This weekend, Epsom Downs will welcome the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the absence of both Her Majesty, and his majesty. The former is a late scratch and we all hope and trust she is generally well; the latter, Lester Piggott - in whose honour the Derby will be run - passed just days before the 2022 renewal.
What follows is a slightly different take on a familiar theme: trends and tips for the Derby and Oaks. To wit, it seems reasonable to assert that the Oaks and Derby are parallel lines in terms of equine peer groups and, as such, any profiling considerations might be enhanced by combining the two datasets into a single cohort (group, if you prefer) and seeing what gives. Let's start with that...
Oaks and Derby Combined Trends
Looking at the past ten years gives us 20 individual races - ten Derby's and ten Oaks's - going back to the 2012 pair. Here are a few observations:
Aidan O'Brien 12 winners (25 win & place from 80 runners)
John Gosden 4 (10 w&p from 26)
Charlie Appleby 2 (4 w&p from 10)
Ralph Beckett/ Dermot Weld 1 each
This is hardly ground-breaking stuff but it does serve to underline what an elite club the Epsom Classics have become. Ralph Beckett won his second and most recent Oaks in 2013, since when only Dermot Weld - with Harzand in 2016 - has had the temerity to interlope the hegemony of Messrs. O'Brien, Gosden and Appleby.
Naturally, if I asked you to name three trainers who get the best horses, you'd name those three; nevertheless, their dominance is sobering.
Five winners of Epsom Classics since 2012 returned 13/8 or shorter and, at this stage, it looks quite possible that both the Oaks and Derby will have a market leader with that degree of public confidence behind it. The good news for those of us that typically like a bit more jam on our bread is that four jollies in this odds range were turned over, two of them at odds on and none bigger than 11/8.
Moreover, seven Oaks or Derby winners in the past decade returned 16/1 or longer, and fully 21 of the 60 placed horses returned at least 16/1: windmill tilters, welcome!
Galileo 8 winners (19 win & place from 57 runners)
Sea The Stars 2 (4 w&p from 14)
Frankel 2 (5 w&p from 13)
New Approach 2 (2 w&p from 7)
Fastnet Rock )
Nathaniel ) 1 each
Cape Cross )
Deep Impact )
Pour Moi )
Dubawi 0 from 11 (2 placed)
Galileo has sired 40% of the 20 Oaks and Derby winners since 2012. But that's not all. His progeny Frankel, New Approach and Nathaniel have collectively fathered five further Epsom Classic winners in that time. Aside from Galileo and his sons, only Sea The Stars, by Darley stallion Cape Cross, has more than one notch on the Epsom Classic winning post in the study period. And it gets even more one-sided when we consider the female blood lines...
There have been two winners each for progeny of mares sired by Kingmambo, Galileo, Danehill Dancer, and Sadler's Wells. This means that Galileo is at least 25% of the gene pool for three-quarters of the Derby and Oaks winners in the past decade. That's a quite astonishing fact, to my eye.
Race Class last time out
The breakdown of last day race class is as follows:
Group 1 6 winners (12 win & place from 38 runners)
Group 2 1 (8 w&p from 27)
Group 3 5 (12 w&p from 72)
Listed 7 (19 w&p from 88)
Other 1 (4 w&p from 18)
*this excludes horses who ran outside of UK and Ireland on their prior start
Those which ran in Group 1 company last time did so, unsurprisingly, in either the Newmarket or Curragh Guineas. Two of them won a Guineas, one was runner-up and two more finished third. Only Qualify, hopelessly outpaced at both Guineas venues before rattling home over the extra half mile at Epsom, was off a Guineas podium from this sextet.
There was a reasonably fair distribution of winners to representatives across other race classes, though the 27 to have contested a Group 2 last time probably under-performed a touch. Golden Horn, winner of the Dante in 2015, was the sole torch bearer for this group, a group that will have high hopes for Desert Crown, the 2022 Derby ante post favourite.
Placing last time out
Only the aforementioned Qualify was off the board on prior start, the full tale of that tape being thus:
1st 12 winners (31 win & place from 114)
2nd 4 (13 w&p from 47)
3rd 3 (6 w&p from 34)
4th 0 (7 w&p from 17)
It's hardly a shock that last day winners have scored again in an Oaks or Derby, but perhaps one might have expected more than 'just' 60% of Epsom Classic winners to come here off the back of a victory in their prep run. Thanks largely to the exploits of Raif's Talent (20/1, 2013 Oaks) and the wind-assisted Serpentine (25/1, 2020 Derby), last day winners actually came out marginally ahead at Betfair SP.
But there may be more to go at with those acquiring minor medals the last day. Of the seven Oaks and Derby winners since 2012 who were 2nd or 3rd last time out, six were 'staying on' (three in a Guineas, two never nearer at Chester, one in a Lingfield Trial). Only Was (20/1, 2012 Oaks) "kept on one pace" on her prior engagement.
Who doesn't love a good Epsom draw theory? (Rhetorical)
There is all sorts of hokum presented as unequivocal fact on this matter and, as with most 'facts' in racing, we need to be a little less certain and a little more open-minded. The reality with draw at most tracks and most trips is more nuanced than many will have you believe. What follows, then, is offered in that spirit of open-minded sharing: there are no hard conclusions, just a few data from which to infer and a few candidate inferences from yours true - take 'em or leave 'em.
Specifically in the Derby and Oaks since 2012:
Lowest 2 stalls: 2/40 (7 places)
Highest 2 stalls 1/40 (6 places)
That's not out of line with expectation.
But there is no reason that I can think of why a Derby or Oaks should differ from any other mile and a half race of similar field size at Epsom in draw bias terms. So, from 2012 until now, here are a few cuts of who emerged from where...
[In the images below, I'm showing PRB - percentage of rivals beaten - and PRB3, the average PRB of a stall and its immediate neighbours. This gives a more rounded perspective as every runner, bar tail end Charlies, gets a bit of a score]
8-12 runners, all going: definite advantage to high, possible edge to 'waited with early'
13+ runners, all going: no clear advantage, though low/middle on the lead may be compromised
Quicker ground (good or faster) 8+ runners: advantage to high
Slower ground (good to soft or softer) 8+ runners: no draw advantage, clear run style advantage for held up types
On this final visual, you may wonder why the chart kicks up at the high end and yet I've asserted no advantage. The reason is that there have been very few races on a soft surface with that volume of runners - see below. It is therefore hard to know if those solitary scorers from wide boxes were random outliers or more material. I personally favour the former conclusion or, more accurately, a position of agnosticism (I just don't know). Feel free to draw your own conclusions from the heat maps and charts above.
Profile round up: where does that leave us?
Some interesting - arguably, at least - snippets in the above, but how do we piece them together into a vague identikit winner's profile? And, more pertinently for us value seekers, how do we do it without landing on the glaringly apparent and, consequently, more miserly end of the potential return spectrum?
In general terms, we might look for a runner from one of the main three stables, offered at a bold price, quite possibly (though not definitely) with Galileo featuring somewhere in the first two generations of the pedigree, and maybe a horse beaten but in the frame last time whilst 'staying on'. Do such horses exist in this year's Oaks and/or Derby?
Oaks Profile Possibles
In the Oaks, there are several that fit: Nashwa, Tuesday, Concert Hall, and With The Moonlight most obviously - and that's assuming Emily Upjohn doesn't just go and win again (the eye was taken by the Musidora score, though I'm yet to be convinced by the substance of the form).
These are all "well found", in the vogue parlance, in the betting. A couple of darker fillies perhaps worth a second glance are Tranquil Lady and Moon De Vega.
Tranquil Lady is trained by an O'Brien, Joseph to be precise. She's a daughter of Australia, himself a son of Galileo (and out of Ouija Board, champion-making material right there); and is a half-sister to last week's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup third, State Of Rest. That one, by Starspangledbanner, was keeping on at the finish over 1m3f. This one, more stoutly bred on the paternal side, did her best work late when taking the Group 3 Blue Wind Stakes at Naas three weeks ago.
It's hard at this stage to know what she beat that day, but she was one of four horses priced 10/3 or shorter, the other trio all coming into the race unbeaten in either one or two starts. Tranquil Lady won by four easy lengths, but that's not all. As the result shows, her rivals were shouting "wait for me" from a fair way out: it is uncommon to see such margins between all runners in a small field race. The winner might just be under-rated.
More speculative again is Moon De Vega, trained by dual Oaks-winning trainer, Ralph 'Raif' Beckett. She is a lightly raced daughter of - you're ahead of me, aren't you? - Lope De Vega, out of an Azamour mare. Lope De Vega wouldn't be an obvious stamina influence, or so I thought, but Profiler tells me she has legit prospects of getting home:
Moon's mum, Lunesque, won at 1m3f and the Azamour damsire influence adds further ballast to this one's stamina case. The next question then is, is she remotely good enough? Well, Beckett knows this gig well enough and I thought the metaphorical hat of his Prosperous Voyage - staying on second in the 1000 Guineas - might have been thrown into the ring (in spite of a dubious pedigree for the task); so the fact he opted for MdV is a small positive to my eye.
Moon De Vega took her time to get the hang of the racing game last term: after two fluffed starts where she ran on with promise on both occasions, she made it third time lucky in a Donny maiden. On her sole 2022 spin, Moon De Vega was fourth in the Cheshire Oaks, earning the following in running comment:
The sectional chart illustrates this better. She's the darker green line:
See how she was making a stronger move than the winner, Thoughts Of June, before getting totally stopped in her run - actually having to take back off heels and swerve a filly cutting in front of her - and was finishing like she had plenty more to offer. Thoughts Of June, trained by Aidan O'Brien and a daughter of Galileo, also has a powerful profile in the context of this piece, but she controlled the pace at Chester and seemed all out at the finish. Still, she's 20/1 and will probably offer the proverbial bold sight in the early skirmishes.
Derby Profile Possibles
Meanwhile, in Saturday's Cazoo Derby (whichever genius came up with "Cazoo, yeah you can", I hope they were handsomely rewarded. Ahem), Desert Crown looks a highly credible heir apparent and, like Emily U the day before, may just be too good. But he's inexperienced and a heck of a skinny price for all that he's everyone's most likely winner.
The first five in the market as I write are either sons or grandsons of Galileo, with rising stars of the stallion ranks such as Ulysses (Piz Badile) linking up with more established producers like Teofilo (Nations Pride) and Nathaniel (Desert Crown). Stone Age and Changingoftheguard, as well as Star Of India, are all by Galileo himself, and then there's the Frankel's, Westover and Nahanni. Bloomin' 'eck!
It's a little harder than in the fillies' race to envisage a world in which one of those regally-bred equines towards the head of the market is not first past the post; but there may still be a tolerable return for a well-crafted risk/reward place play.
For all that I expect Ralph's Westover to take a large stride forward from his all out Sandown trial score, it still probably won't be enough. And, though Star Of India, winner of the Dee Stakes, is not bereft of a chance, it is a long time since Kris Kin (2003) and Oath (1999) did the Dee-Derby double for those legends of the game, Sir Michael and Sir Henry.
A horse I'm drawn to even though he may end up hopelessly outclassed is Eydon. As I mentioned when I flagged him up in this sectional Clock Watcher piece in January, he's by the uber-unfashionable sire, Olden Times, whose last noteworthy winners were in Cup races and trained by the late John Dunlop! Stay with me for a moment, though, because Eydon was fourth in the 2000 Guineas, a test surely on the rapid side for one of his breeding - as well as Olden Times, he's third generation Galileo as his damsire is Frankel. In fact, he was dropping back in trip for the Guineas having lagged up in the Feilden Stakes over nine furlongs the time before. His Guineas in running comment concluded, "kept on inside final furlong".
Trainer Roger Varian has yet to commit to the Derby despite giving Eydon a spin at the Breakfast with the Stars morning last Monday, insisting that the shorter Prix du Jockey Club is also under serious consideration. So, unless you can get the non runner money back concession, it's a hang fire for now job.
Both the Oaks and Derby markets are characterised by strong favourites bearing unblemished upwardly mobile credentials, and there might be a case to crash them together in a lazy double: there are plenty of less appealing 9/2 shots than that, and it at least offers a plausible saver against which to take a more ambitious swing.
In that spirit, I've backed Tranquil Lady at 14/1 and Moon De Vega at 33/1, both in the Oaks, each way for smallish (relative, always relative) stakes. And, as soon as yer man Roger gives the go ahead, I'll be lobbing the Derby Hail Mary in the direction of 33/1 Eydon, whose pedigree suggests his trainer ought to have more faith in his staying power (Mr V, naturally, knows more than thee, and way more than me, however). Of course, Eydon's price may shorten once his race target is known, but he'll surely still be 25/1 if lining up and could be longer on the morning of the race, depending on who stands firm on declaration day (Thursday).
Whatever you're backing, good luck and here's hoping for two exciting races on the helter-skelter Epsom cambers this weekend.