This Friday sees the third of the five 2011 British Classics, the Investec Oaks, run over the roller coaster licketty-split mile and a half course at Epsom.
The race looks far more competitive than the Derby - run over the same course and distance a day later - and, as such, may offer some value for punters. Let's take a look and see what clues history provides in search of that prospective value.
The first thing to note is the incredible record of the Ballydoyle horses. Since 1997, they've had three winners, four seconds, a third and three fourth place finishers! The other notable stables are Godolphin (only one winner and one third since 2000); Sir Michael Stoute (no wins, and two places since 2000); and, of course, 'Sir' Henry Cecil (a win and a second in the last three years, after dominating before the turn of the century).
The other thing to note from a trainers perspective, and unlike the Derby itself, is the performance of the 'second division' of trainers, slightly less heralded than their illustrious Premier League peers. Ed Dunlop , Michael Bell and Ralph (that's Raith) Beckett have taken the last three renewals, and earlier in the century, Michael Jarvis, Ed Dunlop again, and Andrew Balding have all landed the Epsom Oaks.
So what does that tell us exactly? Well, firstly, I'd be taking Sir Michael Stoute's Havant on, unless she had other strong pointers to her chance; and, I wouldn't be afraid to put one up from a slightly less fashionable stable than the big guns.
Moving on, twelve of the last fourteen winners were either first (ten) or second (two) last time out, with the two beaten further both recording those defeats in Guineas races (Casual Look in the English and Shahtoush in the Irish equivalent).
This looks a strong and eminently sensible pattern, so we'll remove anything not first or second last time, unless that run was in a Guineas race. We lose Eirnin, Fork Handles and Why. At prices of 66/1 and bigger, that doesn't really help!
Stamina is something that looks necessary for an early season 3yo race over a mile and half. All of the last fourteen winners were stepping up in trip from their last run, with four stepping up from a mile (including the two beaten Guineas runners), four stepping up a quarter mile, and six having run beyond 1m2f already.
As fascinating as that is, it doesn't really help us here. So let's try a different tack... namely official ratings. Of the ten winners to have a rating in the last fourteen years, eight were already rated 98+, the exceptions being 33/1 bomb, Look Here, and late developer, Oiuja Board. So, whilst it might be possible for one of these to shock us, I'll remove any horse with a rating that is lower than 98.
It's bon soir to Beatrice Aurore, Charleston Lady, Dancing Rain, Izzi Top, Spin, and Zain Al Boldan.
This leaves us with seven possibles: Blaise Chorus, Blue Bunting, Havant, Look At Me, Misty For Me, Siren's Song, and Wonder Of Wonders.
We'll remove the maiden, Blaise Chorus, as no non-winner has prevailed in recent history. Look At Me was actually last in the Irish 1000 Guineas, and is highly likely to be a pacemaker. Whilst I wouldn't entirely dismiss her chances of nicking a place at a monster price (80/1 with Stan James), I really don't believe she can win (shock, horror!).
So five remain, and they're most of the beasts from the top of the Oaks market, so let's take a look at them in more detail:
Blue Bunting - favourite having won the 1000 Guineas in taking fashion, staying on past milers who were out on their feet from running into a crosswind. The last filly to double up in the Guineas and then the Epsom Oaks was Kazzia, also owned by Godolphin, but trained by Saeed bin Suroor (remember him?!). Frankie's up top for Mohammed al Zarooni, and I've backed her at 3/1.
In a race where favourites have a very strong record - wins at 10/3, 3/1, 11/4 (joint), 9/4 twice in the last decade - she has a very strong chance, with her middle distance pedigree supporting the visual suggestion that the extra half mile will be fine.
Wonder Of Wonders - O'Brien's first string and well fancied for this by connections, she won the Cheshire Oaks with plenty in hand. That race is only 110 yards shorter than the Oaks, so there's no doubt about her staying, she will go on the ground, and Kieren Fallon is a big plus (already won FOUR Oaks' in the last fourteen years).
She ought to act on the track too, as she won nicely in a little race at Tipperary (to where, as we very well know, it is a long way), that seems to have a reasonably similar constitution to Epsom.
Havant - Sir Michael Stoute's record in this race is pretty lamentable considering the ammunition he has and, whilst he is always capable of surprising (me, at least: I seem to get him wrong every single time. Witness Workforce x 3!), this filly's run at Newmarket in the 1000 Guineas didn't scream 'Oaks winner' to me. She plodded on rather than stayed on there.
Of course, it's possible that a) she's improved, b) she will benefit far more than Blue Bunting (six lengths in hand here, and seemingly going away from Havant) for the extra half mile, or c) Stoute-y will stick it to me for the millionth time. But, on balance, there are far too many negatives to entertain odds as short as 5/1 (and no better than 6's anywhere).
Misty For Me - More exposed than most in the race, but also more capable. She's had seven runs, and won four of them, including a staying on win in the Irish 1000 Guineas last time. They finished in a bit of a heap there, and the one to take from the race is probably Laughing Lashes in third, who would have won if it had been a nine furlong contest.
There is a slight stamina niggle for me with this one, as well as a class niggle. There is no such concern about her appetite for a skirmish, and she is clearly a fighter. But I suspect she'll be a tough nut to crack at shorter trips than Epsom's twelve furlong Oaks distance.
Siren's Song - rounding out a trio of Irish runners from the quintet on the shortlist is Siren's Song, a twice raced filly from the Jessie Harrington stable. The last non-O'Brien filly to win the Epsom Oaks was Jet Ski Lady in 1991, and I fear this young lady is not quite good enough.
She won last time out, in a ten furlong Listed race that has since taken more knocks than the door to the FIFA Bung Inspector's office. That said, she ground it out in pleasing fashion and was comfortably on top by the line. For one so inexperienced, that was good to see. She'd need to improve around a stone to beat these though, and that's assuming none of them improve further, which of course they will!
So, using a combination of trends and form analysis, it seems to me to be - uninspiringly - between the front two in the betting. I've backed Blue Bunting and will probably 'save' (bet to cover my stakes, for those who didn't know) on Wonder Of Wonders.
I've also had a nibble at one at a bigger price, because Nick Mordin told me (via his website, rather than personally alas) that she should be favourite based on her last TWO runs. That filly?
Dancing Rain. I had a pony each way at a pony (or Â£25 e/w at 25/1 for those of you who speak English) and she could well hit the board. Willie Haggas trains, and he's exactly the type of 'second tier' trainer that have done so well in the Epsom Oaks in recent years, and Dancing Rain will be ridden by 'Group One' Johnny Murtagh, no less.
You can view all of the latest odds right here on Geegeez now, either by clicking the link top right (just above the sign up box), or by clicking here.
Now then, I'm off to Edinburgh on business for a few days, so will not be posting on the Derby. I don't really fancy anything especially, though I do believe that the Dante form is moderate, and that Recital - with Fallon atop - will go close to winning.
I know as much about the French horse as you, maybe less, and if this isn't sacrilege, I can tell you that I'm quite unlikely to have a bet in the race. Frankly, there are far too many imponderables, and I don't have a view. There, I've said it! 😉
Finally, I'll be correlating all of your survey replies over the weekend, so there's still time to have your say, if you haven't already. My thanks to the 912 of you who have taken five minutes to help me help you, by telling me what you like (and don't like).
If you're not in the 912, and do find yourself with a couple of idle minutes, I'd very much love to get to the magic 1000 responses. That'd be a crystal clear indication of your collective thoughts.
You can add your voice here.
I will of course be sharing the salient points with you next week, when all this Derby hoo-ha is been and gone!
Thanks a million to all of you for generosity with your time, and I'll catch up with you next week. Until then, the very best of luck through the Epsom meeting - it should be a lot of fun (but not nearly so much fun as Royal Ascot a few weeks later!)
p.s. who do you like for the Oats and Barley... sorry, Oaks and Derby? Leave a comment below, and share your big race insights.