes left, then right, then round that long reverse cambered turn, then down and then up in the home straight. Not for now't did I suggest it's a helter-skelter roller coaster dodgems type of a track.
Let's now cut to the chase, and the first of a septet of races on Oaks Friday. They start at 1.35 with the...
1.35 PRINCESS ELIZABETH STAKES (GROUP 3) (FILLIES & MARES) (CLASS 1) (3yo+)
A race in which the 3yo's have struggled of late, with no winner since 2002. In fairness, they've been under-represented in recent years and I can't see either of the crop of 2010 troubling the judge. In addition to the age issue, they also both seem to prefer fast ground.
The key trends to consider here are that four- and five-year-olds have won all of the last ten (albeit from the guts of the entries) with four-year-olds having claimed ten of the last sixteen, and half of the last sixteen winners won on their last start (13/16 finished 1-2-3 last time).
As well as the 3yo's, we can exclude Making Eyes, Starscope and Ultrasonic on the basis of last time out finishing position.
Top-rated officially is Thistle Bird, but this lass has shown all her best form on fast ground, which she's unlikely to experience here. That said, she's by Selkirk, who gets loads of soft ground winners, and she was a close second in a Group 2. Assuming she's as effective on soft, she'll go well.
Beatrice Aurore has needed her first run each season, and though she'll go fine on the ground, I just think she might be getting a prep in here ahead of Royal Ascot.
No such fitness worries about Ladies First, but there is a class question mark. She ran third last time in a Group 2, but that was against less fit nags, and she wouldn't be for me.
Willie Haggas' Sentaril has a decent chance here, with the yard in stellar form just now. She's won as high as Listed class, and looks ready for this step up. Sure to come on for her seasonal debut, she can give Thistle Bird most to do.
Selection: Thistle Bird 4/1
Next best: Sentaril 6/1
[Best odds at time of writing, 9pm Thursday evening]
2.10 INVESTEC WEALTH & INVESTMENT HANDICAP (CLASS 2) (4yo+)
I ducked Gatewood at the price last year, and he won well and turned out to be a lot better than Class 2, and this is a nice race to follow going forwards. Course form can be material here, with a couple of recent winners (Resurge and Lake Poet) having won over the strip.
Resurge bids to repeat his 2011 win (7th last year), but has a bucket draw in twelve. The other course and distance winner in the field is Area Fifty One and he's got a much more attractive chance, as a front runner berthed in four. He's run well on soft without winning and is just four pounds higher than his last winning mark. He could have a bit more progression still to come.
Blue Surf is interesting for the hottest stable on the planet right now, Amanda Perrett. Plenty of sodden turf form and a win at Goodwood's similar undulating course lend credence to his chance, and he's still got a workable handicap mark.
Boonga Roogeta could be overlooked for unfashionable (but shrewd) connections, but she might be the best value in the race, dropping back into handicap company after a couple of tilts at black type. She goes on soft, this is her trip, and she's won seven of twelve on turf: you've gotta love that attitude! 14/1 is fair enough.
Tres Coronas has his trip and ground, and comes from the in-form David Barron yard. He's more exposed than most but is only six pounds higher for his last time out win and should be involved again from a decent draw.
Halfsin has been lightly raced in recent seasons and has his ground. He's back to within a pound of his last winning mark and that gives hope of a return to form at around 25/1. Might be worth a very small each way tickle.
Niceofyoutotellme is the favourite, and is drawn stall one, but he's been beaten ten lengths on both attempts on turf slower than good. I'm a fan of the trainer, and I respect the money which has made him jolly, but he's not for me.
Tentative selection: Area Fifty One 8/1
Each way value: Boonga Roogeta 18/1
[Best odds at time of writing, 9pm Thursday evening]
2.45 INVESTEC DIOMED STAKES (Group 3) (3yo+)
The Diomed Stakes is a Group 3 over an extended mile, and it's not been won by many out of the top drawer over the years. I quite like Penitent, who will go on the ground, is a dual Group 2 winner, and is tough. His prominent racing style is well suited to the track too. Though I like him a bit, it's a fiendishly tricky puzzle.
Chances can be given to a host of them, notably Gregorian who will appreciate the step up to a mile and a little bit as well as the mud. Gabrial's best form is on faster and that would be a worry today, while Producer - a four time winner over seven furlongs here - is less well suited by the extra 330 yards, and also may not like soggy grass.
Sri Putra is the highest rated here, but he hasn't been doing much winning lately, and prefers further/firmer. He does have a decent first time out record - 14121 - but on balance I'll pass.
It's hard to know what to expect from Tales Of Grimm, who is the least exposed of these, and should be well enough matched to conditions. I wouldn't be surprised if he won, but I'll be wagering elsewhere. Specifically, I'll be wagering Penitent.
Selection: Penitent 8/1
Another to consider: Gregorian 7/2
3.20 INVESTEC MILE (Handicap) (CLASS 2) (4yo+ 0-105)
A nice handicap this, over - funnily enough - a mile. Four and five year olds have won eight of the last ten renewals and they may again be the best places to focus. Alas, that rules out just three of the fourteen declared, which hardly helps.
Ground might be the key here, as well as a decent draw from which to stalk the pace. On that basis, the rail drawn Maverik is of interest. He's a front runner, and has won over the course and distance. He wouldn't want it too soft, but if it stays good to soft he might take a lot of pegging back.
If there's a lot of pace in the race, one which might be of interest Richard Hannon's Mister Music. He's got track form, including a win over the distance, but as a hold up horse, he'd need them to come back to him. Hughesie takes the ride, and that's appealing.
The other with robust course form is Benzanno, who not only has a course and distance win, but is also a juicy ground lover and has a handicap rating lower than his last winning rating. Nice combo. I've backed him at 10's, each way.
As with most handicaps, the majority have some sort of chance and I'm always happy to throw my pennies at a profile sort. In this case, it's Benzanno, with Maverik and Mister Music possibles too.
Each way pick: Benzanno 10/1
Alternatives: Mister Music 9/1, Maverik 15/2
4.00 INVESTEC OAKS (Group 1) (Fillies) (CLASS 1) (3yo)
The big race. The Oaks. A Group 1 for fillies over a mile and a half, and it looks a bobby dazzler this year. Secret Gesture leads the market after her demolition job in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, but this will be a different kettle of kedgeree altogether.
Before we dig into the form, let's consider the trends, and the first thing to note is that plenty of big-priced lassies have prevailed here in recent years. Indeed, in the last five years, there have been two 20/1 winners and a 33/1 champ.
Aidan O'Brien has won four of the last fifteen Oaks', but not always with his first string. Was was a 20/1 shot last year when prevailing in a rough race, and Shahtoush was 12/1 back in 1998 (though she was his only runner that year).
Thirteen of the last sixteen winners were first or second last time out, and that includes 20/1 Dancing Rain, and 33/1 Look Here. Don't make too many excuses for beaten horses last time out unless they were second, beaten less than a length.
Secret Gesture knocked the eye out visually last time, when putting ten lengths between herself and the re-opposing Miss You Too. Whilst visually stunning, that's a world away from this contest, and 5/2 offers very little wriggle room for value hunters. I'm against her at the price, though she can of course win.
Moth is perhaps the most likely to my eye from the leading contenders. If your eye wasn't 'knocked out' by Secret Gesture then it must surely have been 'caught' by the eye-catching run of Moth in the 1000 Guineas, where she was staying on strongly over that mile. If she handles the track - a comment that applies to all of these, right enough - then I think she'll go very close to winning.
Liber Nauticus is respected because of connections, but she was more like Labour Nauticus when bustled to win the Musidora from the handicapper, Romantic Settings. Not for me, at least not at 3/1 or thereabouts.
There are no worries about trip and few about ground with Cheshire Oaks winner, Banoffee, who won well on the Roodee. Obviously, Epsom will be a very different test but she quickened well there and deserves her chance here. Second in that race and any price you like here, is Gertrude Versed. She was beaten a length and a quarter at Chester, and will appreciate slower turf being a daughter of Manduro. Her half-sister, Getrude Bell, won the Cheshire Oaks en route to running fourth in the Oaks itself and this girl's prominent racing style will be suited to Epsom. Interesting at 40/1.
The 'now' filly might be Say, Aidan O'Brien's second string. He won by nine lengths last time in a fillies' maiden, but the horse she beat - Silky Pyrus - has been well trounced before and since. At the price, she's no value.
Beckett himself has a second string here, in the shape of Talent, winner of the Listed Pretty Polly Stakes on fast turf. She'll be having her first try at further than a mile and a quarter and slower than good to firm and, she might improve for either or both. Interestingly, if she did win, she'd be setting up a nice Oaks/Derby double for her sire, New Approach, who is also Dawn Approach's daddy, of course.
There are worse bets in the race than Talent at 16/1.
Madame Defarge was about three impeded lengths behind Talent in the Pretty Polly, and she's got plenty of scope to improve on what will only be her third career start. She might also like the dig in the ground, but I don't think she'd be quite good enough.
When you look beyond the top of the market, this race is a real puzzle. While a horse like Secret Gesture could be head and shoulders better than the rest, she's no price to demonstrate that. Moth is a nice filly too but at a short enough price, and Liber Nauticus is hugely under-priced, irrespective of whether she wins.
In the middle order, Banoffee and Talent hold most attention for me. And, as a rag on which to speculate, Gertrude Versed has a fair bit going for her.
Big Priced Each Way Selection: Gertrude Versed 40/1
Obvious Dangers: Secret Gesture 9/4, Moth 7/2, Banoffee 8/1
4.45 INVESTEC SURREY STAKES (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (3yo)
A three-year-olds only seven furlong Listed race, it's not one for outsiders, as fourteen of the last fifteen winners were priced at 8/1 or shorter, and the rag (33/1) won back in 1999.
Eight of the last fifteen winners were already seven furlong winners, and eight were drawn one, two or three, though it is only a field of seven here.
Boomshackerlacker is the highest officially rated, has won over seven furlongs, will love it if it's soft, and he's drawn three. At around 10/1, I think that's a fair value bet, and he ought to appreciate this drop in class after a fair fifth in the German 2000 Guineas last time. Prior to that he wasn't beaten far in a French Group 2 and, if it comes up boggy tomorrow, he'll loov it (a la Kevin Keegan in his Newcastle manager days).
Hasopop is favourite, but he's not for me. He's run in four seven furlong races, and been beaten far enough every time. He also seems to have a class ceiling at Class 2. He's tried Listed or higher five times, and been beaten at least a length and three quarters each time. If there isn't one in here to beat him, I'd be surprised.
Here Comes When is a more likely candidate. He's lightly raced, has won over seven, should go on the ground and comes from the in-form yard of Andrew Balding. 7/2 is fair without being generous.
Emell and Well Acquainted are next in. The former will love the ground but he does seem to find one too good generally. That means he wouldn't be winning out of turn, but that's not a phrase which is a friend to punters, as it means the horse is normally deemed unlucky or runs well without paying us out. If that made any sense whatsoever!
The latter probably wants the ground quicker (his sire, Orientate, has yet to father a horse to win on softer than good!), but he does have a decent level of seven furlong form. But that ground stat is against him, and so am I on that basis.
Birdman has arguably the best soft ground form in the race. Excluding a last of seven in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy on soft, his other juicy turf runs yielded a win, a second in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes, and a third (albeit of four) in the Group 2 Futurity Stakes. He's since run on good or faster and looks sure to appreciate this easier going.
I know I've made a big fuss about the state of the ground throughout this piece, and that's because it's my belief that when conditions are wet, going and class are the most important factors when analyzing form. Others will disagree, and that's fair enough, but they're the two parameters I look to above all others... as you'll have read here!
So the 11/1 about Birdman is pretty reasonable, taking a punt that he'll rediscover his juvie form on slower ground.
That leaves Graphic Guest, a horse which surely is better at five than six, and at six than seven. As such, this is a bridge (or two) too far.
Fair wager: Here Comes When 7/2
Two at prices against the field: Birdman 11/1, Boomshackerlacker 10/1
5.20 INVESTEC ASSET MANAGEMENT HANDICAP (CLASS 2) (3yo)
A big field seven furlong contest, and here you probably do want a low drawn pace-stalking sort. Discernable is drawn three, and will try to lead - other like pace makers drawn very wide - so he's a good chance of taking them into the straight. I am slightly apprehensive about his ability to handle the ground, but at 16/1 I think he could take some pegging back and will take a chance.
Discernable's stable mate, Flashlight, has no question marks about the going or the trip, and is also well boxed to press the pace. Should his slightly nippier buddy falter late on, it could be this fellow who takes advantage.
Lancelot Du Lac is the jolly, and this hold up type will need a lot of things to go right for him to win, despite being favoured by ground, class and trip. In what's likely to be a big field (fifteen engaged prior to any non-runners), jockey Ryan Moore will have his work cut out. Obviously, there's no better man for the job.
There are other possibilities in here, naturally, but I like the profile of the Johnston pair, and will chance them against the field.
Two against the rest: Discernable 20/1, Flashlight 14/1
Those seven races will showcase Britain's best early season middle distance Classic filly, and my hunch is that there could be a surprise. If we've any bankroll left by half past five, we'll do it all again on Saturday. Derby Day.
p.s. I nearly forgot. Yesterday at Lingfield, the placepot hat-trick was secured. Two of the sixteen 'just A' lines copped, meaning a £16 investment would have returned twice the £42.30 dividend, or £84.60 for cash. Nice. Ticket builder punters would have collected £1.20 of the divvy, or £50.76 for £19.20 down.
To today, and the quest for the four-timer. You've seen my workings out above, so this is just the juice.
Leg 1 -
A - 5 (Sentaril), 7 (Thistle Bird)
Leg 2 -
A - 2 (Area Fifty One), 3 (Blue Surf)
B - 5 (Boonga Roogeta), 8 (Tres Coronas)
Leg 3 -
A - 1 (Penitent), 4 (Gregorian)
B - 5 (Producer), 6 (Sri Putra), 7 (Tales Of Grimm)
Leg 4 -
A - 10 (Benzanno)
B - 3 (Mister Music), 6 (Maverik)
Leg 5 -
A - 9 (Secret Gesture)
B - 6 (Moth), 10 (Talent)
Leg 6 -
A - 1 (Boomshackerlacker), 2 (Birdman), 5 (Here Comes When)
Just A's - 2 x 2 x 2 x 1 x 1 x 3 = 24 bets
All picks - 2 x 4 x 5 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 1080 bets (!!)
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