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Dettori and Moore set for ‘Tussle in the Turf’

Top Jocks - Dettori, Moore and O'Brien

Top Jocks - Dettori, Moore and O'Brien

Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori are regulars on the Breeders’ Cup Turf roll of honour.

Magician and Conduit did the trick for Moore, whilst Dettori struck with Daylami and Fantastic Light for Saeed bin Suroor before wins on the Meehan pair Red Rocks and Dangerous Midge.

The Italian is rejuvenated thanks in no small part to his association with John Gosden. The horse to put Frankie back in the limelight is of course Golden Horn. The jockey understandably loves the colt and is hopeful of ending the campaign on a high. Speaking recently he said: “He’s the sort of horse who thrives on his racing, he takes his races really well and I think he is getting better. He's very tough - most of the great ones are. He always has something to give.”

Brilliant in the Epsom Derby, Golden Horn was scintillating in the Arc, but conditions are likely to be less favourable at Keeneland. Gosden remained unfazed when saying yesterday: “It is soft, good to soft in places. We are in a period of hopefully 48 hours of dry weather. It will improve all the time. We are making it clear we plan to run.”

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A season spent asserting that the colt was at his best on a sound surface suggests that he will be vulnerable on Saturday. There’s every chance that Ryan Moore will be best placed to capitalize.

Back on track after spending much of the season on the side-lines, Moore is ‘top-dog’ for Coolmore and has several high profile rides during the Breeders’ Cup. Aidan O’Brien’s filly Found, will be one of his better chances of success. She’s high-class, though has endured a rather frustrating campaign.

Her second place to Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes gives her every chance in the ‘Turf’ especially if the favourite fails to run to form. Her last performance, when given plenty to do in the Qipco Champion Stakes confirmed her ability to challenge the colts at the very highest level.

Only two fillies have won the race since its inception in 1984, though O’Brien does have a good record with his three-year-olds. Son Joseph spoke yesterday of the filly, saying: “Found has handled a bit of juice in the ground before, so it mightn’t be as big a problem for her as for some of them. She takes her racing with a great attitude.”

Aside from the ‘Tussle in the Turf’, the two jocks have every chance of adding to their Breeders’ Cup winning tally. Both have mounts for Wesley Ward in the Turf Sprint, though Dettori has the plum ride on Undrafted. Moore then partners Legatissimo in the Filly & Mare Turf, whilst Frankie gets the leg-up on Miss France for Fabre.

Moore’s final ride is on Gleneagles in the Classic. He’s an intriguing challenger to the mighty American Pharoah. Untested competitively on dirt, and stepping up in trip for the first time, much appears to be against him. But this colt is a duel Guineas winner and O’Brien clearly holds him in the highest esteem.

Arguably two of the greatest jockeys in recent times are set for a thrilling weekend on the international stage. Their coming together is just one of numerous captivating Breeders’ Cup narratives.

Legatissimo looks to emulate Midday and Ouija Board

The stunning Legatissimo

The stunning Legatissimo

First run in 1999, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf has proved to be a fruitful event for European raiders.

Run over a trip of 10 furlongs, it appears to be a race that suits the European challengers. It was Andre Fabre who struck the first blow for Europe when sending Banks Hill to victory in 2001. The outstanding filly had won the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Ascot earlier in the summer, and proved simply sensational when slamming her opponents by half a dozen lengths at Belmont Park. She finished runner-up a year later to her stable companion Starine, when under the guidance of American trainer Robert Frankel.

Sir Michael Stoute has twice found success in the race with Islington and Dank. The former had finished third behind Starine and Banks Hill in 2002, but was to prove unstoppable a year later when getting up late to win by a neck. Dank also ran twice in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare, winning the race in 2013 before finishing fourth in last year’s renewal.

One of the great globetrotters was Ed Dunlop’s wonderful mare Ouija Board. She won the event in 2004 and 2006, and ran a close second in between. The Oaks winner was a truly exceptional racehorse, winning events at the highest level until her retirement through injury soon after the Breeders’ Cup success at Churchill Downs.

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With a very similar profile and outstanding level of ability, Sir Henry Cecil’s Midday carried the famous Khalid Abdullah silks to victory in the Filly & Mare Turf of 2009. She finished runner-up in the same race the following year before disappointing slightly when taking on the colts in the Breeders’ Cup Turf of 2011.

Of this year’s entrants Legatissimo certainly has the profile of an ideal candidate for success. A Guineas winner and Epsom Derby runner-up, this trip should prove ideal. Devastating in the Nassau Stakes, a race won by both Ouija Board and Midday, she was then just as impressive when stepped back in trip for the Matron Stakes. She’s rightly been installed as a strong favourite and has to have an outstanding chance.

Andre Fabre sends Miss France to post and she is certainly capable of a huge run. A delayed return to action due to a slight injury will see her arrive in Keeneland a fresh horse. Last year’s Guineas winner ran well in a Group 2 at Longchamp last time, and any horse trained by Fabre warrants the utmost respect.

Of the remaining Europeans, expect Secret Gesture to finish in the shake-up. You’ll find no bigger fan of trainer Ralph Beckett than yours truly. His talented mare was demoted to third by the stewards on her last visit to the States, and finished back in fifth in this race last year. She’s more than capable of going close again this time round.

Of the home team, last year’s runner-up Stephanie’s Kitten is a consistent performer at the highest level. Awarded second place at Arlington after Secret Gesture’s demotion, she has since won a Grade 1 at Belmont Park in testing conditions. She may well meet similar ground conditions this weekend, and looks sure to be in the mix.

It’s another intriguing renewal, with just the chance that we may witness an exceptional Irish trained filly winning in stunning fashion.

Top-class European action with Treve the Star of the Show

Wonder-Filly Treve

Wonder-Filly Treve

A truly stunning weekend lies ahead with high-class European racing from Longchamp, Leopardstown, the Curragh and Doncaster.

The English Derby winner Golden Horn will look to get his season back on track, when running in the Irish Champion Stakes. Yet again there has to be a slight worry over conditions with rain forecast to arrive overnight. Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle may well prove his sternest challenger with the weather likely to again scupper the mouth-watering clash with Gleneagles.

Over the channel the French Derby winner New Bay is set to step-up in trip for the Prix Niel. He faces a major test in the form of Grand Prix de Paris victor Erupt. Connections of both will be hoping the race proves a perfect prep with the Arc just around the corner.

The Irish St Leger takes place at the Curragh on Sunday along with a whole host of top-class juvenile events including the Moyglare and the National Stakes. Whilst at Doncaster on Saturday, the final English Classic takes place when a field of eight assemble for the Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes.

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But it’s at Longchamp on Sunday that the undoubted star of the show steps back on the track. The wonder-filly Treve runs in the Qatar Prix Vermeille as she continues her preparation towards a bid for an unprecedented third Arc victory in October. It was very much this same race last year that sowed a seed of doubt over Treve’s ability to add to her first Arc triumph. A lacklustre performance appeared to reveal a horse in decline. However, physical ailments were overcome, and when the big day arrived she once again dazzled.

Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek appears confident of her filly’s wellbeing, when recently saying: “three weeks ago she had a lot of energy when she went back on the turf for the first time and she pulled a lot. The time after that it was the same, she was very free. Today she was a lot more relaxed. It shows me she is getting stronger."

A victory on Sunday would of course be pleasing for connections, but the trainer will have her eyes firmly on that one date in October. Treve faces eight rivals this weekend including Golden Horn’s York conqueror Arabian Queen. David Elsworth will be hoping his filly can build on her stunning Juddmonte International success. Her ability to settle in the race will prove key to her performance.

Aidan O’Brien is represented by his Pretty Polly winner Diamondsandrubies. She flopped at Goodwood in the Nassau Stakes, but had previously beaten Legatissimo, Secret Gesture and Pleascach at the Curragh. She is clearly talented and capable of a huge run. The French three-year-old Candarliya has run up a series of wins and carries the famous Aga Khan silks. Successful three times from the last 10 renewals, the owner famously took the race in 2008 with the stunning filly Zarkava.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday, few will make the mistake of last year, in doubting the chances of Treve when they return for the Arc in October. It’s set to be a thrilling and highly informative few days.

Can Fireglow Dazzle at Goodwood?

Johnston's filly Fireglow

Johnston's filly Fireglow

Fireglow is set to light up the 888Sport Prestige Stakes at Goodwood on Saturday. Mark Johnston’s two-year-old filly has shown a high level of form in her four starts and was last seen chasing home Blue Bayou in the Sweet Solera Stakes at Newmarket.

The Prestige is a seven furlong Group 3 event for juvenile fillies and was first run in 1974. The race has gone the way of a number of classy types in its time. Nannina was successful in 2005 for trainer John Gosden and went on to win the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Newmarket a month later.

She competed at the highest level as a three-year-old, taking the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and following that with a second in the Falmouth Stakes. She then ran a cracker to finish a close third in the Nassau behind ‘super filly’ Ouija Board. She followed that performance with a fourth place finish in a thrilling Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. Her four-year-old campaign was no less impressive, thrashing a strong field in the Group 2 Windsor Forest Stakes, before finishing her career with a runners-up spot in the Sun Chariot at Newmarket.

In 2013 the Ed Dunlop trained Amazing Maria took the Prestige Stakes. Her three-year-old campaign may have proved disappointing, but we now know just how talented she is. Since arriving in the care of David O’Meara she has gone from strength to strength winning the Windsor Forest, Falmouth and Prix Rothschild in the space of two months. The powerful daughter of Mastercraftsman is now arguably the best filly in training. She is certainly dominant at a mile.

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Last season’s Prestige Stakes went to Mick Channon and his filly Malabar. She also proved to be extremely talented, following her Goodwood success with a prominent finish in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at The Curragh. She started this season with a fourth place finish in the 1,000 Guineas behind Legatissimo and returned to Goodwood last month to win the Group 3 Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes in impressive fashion.

Such a roll of honour demonstrates the pedigree of the Prestige Stakes, a race appropriately named. Along with Fireglow, the race has attracted a competitive looking field. Channon goes for back to back victories with his recent Newbury winner Epsom Icon. She defeated a Mark Johnston filly Dessertoflife in that listed event; form that ties in closely with that of Fireglow.

The Richard Hannon trained Light Up Our World is a daughter of this summer’s standout sire Zoffany, and though this appears quite a step-up for the filly, her debut defeat to Marenko now looks to be decent form. Marenko went on to chase home Fireglow and Blue Bayou at Newmarket before finishing a neck second in a Group 3 in Deauville last weekend.

Hannon also saddles Belvoir Bay, a filly who won at the track in July. She looks progressive and is stepping up to seven furlongs for the first time. Hugo Palmer has had a sensational season and runs Hawksmoor in this. She was behind Fireglow in that race at Newmarket, but wasn’t beaten far. A daughter of Azamour out of a Danehill Dancer mare, she may well find conditions to her liking, and could run a huge race.

It’s yet another intriguing renewal, with the potential of revealing a seriously talented winner. This summer’s juvenile fillies look an impressive group, and the form of the likes of Illuminate and Besharah has worked out again and again. Fireglow brings the strongest form to the race, but this Prestige Stakes will take some winning.

Arabian Queen strikes a blow for the ‘Fairer Sex’

Arabian Queen defeats Golden Horn

Arabian Queen defeats Golden Horn

Just how soft was the ground at York yesterday? John Gosden called it ‘dead’ and Aidan O’Brien deemed it testing enough to take out his dual Guineas hero Gleneagles. Yet the shock winner’s finishing time matched that of 2014 winner Australia and was less than a second slower than Frankel posted in 2012.

Arabian Queen is clearly a talented filly. She improved for a step up in trip when chasing home Legatissimo in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. Prior to that she had finished behind Ervedya at Royal Ascot and failed to settle when last to Amazing Maria in the Falmouth; both races at a mile. Yesterday she was able to settle far better; ironically after taking a lead from Golden Horn’s pacemaker.

Dettori settled the favourite in third, just a couple of lengths behind the filly. Turning in, De Sousa made his move on Arabian Queen and stretched that gap to around three lengths. Golden Horn had to be bustled along to gain, but by the furlong pole looked to be getting on top. However, David Elsworth’s diminutive charge found more, delivering one of the greatest upsets in the races’ history.

Gosden stuck to the ‘dead ground’ line after the race, saying: “Frankie just felt that he was hard to settle the first six. He didn't run in the King George obviously and was a very fresh horse since the Eclipse and he's rather gassed himself out in the ground. He's gone in front of the filly and then just tired in what is dead ground. There's no doubt he's a much better horse on fast ground as we know which he has always run on.”

Chances are that Golden Horn was a little fresh early in the race, but he still pulled clear of The Grey Gatsby, beating him by the same distance as in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. Connections clearly favour fast ground for the Derby winner, but this obviously restricts his options going forward. The likelihood of him traveling to Paris in October now appears incredibly slim.

The result also questions the positioning of the colts against the fillies and mares. Arabian Queen had been swept aside by Legatissimo at Goodwood. Surely David Wachman’s filly would have gone close in yesterday’s showpiece. She could well be the best mile a quarter horse out there, though the chances of us finding out may rest with her participation in the Irish Champion Stakes in September. Sadly the Matron Stakes on the same card at Leopardstown looks the more likely target.

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In France at the weekend Esoterique struck another blow for the female of the species. She proved too strong for stable companion Territories in testing conditions at Deauville. She’d previously chased home Muhaarar over an inadequate six furlongs and prior to that got within a length of probably this season’s best miler, Solow.

Yet she looks some way off the outstanding Amazing Maria, who has been blazing the trail at a mile during the summer, with Group 1 wins in the Falmouth at Newmarket and the Prix Rothschild Stakes at Deauville. She has looked more than capable of putting it up to the colts should connections take the plunge.

Golden Horn’s defeat yesterday also raises doubts over Jack Hobbs’ prospects of launching a serious challenge in the Arc come October. He has been thumped twice by his stable companion and though he appears to have scope for further improvement, he’ll probably need to progress past his Epsom Derby conqueror if he is to have any chance of defeating the outstanding European mare, Treve.

Today it’s the turn of Covert Love to test her credentials as a potential star filly, when she takes on her own sex in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks. The winner of the Irish Oaks has progressed dramatically through the campaign, and a dominant performance today could see her thrust into the mix for the major end of season middle-distance events.

Trainer Hugo Palmer is clearly pleased with her progress since that Curragh success, saying: “She has been great since the Irish Oaks – I’m absolutely delighted with her. The strong pace in Ireland suited her but she has made her own running and is very amenable – we have never had to think too much about how she’s going to be ridden. Up until now a different jockey has ridden her in every race, and none of them have done anything wrong, but Pat (Smullen) is the man that has won a Group 1 on her so he keeps the ride.”

Of course the fillies and mares have their own schedule of Group 1 races to aim at, including on Champions Day at Ascot in October. But the Arc has gone the way of the ‘fairer sex’ in five of the last seven renewals, and a trip to Paris could become a very tempting proposition.

Golden Horn’s defeat in yesterday’s Juddmonte was a major shock, despite doubts over ground conditions. However, connections of Arabian Queen should be applauded for taking a plunge. The result once again proved that the girls are more than capable of downing the boys at the highest level. Let’s hope the result sparks an end of season ‘clash of the sexes’.

Such encounters could prove to be ‘clashes’ worth waiting for.

A Tale Of Two Fillies – Legatissimo and the truly Amazing Maria

 

O'Meara's Amazing Maria

O'Meara's Amazing Maria

It was a tale of two fillies this weekend with thundering performances from Legatissimo and the truly Amazing Maria.

The latter continued her meteoric rise with another stunning Group 1 success. This time she travelled to France to defeat the French guineas winner Ervedya in the Prix Rothschild. Much has been spoken and written of the skills of trainer David O’Meara, and the return to form of this four-year-old since arriving in his care has been quite incredible.

Her victory in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot was seen as an upset and many thought it unlikely that she would follow up in the Falmouth at Newmarket. However she was just as impressive when powering clear in that Group 1 and this latest win underlines her status as this season’s leading filly at a mile.

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“She looked like she won pretty comfortably today. She is very versatile,” O'Meara said. “At Ascot we sat her in last and at Newmarket they had been winning from the front all week so James [Doyle] made sure he got a nice close position. Today there was no real plan going out. Olivier knows Deauville much better than me. I've never had a runner here before. I just told him to go out and try and win.”

The Sun Chariot back at Newmarket or maybe the QEII at Ascot on Champions Day could be potential targets for this daughter of Mastercraftsman. A clash with the colts could prove a fitting end to her season, and few would argue that she has the class and the physical presence to be more than a match for the boys.

A possible challenger for those ‘end of season’ events is David Wachman’s Nassau Stakes winner Legatissimo. She stormed to a stunning success on Saturday; making it two from four in Group 1’s this summer. The three-year-old is versatile as regards trip, though the Oaks appeared just beyond her range when she was chinned on the line by Aidan O’Brien’s Qualify.

It’s likely that a mile and a quarter is now ideal, but she dazzled when winning the guineas back in May, beating a decent yardstick in Lucida. Her acceleration on Saturday was a major factor in her success. She travelled with such ease through the race before jockey Wayne Lordan decided the time was right to make a move. “She's a very high-class filly and when I asked her to quicken she quickened up well, said Lordan. “She has everything.”

A return to Newmarket for the Sun Chariot and a likely clash with Amazing Maria, is a mouth-watering prospect. However, chances are that she will continue at 10 furlongs with a trip to York for the Juddmonte International Stakes now on the cards. She also holds an entry in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September, along with the Matron Stakes back at a mile on the same card. How she performs in the Juddmonte will be key to the rest of her season.

The summer’s two outstanding fillies may well take separate paths and a thrilling clash may never materialize. Their performances so far this season, mark them down as leading contenders in whichever Group 1’s come next.

Younger Fillies Set To Thrill In Nassau

Nassau Heroine Midday

Nassau Heroine Midday

The Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes is the feature on Saturday’s Glorious Goodwood card. Open to fillies and mares and worth a staggering £340,260 to the winner, the race is run over a trip of just under a mile and two furlongs.

Established in 1840 the event was originally open to three-year-old fillies. It was later expanded to incorporate fillies and mares at three and over. In 1999 the race attained Group 1 status, and it will come as no surprise to learn that Sir Henry Cecil is the event’s most successful trainer. His total of eight wins is thanks largely to the considerable talent of the wonderful mare Midday.

She was a very special horse, capable of taking on the very best on an international stage. A winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2009, she proved exceptional over a mile and a quarter. First or second in 13 of her 18 career races, she captured six Group 1’s and was runner-up to the colts in both the Coronation Cup at Epsom and the Juddmonte International at York. She was pure class.

Back in 2006 another outstanding mare took the Nassau. Ouija Board was similarly adept at taking on the very best on a global scale. Like Midday, she also won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare, and was also capable of challenging the very best colts. She got within a neck of Dylan Thomas in a thrilling Irish Champion Stakes back in 2006. And at Royal Ascot in the same season she produced arguably her greatest performance when winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.

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John Gosden has sent out the last three winners of the Nassau including the incredibly gifted The Fugue. Another globe-trotting superstar, she was also tried at the highest level. Particularly devastating on a fast surface, she also won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the royal meeting, defeating the Arc heroine Treve in the process. She also won an Irish Champion Stakes when defeating Roger Charlton’s colt Al Kazeem.

These brilliant mares highlight just how prestigious a race the Nassau Stakes has become.

This year’s renewal has a strong three-year-old contingent including Legatissimo, who took the 1,000 Guineas before finishing runner-up in the Epsom Oaks. She renews rivalry with Diamondsandrubies, who just got the better of their thrilling tussle in the Pretty Polly Stakes. David Wachman’s filly looked a little unfortunate in running on that occasion, though the same can be said for O’Brien’s charge when they met at Epsom. They look very closely matched and it would come as no surprise to see them neck and neck approaching the finish once again.

The Ballydoyle trainer also has Wedding Vow entered. She took a huge step forward when winning a Group 2 at the Curragh last time. She’d also looked unlucky when hampered at Royal Ascot in the Ribblesdale Stakes back in June. This trip could prove ideal for the Galileo filly.

In his hunt for four in a row Gosden sends Star Of Seville in to battle. She was well fancied at Epsom in the Oaks, but was yet another that incurred a rough passage during the race. She bounced back with a cracking victory in the Group 1 French Oaks at Chantilly. She’s clearly a classy filly and her trainer is having a sensational summer. Her sire Duke Of Marmalade had a double at the meeting yesterday with wins for Big Orange and Simple Verse.

A lack of quality older mares is a slight disappointment, but Saturday’s Nassau has enough outstanding three-year-olds to compensate. It looks a terrific renewal and a fitting showpiece for the final day of a glorious week at Goodwood.

 

The Epsom Oaks – Who’ll be Top Of The Class?

Sir Henry - King of The Oaks

Sir Henry - King of The Oaks

It’s the turn of the fillies today as Epsom stages the Oaks. Established in 1779 and named after an estate leased to the 12th Earl of Derby, the first race went to Lord Derby’s own filly Bridget.

In the 1980’s and 90’s the race was dominated by the late Sir Henry Cecil. He trained the winner of the Oaks on eight occasions, his last success coming in 2007 when the beautifully bred Light Shift defeated Aiden O’Brien’s top-class filly Peeping Fawn in an absolute cracker. Ted Durcan gave the winner a terrific ride. Always well placed he booted for home just inside the three furlong pole. The move probably proved decisive, and though the runner-up closely menacingly, she was unable to overhaul the winner.

It comes as no surprise that Northern Dancer could again be traced through Light Shift’s pedigree, as was Kingmambo and Shirley Heights. Classy breeding producing a Classic winner is a recurring theme throughout Oaks winners, as it is with the colts in the Derby.

In recent years Ralph Beckett has proved a slightly surprising master at producing classic winning fillies. Look Here in 2008 and then Talent in 2013 were both relatively overlooked, yet both ran-out comfortable winners. They were certainly bred for the job. Talent was the daughter of Derby winner New Approach, and was from a dam of the Arc winner Peintre Celebre. Look Here had Arc winning Rainbow Quest in her pedigree and on the sire’s side of the family the stunning American stallion Miswaki. (More on him in future posts)

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Of course Aiden O’Brien is never far away when the classic prizes are up for grabs. 2001, 2006 and 2012 were the three Oaks winning years thus far in the 21st century. The rather awkwardly named Was, was his last winner. Was was again a beautifully bred filly. A product of the phenomenal Galileo out of a Green Desert mare, and owned by Messrs’ Smith, Magnier and Tabor, she is a full sister to this year’s French entrant Al Naamah. Based on pedigree, Fabre’s filly is still available at a generous looking 14/1.

This year’s renewal looks a pretty open affair, as is often the case in the Oaks. 20/1 shots won from 2011 to 2013 and prior to that winners at 33/1 and 25/1 took the event in 2007 and 2008. Plenty of today’s contenders have the form to win, but who has the class?

Diamondsandrubies certainly has a pedigree stacked with Coolmore’s finest, and as such has to be considered as a possible winner. Jack Naylor ran a cracker on her seasonal renewal and is touted as a serious contender. She is the daughter of Champs Elysees, a stallion yet to hit the big time, though a distant relative to ‘good old’ Northern Dancer. On her dam’s side we also have the mighty Nashwan.

Race favourite Legatissimo is from a Montjeu mare and on Dad’s side the spectre of Northern Dancer again rears his classy head. And what of O’Brien’s Together Forever? She is sired by Galileo with ‘you know who’ down Mum’s side of the family.

The quality of this Oaks field is not to be underestimated, as is the case in virtually all classics. By their very nature, these races attract the very best of the best. Today’s gathering is certainly no exception, and the winner is sure to be ‘one classy lady’.

Flat Season Q1 Review: Girls On Top…

Anthem one to follow in Q2 of the flat season

Anthem one to follow in Q2 of the flat season?

Quarter Season Review: Taking the Temperature of the Flat Season

It depends who you listen to of course, writes Tony Keenan, but general murmurings suggest it has been a tepid start to the flat season, its first two months prompting more mehs than yeahs.

There might be some gender bias at play there as while we lack a great white colt just yet – Gleneagles has staked early claims to that status while the Derby and/or Royal Ascot could throw something up – we might have a golden crop of Irish fillies that have yet to receive the credit they deserve.

There were signs of this last year as Irish juveniles won races like the May Hill, Rockfel, Fillies’ Mile and Prix Marcel Boussac, but Timeform’s end-of-season ratings suggested little out of the ordinary. Of their top 100 juveniles, eight were fillies trained in Ireland which was in line with previous seasons, there being seven, six and eight such fillies in each of 2013, 2012 and 2011. Not exactly the signpost of something out of the ordinary, then.

Let’s take a quick run-through of those eight top fillies from last year and their Timeform ratings:

  • Anthem Alexander – 116p
  • Found – 115p
  • Lucida – 112
  • Raydara – 110p
  • Together Forever – 108
  • Agnes Stewart – 107
  • Jack Naylor – 104
  • Qualify – 104

Their achievements so far as three-year-olds have been impressive. Anthem Alexander won more than the margin suggests at Naas on Monday, ridden with the next day in mind and goes to the Commonwealth Cup with a leading chance. Found has been a shade disappointing but only in the sense that she was a winter Guineas favourite that failed to land a classic, arguably unlucky in the Curragh equivalent. Lucida was a close second at Newmarket. Raydara was eleventh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on her seasonal debut but was found to be in season. Together Forever emerged the best filly at the weights in the Musidora while her immediate victim in the Fillies’ Mile Agnes Stewart hasn’t run since. Jack Naylor was a huge sectional eye-catcher on her Curragh return while Qualify has been a disaster.

But as substantial as those achievements have been, it’s the fillies that didn’t make the list that really jump out, namely Legatissimo and Pleascach, the 1,000 Guineas winners that won no more than maidens last year. This is the depth of the crop and one of the most interesting features is how the ten top fillies (the eight listed above plus the two classic winners) are spread across a variety of trainers; Aidan O’Brien has three, Jim Bolger and Eddie Lynam two, one each for Jessica Harrington (who also has Bocca Baciata), David Wachman and Mick Halford.

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This means that these fillies must clash which is good for racing. This is no Willie Mullins situation where his top mares like Quevega and Annie Power swerve tough competition to retain unbeaten records at odds that turn punters off. Instead these fillies take each other on and likely will continue to do so through 2015 which will provide more watchable racing and I fully expect them to dominate the older generation of mares.

Already this season we have had Lucida vs. Legatissimo in the English Guineas and Found vs. Pleascach vs. Jack Naylor vs. Raydara in the Irish Guineas amongst others with the prospect of Legatissimo vs. Jack Naylor vs. Together Forever in the Oaks to come. Perming the Irish fillies in forecasts and tricasts for that race may not be a bad idea.

And so to the Irish – essentially the Ballydoyle – colts; do I really have to write about this lot? In fairness to Gleneagles, he has been everything hoped for and more, putting up a big figure at Newmarket before overcoming adversity up the Curragh. Highland Reel was better last time but everything else has been a mess.

At the end of 2014, Aidan O’Brien had ten colts rated 110 or higher by Timeform and an absolute stranglehold on the Epsom Derby judging by betting markets, the bar set high even by his standards. Now he has a pair of workmanlike trial winners in Hans Holbein and Kilimanjaro along with Giovanni Canaletto, a horse that seems more hype and head carriage than anything else.

After a series of disappointing trial results, there were rumours that Gleneagles and/or Found could go for the Derby, the Coolmore partners seemingly driven by Federico Tesio’s famous words about the Epsom winning posts or similar such thinking. An outbreak of sanity eventually took hold and in the words of the song, they knew when to ‘fold ‘em.’

There was little point in risking a speedy miler in a race that could ruin him and Gleneagles can do plenty to burnish his stallion prospects around the trip he competes over now while the filly Found, for all that she comes from a hot crop, simply didn’t do enough on her last start to suggest she was up to winning a Derby. Though money has come recently for Giovanni Canaletto that seems more to do with Ryan Moore taking the ride than any meaningful chance he has in the race and O’Brien seems to have written off the Derby for 2015. Unless some freak renewal occurs – not impossible but unlikely – this year’s Derby looks set to be a Leger trialling ground for Ballydoyle. Given the context, that seems eminently sensible.

I had planned on concluding with this piece by mentioning a few trainers that have started the season on the cold list but the last two weeks have been kind to Eddie Lynam (four winners since May 22nd including a double at Naas on Monday) and Andy Oliver (a pair of winners in the last seven days); the form of the Lynam yard is particularly notable with Royal Ascot on the horizon.

It might instead be worth pointing out a trainer that is not so much on the cold list – he is having winners – but who on the decline, one that may be terminal, and this is something that makes me sad as it is John Oxx. Oxx has had six winners this current flat season – four maidens and two handicaps – and only one of those came at a track (Leopardstown) that could be described as a premier venue; the others came at Navan, Limerick, Fairyhouse and Sligo (twice).

He has had just one runner in a Listed or Group race in 2015 and looking at the numbers since the start of 2013 that isn’t the greatest surprise: from that year through to present, he is 4/62 in Listed and Group races in Ireland, a strikerate of 6.4%, having been 98/612 (strikerate of 16%) in the previous decade. The move of the Aga Khan horses away from Oxx – arguably through no fault of his own – has had a massive effect on the trainer’s numbers and while there were rumours of the green and red silks being back at Curraghbeg, there have been no such signs lately, the last Oxx/Aga Khan runner being Kadayma at Dundalk last November. Sad times indeed.

- Tony Keenan

2015 Oaks Preview, Trends, Tips, Pace

Can O'Brien add to his four Oaks wins?

Can O'Brien add to his four Oaks wins?

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:

2015 Investec Oaks Pace Profile

2015 Investec Oaks Pace Profile

 

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.

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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)