Monday Musings: Epsom Wonders

Friday morning 6 a.m. and I was keeping one of an increasing number of early-morning assignments with my good friend Steve Gilbey, long-term right-hand man of Raymond Tooth, writes Tony Stafford. He habitually – for Steve is very much a man of routine – starts his morning at crack of dawn at the North Audley Street, Mayfair, Grosvenor’s Café just along the road from Selfridge’s.

His first unofficial action is to help the early-morning setting out on the generous pavement of nine round tables and 36 chairs, using his boxing and security-man strength to speed up the operation.

But as we approached on Friday, there was a difference. A nicely-tanned, fit-looking gentleman came towards us, beaming at Steve, interrupting his own initialising that first task of the day at the café.

“How are you, my friend?” he asked. Steve had often mentioned the owner over the years but only on our previous visit the week before to my enquiry, said: “No, it’s been ages since I’ve seen him; he’s been stuck in South Africa because of Covid”.

So here we were on the morning of the Oaks and I was being introduced to the café owner, Mr Bernard Kantor. It wasn’t exactly a year before, more like eleven months, that Mr Kantor was standing alongside The Queen on the presentation dais for the Investec Derby as she gave the trophy to the Coolmore partners of shock winner Serpentine.

Co-founder and long-term managing director of the bank which had for ten years sponsored the entire Derby meeting, he had since retired upon reaching the age of 70 – you would guess ten years less when you see him.

So here was a highly-successful man actually enjoying the physical release of helping his bijou business – “I love it, it is so old school”, he says – start its day.

We had a pleasant chat, as racing people usually do, with the news that he had already been speaking to his trainer William Haggas and expected a call from him before we left after our toast and in my case some very tasty bacon in between.

As we went out, he thrust a napkin with an email address and imparted the news that Sans Pretention was fancied for the 3.00 race at Catterick that afternoon. When I got a chance to look up the race I discovered not only was the Haggas-trained three-year-old a daughter of Galileo but that she was owned and bred by a certain Bernard Kantor.

Naturally she won and this went along as just another of the ridiculously-fortuitous encounters I have experienced in my long life – even longer than the man who sponsored the Derby and who in 2018 dreamt on the morning of the race he might be winning it himself.

Haggas-trained Young Rascal, a son of Intello, had just come out on top in the Chester Vase, beating Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee, but at Epsom while Dee Ex Bee filled the same position behind Masar, Young Rascal was back in seventh.

He won two more Group 3 races, both at Newbury, and a Kempton Listed to make his career tally five wins from ten starts and then he was passed on to Australian interests to continue his career.  There is clearly a strong bond between owner and trainer and Kantor describes Lester Piggott’s son-in-law as “the perfect gentleman, someone who brings great credit to his profession and to racing”.

Obviously, there was little time to sample the benefit of the experiences of a man whose husbandry of his company even though he had basically lived in London for almost a quarter of a century, maintained its South African roots, always with the theme of inclusiveness of the entire population of his homeland.

But he did offer one nice moment. One year as they were erecting the presentation platform for the Derby, one of his staff showed him the three steps he had sourced up which the monarch would climb to reach the presentation area.

“I said, “can you get two taller steps?” and he asked me why. “Wait and see”, I told him. “So when the Queen came to the top step of two I had to bend down to reach her hand to help her up. As I did, right behind me a massive banner depicting “Investec” came into view. I thought he knew why then”, said Bernard.

By the way, I can’t wait to go back and try to get in between the two powerful senior citizens at least to take a couple of chairs out and next Tuesday is already in my diary.  As I said, the bacon is delicious and so too are the lunches according to Steve. Grosvenor’s is open until five p.m. so if you want to sit in the sunshine just up the road from Selfridge’s, and sample “the life” I can heartily recommend it.


Ten hours after we left the café, a filly won the Cazoo Oaks by six lengths more than Shergar had won the Derby; four more than St Jovite’s margin in his Irish Derby and only second in terms of a Classic-winning distance in an attributed leading racing nation to Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes.

Big Red, though, was unbackable and faced only four vastly-inferior non-staying opponents already worn out by taking him on in the Derby and Preakness. Snowfall wasn’t even her stable’s first choice, that distinction going to beaten 1,000 Guineas favourite, Santa Barbara.

Two starts before the Oaks, Snowfall had finished eighth at 50-1, beating only two home in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket although if you have another look at the race you will hear the commentator calling her a close third in her pink cap.

But that was the day the caps between her and better-fancied stable-companion Mother Earth were inadvertently switched, so the white cap, intended for Mother Earth ended on Snowfall who was just hunted up once victory was out of the question.

The Aidan O’Brien team were given a disciplinary sanction for the mix-up but events for the two fillies in 2021 have been ample compensation. Mother Earth, ridden by Frankie Dettori as Ryan Moore partnered the much-lauded favourite Santa Barbara, won the 1,000 Guineas and on Friday, Snowfall, also with Dettori as Moore was again more-or-less obliged to stay with the now Oaks favourite but Santa Barbara never held up much hope as Dettori landed on his feet on an O’Brien Group 1 winner.

There was a race in between the 50-1 no-show and the best Oaks winner of all the years I’ve been watching racing and probably any in the previous two centuries. That was the Musidora when Moore made all the running on the 14-1 shot and just when it looked as though the better-fancied challengers would be coming to get her at the end of the ten and a bit furlongs she opened out again. Most observers on the day thought she might struggle to repeat it at Epsom.

I mentioned last week that O’Brien horses could suddenly make massive strides from two to three. Already up from an official 90 after the Fillies’ Mile, she was raised to 108 after York and with the look from that race and in her pedigree that stamina would not be a problem, she had to come into the Oaks argument.

But this was not an argument. Projecting the late York surge away from the trio that were chasing her at York another almost two furlongs on a more testing track and on rain-drenched ground clearly produced extra dimensions of superiority.

In the last furlong and a half, perfectly in tune with his filly, once Dettori grabbed the stands rails with a little tickle to the long-term leader Mystery Angel, the margin stretched exponentially. As with Secretariat who, once his far-inferior rivals were stone cold, put in an exhibition for the Belmont Park crowd, so did Snowfall in leafy Surrey.

If the Epsom finish line had been another furlong on, 30 lengths would have been a realistic margin. How Snowfall can lose the Arc off bottom weight with all the allowances against her elders and male opponents is hard to imagine. I wonder how daring Dominic Gardner-Hill will be in rating her after this?

We all expected, especially once Aidan removed his other five acceptors from the path of favourite Bolshoi Ballet, his own ninth Derby to go with the same record number of Oaks (Oakses? Ed.) looked almost a case of going down and coming back.

But while that can happen occasionally in a Derby, there are always potential pitfalls. Afterwards everyone was musing on why the favourite had so clearly under-performed. It was only as the generous praise for hard-working Adam Kirby, winner on Charlie Appleby’s well-deserved second score in the race with strong staying Adayar, that Aidan O’Brien was tweeting a ghastly-looking wound on the favourite’s off-hind leg where he had been struck into in the early scrimmaging.

Hopefully he can be brought back to full health to challenge Adayar later in the season, though maybe their future diverging distance requirements might make that unlikely.

Not 24 hours later, with last year’s Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica annexing the Prix Du Jockey Club yesterday in such emphatic fashion to add to his earlier French 2000 Guineas success, Coolmore and O’Brien instantly re-established themselves at the top of the three-year-old colts’ division, too. It all makes for an exciting year.

Adam Kirby is such a nice bloke. One day coming back from a race meeting up north, one of my tyres blew but luckily it was close to the services on the A14. I limped into the garage and luckily noticed Big Paulie, formerly Adam’s driver, who had just stopped to re-fuel.

Paulie looked into the car, spoke to a bare-chested and clearly sleepy passenger who hastily pulled on some clothes and came out to look with Paulie at the damage. Within minutes they had changed the tyre with minimal help from the driver and we were all on our way. As I reiterate, very nice bloke is Mr Kirby!

Godolphin’s second win in four years started an astonishing day, rounded off by Essential Quality, who made the Belmont Stakes – the third leg of the US Triple Crown – his sixth win in seven career starts.

Before yesterday, Essential Quality, a son of Tapit and, like Adayar a home-bred Godolphin colt, suffered that sole defeat when fourth to the controversial Medina Spirit, absent from the field last night and with his trainer Bob Baffert now under a two-year ban from having runners at Churchill Downs.

Even if Medina Spirit is disqualified, as seems inevitable after two positive drug tests, the latter in a laboratory Baffert chose to carry out the test, there is no prospect of Essential Quality being the beneficiary beyond being promoted to third. Had he won the Derby, I’m sure trainer Brad Cox would have run him back in the Preakness.

In any case it was a memorable weekend for Godolphin, but even if they win ten more Derbys and three US Triple Crowns, it will never wash away for me the memory of a horse and jockey in perfect synchronicity slicing up the last furlong in the biggest show of superiority I have ever witnessed in a championship Flat race.

Dettori left in awe of simply stunning Snowfall

Even Frankie Dettori was blown away after Snowfall produced a performance of rare dominance in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom.

It is fair to say the hugely popular Italian has been there, done it and got the T-shirt many times at this stage of his career, with this his 21st British Classic success – his first coming aboard Balanchine in this race some 27 years ago.

However, the 50-year-old was left struggling to recall a victory quite so emphatic after Snowfall devoured the rain-softened ground and left her toiling rivals trailing in her wake on the famous Downs – passing the post a staggering 16 lengths clear, a race record.

Frankie celebrates
Frankie celebrates (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“That was unbelievable,” said Dettori. “I had everything beat coming down Tattenham Corner completely. I got to the fence and she took off.

“I don’t think I’ve ridden a more impressive Classic winner. It was like an Arazi moment – it was her and the rest.

“It was a bit like playing cowboys and Indians – I was the cowboy with the gun! It was just like that.”

“I don’t remember the last time I won a race by 16 lengths.”

Snowfall had earned her shot at Oaks glory with a front-running victory in the Musidora Stakes at York just over three weeks ago, but was passed over on the big day by Ryan Moore in favour of stablemate Santa Barbara.

Just as he did when steering another Aidan O’Brien-trained supposed second-string to success in the in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last month in Mother Earth, Dettori proved a more than able deputy.

Ridden with the utmost confidence, the 11-2 winner moved ominously into contention before finding a gear very few possess to put the race to bed in a matter of strides.

It is a measure of just how impressed Dettori was with this display of raw power that he was moved to make comparisons with the brilliant mare Enable, whose victory in the 2017 Oaks launched one of the great careers that included 11 Group One triumphs.

He added: “The two question marks today were the ground and the distance, but she proved me wrong.

“The ground might have exaggerated the winning margin, but there was only one winner from the start.

“Enable was a superstar. She went on to win the King George and the Irish Oaks and the Arc (as a three-year-old).

“I wouldn’t put it past this filly – she’s that good.”

Flashback to 1994 and Frankie winning the Oaks with Balanchine
Flashback to 1994 and Frankie winning the Oaks with Balanchine (Sean Dempsey/PA)

Dettori’s appearances in the saddle might be relatively fleeting these days, but this victory provided yet more evidence that when it comes to the big occasion, he has no peers.

“Racing has been good to me. The Oaks was my first Classic however many years ago and I’m still talking to you, riding in the big races on the good horses, so I’ll take it – I’m very happy,” he said.

“I’ve equalled Fred Archer’s record (of Classics) with 21. I’m only nine behind Lester (Piggott) – I’m on my way!

“This season I think I’ve had seven winners including two Classics, a Chester Cup and a Group Three at Haydock.

“I ride for John (Gosden) and unfortunately we didn’t have any Classic runners this year and I was able to jump on a couple of the Coolmore team’s.

“I’m very lucky.”

Saffron Beach bidding to go one place better in Oaks

Saffron Beach gives Jane Chapple-Hyam strong claims of becoming the first woman to train the winner of the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom on Friday.

Unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, the daughter of New Bay was narrowly beaten on her return to action in the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket before performing best of the British when runner-up to Aidan O’Brien’s Mother Earth in the 1000 Guineas.

While a tilt at the Irish Guineas was considered, connections ultimately decided to step up half a mile in distance for a second tilt at Classic glory following a pleasing racecourse gallop at Epsom last week.

Saffron Beach (left) at Epsom last week
Saffron Beach (left) at Epsom last week (Adam Davy/PA)

Chapple-Hyam said: “The race and the other horses won’t bother her – it will be the crowds as she has never seen a crowd.

“I will probably put a red hood on her until the start, just because she hasn’t seen a crowd. The way to dot the I’s and cross the T’s is to keep the lid on her as she is strong to lead up.

“It is a big thrill to be part of this, so let’s hope we can go there and do the best.”

Another leading lady of the Flat out to claim a slice of history is Hollie Doyle.

The record-breaking jockey will be riding in the race for the first time aboard Archie Watson’s Lingfield Oaks Trial winner Sherbet Lemon.

“We always knew she wanted a trip as she is by Lemon Drop Kid and is out of Famous, who was pretty decent herself, so we knew she was going to have the quality,” said Doyle.

“They had things their own way up front at Lingfield, which was a big help to her being able to do everything in her own rhythm coming down that hill. Whether she will be able to dictate like that around Epsom, I’m not so sure, but we will see.

“She has been around Lingfield and she handled that OK, despite being a bit green – I don’t see Epsom being a massive problem.

“There are a few that you would have doubts about stamina, but Sherbet Lemon does everything right to ensure she gets it. She settles and she travels – I can’t knock her.”

Roger Varian possesses a strong hand, with market principals Teona and Zeyaadah joined by outsider Save A Forest.

Teona was far too keen to do herself justice when strongly fancied for the Musidora Stakes at York, so it testament to her latent ability that she still managed to finish third.

Varian said: “We take the positives out of the Musidora run. These are trials at the end of the day and if you’re going to get things wrong it’s better to do it in the trial than on the big day.

“I think she’s extremely talented and I hope that on the day she won’t make the sort of juvenile mistakes she made at York.”

Zeyaadah lost her unbeaten record when runner-up to Mark Johnston’s Dubai Fountain in the Cheshire Oaks, having endured a troubled passage.

Zeyaadah (left) and Dubai Fountain fought out the finish to the Cheshire Oaks
Zeyaadah (left) and Dubai Fountain fought out the finish to the Cheshire Oaks (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Save A Forest, meanwhile, finished runner-up to Sherbet Lemon at Lingfield.

“I hope she (Zeyaadah) will stay. I suppose she’s not guaranteed to on pedigree, but her running style should give her a chance and she slugged out a Montrose Stakes last year in the style of a filly who we think should stay a mile and a half,” Varian added.

“There’s definitely a bit (of improvement) in the locker. She took an age to come to herself this spring and I only really got happy with her about a fortnight before Chester.

“I’m very happy with Save A Forest’s condition and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her run a nice race.”

Also in the mix is Hugo Palmer’s Lingfield third Ocean Road, who was another to enjoy a gallop at Epsom last week.

Ocean Road and jockey Oisin Murphy at Epsom
Ocean Road and jockey Oisin Murphy at Epsom (Adam Davy/PA)

Palmer said: “She is an utterly beautiful filly to look at. She is exceptionally balanced and has beautiful depth.

“She is a half-sister to a dual Group One winner over a mile and a half in Wigmore Hall and she is by a Derby winner (Australia). When you have got all those things, you are dreaming right from the start.

“I’m always a glass half-full kind of person and I try to dream what is the best a horse can be, then we go to Plan B to Z after Plan A hasn’t worked!

“Oisin (Murphy) made his move early (at Lingfield) in the hope he would give the filly time to get there. She got there in four strides, which caught him by surprise.

“She rather used her winning kick on ground softer than ideal, then just didn’t quite get home, but I think she will stay very well.”

All eyes on Santa Barbara as O’Brien filly goes for Oaks gold

Aidan O’Brien is confident Santa Barbara has not yet reached the ceiling of her ability ahead of her second tilt at Classic glory in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom.

A half-sister to a pair of Breeders’ Cup winners in Iridessa and Order Of Australia, the daughter of Camelot made a big impression when winning on her racecourse debut at the Curragh in September.

Few could have envisaged at that stage she would go off joint-favourite for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on just her second career start, but unusually bullish reports of blistering workouts on the Ballydoyle gallops in the spring saw her price collapse.

Santa Barbara’s supporters were ultimately left counting their losses after the first fillies’ Classic of the season over the Rowley Mile, but she emerged with plenty of credit in finishing fourth and O’Brien has certainly not lost the faith.

O’Brien said: “Santa Barbara is very well. She came out of Newmarket like I hoped she would and everything has gone well since then with her.

“We trained her for Newmarket like it was her first run of the season and we had to be careful. This time we got to train her for a Classic.

“She did very well in Newmarket for a filly only having her second run. She was always very special in her work.

“She ran a big race and showed what she can do. When the ground is quick at Newmarket, it just makes it a little bit more tricky for horses with not a lot of experience. We were delighted with the way she travelled and she showed us the class that she shows us at home.

“It is a risk going into a Classic on only your second run, from a very easy run on softish ground at the Curragh to then go to Newmarket on fast ground. We were really delighted the way she came out of it.

“The Guineas is the Guineas, but you would imagine normal, natural improvement will come. She hasn’t shown us anything in her work to suggest otherwise.”

Snowfall (right) winning the Musidora Stakes at York
Snowfall (right) winning the Musidora Stakes at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Santa Barbara is just one of five runners for O’Brien, who has already won the Oaks on eight occasions.

Snowfall is another leading contender, having made a successful start to her campaign with a front-running victory in the Musidora Stakes at York. With Ryan Moore siding with Santa Barbara, Frankie Dettori comes in for the ride.

O’Brien added: “Snowfall is good. We always thought the world of her last year, which is why we campaigned her in such good races.

“She was probably a little bit weak, but she’s bred to be a Classic filly and is bred like a filly that could get the trip.

“She wintered very well and Ryan was delighted with her at York.”

Divinely, Willow and La Joconde complete the Ballydoyle quintet. Divinely only finished fourth in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, but has been a significant market mover this week.

“Divinely had a lovely run in Lingfield, probably a lot better than it looked. Ryan was over the moon with her. They went slow, which didn’t suit, but Ryan was delighted with her. Since then all the numbers on her work have been very good.

“All her figures from her works have been coming out very high – that’s usually a very good sign.

“Willow ran in Naas and we think she has progressed nicely. She progressed a lot from the first to Naas and we think she has progressed again.

“We always thought La Joconde was better than she has showed on the track. She hasn’t won her maiden yet, but has always worked a lot better than a maiden.

Monday Musings: New names in Epsom frame

There are Classic trials and Classic trials, but never before, I suggest, has there been a situation like that which leads into Friday’s Oaks, writes Tony Stafford.

I was about to trot out “Investec” as usual but checked and it’s now the Cazoo Oaks– yes, I wondered who they were too! There are 15 acceptors and it is possible to line up all bar one of them running in one of four races and all within a ten-day time-frame.

So there should be no excuse on whether the filly in question has trained on or indeed whether she will be fit. Only one of the 15 finished out of the first four – Martin Meade’s Technique, fancied for the Lingfield Oaks Trial but only seventh of eight behind the Archie Watson-trained 28-1 shot Sherbet Lemon.

Five of the eight that ran there, including runner-up Save A Forest, Ocean Road and Divinely reunite: the 1-2-3-4 that day are in the line-up.

There seemed only minimal evidence why the Aidan O’Brien filly Divinely should have attracted a gamble from an early last week’s 50-1 to one-fifth those odds, so a fraction of the 33-1 available about the first two home at Lingfield. But then she is a full-sister to Found, winner of a mere £5 million in prizemoney and a consistent improver throughout her three seasons’ racing.

Then again maybe a leaked whisper of a sensational Ballydoyle gallop might have had something to do with it. Anyway, the races in question in time order and in number of days before Friday start with the one-mile 1,000 Guineas (33) from which runner-up Saffron Beach and fourth home, the beaten Newmarket favourite Santa Barbara, come.

Three days later, the Cheshire Oaks at Chester, the race which first indicated Enable’s outstanding potential, revealed three more Oaks possibles and a more predictable outcome. The Mark Johnston filly Dubai Fountain, a daughter of Teofilo, beat Zeyaadah by a length with O’Brien’s La Joconde fourth in what was clearly a scouting mission for the girls back home.

Lingfield, which we dealt with above, was three days after Chester and the final link in the Classic chain came another four days on, so just over three weeks before the big race. The Musidora Stakes at York, run over slightly more than ten furlongs provided a surprise O’Brien winner in Snowfall, living up to the tradition of abrupt form progression from two to three for horses from that stable. The daughter of Deep Impact – do not worry, the dam is by Galileo – swamped the principals in that market leaving Noon Star, Teona and Mystery Angel to fill the places at a respectful distance.

The only outcast from those four tightly arranged and informative indeed series of races is Willow, the fifth and possibly on form the least feasible of the Coolmore contingent. She was third in a Naas Group 3 on Lingfield Oaks day and is, so far, winner of one race in five (a maiden), so normally just an also-ran.
But then you notice that the daughter of American Pharoah is out of Peeping Fawn who, at the time she ran in the 2007 Oaks, also just had one maiden victory from five career starts. She did not run at two but packed in five runs before the end of May, finishing a more than creditable third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Despite that she was a 20-1 shot for Epsom, hardly surprising as she was stretching out from a mile to a mile and a half and only five days after her third behind the brilliant Finsceal Beo. In the event she easily outperformed the trio of other O’Brien candidates when a half-length second to Sir Henry Cecil’s Light Shift with the stable number one All My Loving four lengths back in third.

For the rest of the summer Peeping Fawn was supreme in winning four Group 1 races in succession, the Pretty Polly, readily from the previous year’s 1,000 Guineas heroine Speciosa; the Irish Oaks, emphatically turning around Epsom form with Light Shift; the Nassau at Goodwood and then the Yorkshire Oaks, wrapping up her 10-race, five-win career in 144 days.

So if Willow does turn up on Friday I wouldn’t put you off having as my friend Prince Pippy always says – and I’m sure he’s missing going racing as much as me – a chip each-way on her.

It’s a very different Oaks this year with no Gosden, Charlie Appleby or Wiliam Haggas runner, but Roger Varian is upholding the Newmarket challenge with three contenders along with Sir Michael Stoute, veteran of many Classic triumphs over the past 50 years and Hugo Palmer, a 2,000 Guineas winner with Galileo Gold (ironically not by Galileo, but with him as the broodmare sire) and now proud progenitor of two winners from his first crop including Listed winner Ebro River, hero of the National Stakes at Sandown for Palmer last week.

The Oaks would already have fallen to a Hugo Palmer filly had his Architecture not had the misfortune to be in the same age group as the amazing Minding, comfortable winner of the race five years ago. Architecture was an excellent second.

There are at least three names in addition to Martyn Meade that do not fall easily from the tongue in relation to Group 1 fillies’ races. The afore-mentioned Archie Watson’s filly Sherbet Lemon, despite her almost-unconsidered status as a 33-1 shot, did extremely well to hold off a quartet of challengers around Lingfield and that race has been a more promising indicator of events at Epsom than was the case in the early part of this Millennium. Still regarded as more of a two-year-old “get-‘em-out-and-run-‘em” trainer, there seems to be more of a measured approach these days. As Watson’s stable grows into its new coat, so Hollie Doyle keeps pace and more.

That prospect of a first Classic for her is almost too exciting to contemplate but virtually guaranteed to happen one day.
If Watson used to be that specialist trainer, George Boughey, with the help pf Amo Racing’s big-spending Kia Joorabchian, has smoothly stepped into his shoes. A former Hugo Palmer assistant, he has all the hallmarks of a future top five trainer.

The name Chapple-Hyam has been notable in Classic terms and Peter of that ilk trained two Derby winners, Dr Devious and Authorized. At the time of his training for Robert Sangster from his Manton stables, Chapple-Hyam was married to Jane, daughter of Sangster’s second wife, the former Susan Peacock.
In 1992 not only Dr Devious brought Derby success, but the outstanding miler Rodrigo De Triano won the 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Over the past decade while her former husband has been operating on a much smaller scale – though with little sign of diminished talent – Jane Chapple-Hyam has gradually shown her own skills as a handler. Starting in 2006 she had tremendous success with multiple stakes-winner Mull Of Killough, trained for some of the younger members of the Sangster family, headed up by Sam and his nephew Ned and now her step-brother Ben’s wife Lucy with James Wigan and Lucy’s son Olly own Saffron Beach.

Winner of her only two races at two, a maiden and then the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes, both over seven furlongs at Newmarket, Jane has kept the daughter of New Bay to the same track this year.
She reappeared in the Nell Gwyn, finishing runner-up to Sacred and then comfortably left Sacred behind in sixth in the 1,000 Guineas, staying on strongly past Santa Barbara into second behind that filly’s stable-companion Mother Earth who did not let the Classic form down with her second to Coeursamba in the French 1,000.

There are plenty of potential stories, but save a Hollie win, Jane Chapple-Hyam winning a race for her step-nephew and step-sister-in-law would run it close. There are certainly worse 12-1 shots around to waste our money on.

It would be great if Love could turn out earlier in the afternoon in the Coronation Cup. We only saw her once after her two Classic wins, by almost five in the 1,000 and nine in the Oaks. That later five-length win in the Yorkshire Oaks seems so long ago. It would be nice to see her challenge the fast-improving Al Aasy for William Haggas and the French colt In Swoop who has carried on the good work this spring after that excellent second in the Arc last October.

As to the Derby, you tell me, although it is hard from here to look past the favourite Bolshoi Ballet who won the same two races that his sire Galileo did before his triumphant run in the Derby. In winning the Ballysax Stakes and then the Derrinstown Stud Stakes, Bolshoi Ballet has convinced Ryan Moore he is the most uncomplicated colt he has ever ridden. I believe him.


Record-breaking Doyle eyes Oaks opportunity on Sherbet Lemon

Hollie Doyle is well used to rewriting the record books – and on Friday she is set to get another chance to make history when she partners Sherbet Lemon in the Cazoo Oaks.

At the age of just 24, Doyle holds the best tally for number of winners ridden by a woman in a calendar year, has twice ridden five-timers and become the first female to be successful on Champions Day at Ascot.

She has also finished third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, and partnered a winner in Saudi Arabia.

Now all thoughts turn to Epsom – on a filly who emerged as a Classic contender with victory in the Lingfield Oaks Trial.

Hollie Doyle with her third-placed trophy during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2020 awards
Hollie Doyle with her third-placed trophy during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2020 awards (Peter Byrne/PA)

Doyle is also aware of the impact made on the sport over recent months when Rachael Blackmore dominated Cheltenham and then won the Grand National, while Bryony Frost played her part in becoming the first woman to come home in front in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

Doyle said: “It’s great to get the ride. That was the aim at the start of the year – to continue to ride plenty of winners, but at the same time to try to get some good rides in good races. To get a ride in the Oaks is great.

“It would be the biggest winner of my career, I suppose, to win a Classic. It would be amazing and definitely the next step up.

“I suppose I look up to the likes of Ryan Moore and people like that – but when other females in racing achieve things like Rachael and Bryony, it makes you believe that these sorts of things are possible. Hopefully what I do can help inspire others by setting a good example.”

Champions Day at Ascot was a major breakthrough for Hollie Doyle
Champions Day at Ascot was a major breakthrough for Hollie Doyle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Of the Archie Watson-trained Sherbet Lemon, Doyle said: “I won first time out on her at Newcastle – and although I’ve not sat on her on the racetrack since, I do most of the work at home on her so I know her really well.

“I couldn’t ride her when she won the trial that day at Lingfield, but I was delighted for the whole team that she got the job done that day. I’ve galloped her since, and she has really improved.

“It was a really good performance, and she pulled it out of the bag. She was a bit green late on, so there is plenty more to come.

“Obviously we are all there to try to win the race, but I hope she can finish in the top five or six. At the end of the day it would just be great to see her run well.

“I do feel she wants a bit of cut in the ground, so if it dries out a lot it would probably be a bit inconvenient, but then we have never been on quick ground.”

Doyle and Watson have become a formidable partnership, and the rider added: “If she was trained by someone else and won her trial she would have probably nearly been favourite and not a 25-1 chance – but Archie is a trainer on the up, and it is great for a ride like this to have come from him.

“He does really well with what he gets and we have got some nice horses as well that we’ll see towards the middle to the back end of the year come out.

“We are getting sent some quality horses, which is good. Everyone at the yard is excited, because everyone loves that filly – which is great.

“I do appreciate what I have done, and winning the Oaks would be amazing, but I never look back.

“I’m always feeling a bit worried that something is going to happen or that I’m going to drop off the face of the earth, so I’m always just living to try to always go forward.

“I’m never happy or comfortable in my position, because I’m always worried that I’m going to have a quiet time or something. That’s why I don’t ever want to take my foot off the pedal.”

Oaks trio giving Varian plenty of cause for optiism

Roger Varian is relishing the prospect of firing a three-pronged assault on the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom next week.

The Newmarket handler is responsible for the two shortest-priced British-trained runners for the fillies’ Classic in Zeyaadah and Teona, while Save A Forest is viewed as a lively outsider.

All three were beaten in their trials, but Zeyaadah in particular was a little unlucky when charging home from an uncompromising position to fill the runner-up spot behind Dubai Fountain in the Cheshire Oaks.

“I was delighted with her (at Chester) – I thought it was a very good run,” said Varian.

“The visual impression was very good. She was a shade unlucky. Take nothing away from the winner, but I think you could make a case for Zeyaadah winning that day if she could have got running a little bit earlier in the straight.

“I know Jim (Crowley) got a mighty feel from her – he was buzzing about her when he got off.”

Teona was a big mover in the Oaks market earlier in the year amid reports of sparkling workouts on the Newmarket gallops.

The nine-length winner of a Newcastle maiden in November, the daughter of Sea The Stars was much too keen to do herself justice when third on her return to action in the Musidora Stakes at York.

Varian added: “We take the positives out of the Musidora run. These are trials at the end of the day and if you’re going to get things wrong it’s better to do it in the trial than on the big day.

“She’s a big, strong, energetic filly who had a lot of fizz on the day at York. She got a little upset in the starting gate and over-raced a little bit off that very steady gallop.

“She made a nice move in the straight and then probably got tired in the last 100 yards. I thought there were a lot of positives to take from the race and she’s trained very well since.

“Of course the Oaks presents a different sort of challenge, (but) I think she’s extremely talented and I hope that on the day she won’t make the sort of juvenile mistakes she made at York.”

Save A Forest is a much bigger price to claim Oaks glory at 40-1.

Save a Forest at Lingfield
Save a Forest at Lingfield (John Walton/PA)

However, Varian feels his dual winner merits her place in the line-up after finishing a close second in the Lingfield Oaks Trial.

“She’s great. She’s a filly who has taken a giant step forward after start of her career and I would anticipate another good step forward from Lingfield,” said the trainer.

“Her run at Lingfield was very good. I thought she was going to win most of the way up the straight and I think she just hit one of the ridges wrong about a furlong from home, which just threw her off stride and perhaps stopped her winning.

“She’s an interesting filly. She’s very laid back at home and doesn’t give us any clues in her home work, but I love animals who with each run take a step forward and the exciting thing with her is you don’t know when she’s going to reach her ceiling.

“However she runs in the Oaks, I’d be almost guaranteeing it will be a good deal better than her run at Lingfield because that’s the pattern of her progress.

Roger Varian is in a strong position ahead of the Oaks
Roger Varian is in a strong position ahead of the Oaks (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’m very happy with her condition and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her run a nice race.”

Varian was unsurprisingly non-committal when asked which filly he felt gave him the best chance of victory, saying: “I couldn’t split them – it would unfair to do so.

“They’re all very different, but the three of them were having a pick of grass in the paddock on Wednesday afternoon and when a rare bit of sunshine broke out they looked outstanding in their coats and in their condition.

“I felt if you just had one of them going into the race you’d be quite happy with your card, so to have three who I think are all deserving of their place in the line-up is exciting.”

Final decision ‘pending’ but Noon Star poised to take Oaks chance

Noon Star appears increasingly likely to take her chance in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom on Friday week.

Sir Michael Stoute’s filly is an impeccably-bred product of the late Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation, being a daughter of Galileo out of the brilliant racemare Midday, who won six Group One races but was narrowly beaten by Sariska in the Oaks in 2009.

Noon Star won two of her first three career starts, including an impressive beginning to her three-year-old campaign at Wetherby in April.

Favourite-backers had their fingers burnt after she had to make do with the runner-up spot behind Aidan O’Brien’s Snowfall in the Musidora Stakes at York a fortnight ago, but connections are hopeful further improvement will be forthcoming when she steps up in distance.

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Juddmonte, said: “We are looking towards the Oaks – the (Abdullah) family are happy for that.

“I think Sir Michael would like to decide a little bit later on. She hasn’t done much since York, so we’ll just make sure.

“I think when he’s happy, in principle the family are happy to go to the Oaks. But I would say a final decision is pending.”

Reflecting on her Musidora Stakes performance, Grimthorpe added: “I thought it was a slightly muddling pace, but if you get beaten you look for those false positives sometimes – it was the same for everybody.

“Her pedigree says that she ought to stay and that will be much more her game. However, over a mile and a half there will be no hiding place, either in the Oaks or the Ribblesdale (at Royal Ascot)

“York was encouraging and she still seems to be going the right way.”

Aidan O’Brien lining up strong Epsom challenge

Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition give Aidan O’Brien a formidable hand in his bid for a ninth victory in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

It is 20 years since the Ballydoyle handler first landed the premier Classic with Galileo, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012), Australia (2014) and last year’s surprise winner Serpentine.

O’Brien would love to add to his total in the premier Classic on June 5, saying: “It (the Derby) is what the foundation of the thoroughbred is built on really. It is the ultimate test and they are tested in every way – speed, stamina, courage and balance.”

The hot favourite for this year’s renewal is Bolshoi Ballet, who followed up victory in last month’s Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown with a scintillating display in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial over the same course and distance.

High Definition winning the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh
High Definition winning the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh (PA)

“I am very happy with him, everything has gone well so far,” said O’Brien.

“He started off at Leopardstown in the Ballysax Stakes and we were very happy with him. He then went to the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and we were very happy with him in that as well and he seems to be in good form.”

High Definition spent the winter months at the top of ante-post lists for the Derby after winning his two starts as a juvenile.

However, this spring has not been so straightforward, with unsatisfactory blood test results ruling him out of an intended return in the Lingfield Derby Trial, although he did make his comeback five days later with a creditable third place in the Dante at York.

O’Brien said: “I am very happy with him. Obviously, he had a very interrupted preparation – a week before the Dante he wouldn’t have been able to run. He just came right a couple of days before.

“We knew he had to run if he was going to the Derby and we couldn’t have been happier.

“It is far from ideal (the colt’s preparation), but we are very lucky it came right itself without having to medicate him. When the blood first came out the way it was, I did not think he would make it (to York) and I didn’t think the blood would come back, but it did naturally for some reason.

“Obviously, we were going to ride him patiently (in the Dante), kindly and gently, and that is what Ryan did. We were very happy with his run at York. He covered the last three furlongs quicker than anyone else in the race, so that is a very good sign for a horse like him.”

The trainer’s other potential Derby candidates include Leopardstown handicap winner Sir Lamorak and Van Gogh, although the latter is set to first contest this weekend’s Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh.

Of Sir Lamorak, O’Brien said: “We have always thought a lot of him. He didn’t win last year, but we were very impressed with his last run.

“It was a three-year-old handicap at Leopardstown over a mile and a quarter. He relaxed very well, quickened very well and finished very well. Everything has gone well with him since.

“With a nice bit of ground and a nice pace on in front of him, everything looks good with him at the moment.”

O’Brien also has the first two in the betting for the previous afternoon’s Cazoo Oaks, with 1000 Guineas fourth Santa Barbara heading the market ahead of Musidora Stakes-winning stablemate Snowfall.

Santa Barbara remains a hugely exciting prospect
Santa Barbara remains a hugely exciting prospect (PA)

“It was a big risk going to the 1000 Guineas on only Santa Barbara’s second run, but she ran very well. This (Oaks) was always pencilled in to be her next run,” O’Brien continued.

“She came out of the 1000 Guineas well and everything has gone well with her since.

“She hasn’t been over that far (mile and a half) before, but she is a Camelot filly and we are really looking forward to seeing her run.

“We always thought the world of Snowfall last year, but we could never get her to produce what she was doing at home. Maybe a little bit of time over the winter, maybe she matured from two to three and a little bit extra distance has helped her.

“We were delighted for her to show what she has been showing us the last year at home.

“Physically she has done well since and mentally she is lovely, so it is very possible that she could really take off.”

The trainer’s potential runners in the Coronation Cup on Cazoo Oaks day include Japan, who recently made a winning return to action in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, and the brilliant filly Love, who won the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks last season.

He said: “Japan is very well. We were delighted with his run (at Chester).

“He could go to the Coronation Cup, back to a mile and a half. He ran a very good race in the Derby and he seems in good form.

“Love is very well. She is doing everything right and is ready to start.”

Saffron Beach to test Oaks credentials in Epsom gallop

Jane Chapple-Hyam’s 1000 Guineas runner-up Saffron Beach will test the water with a racecourse gallop at Epsom before her bid for the Cazoo Oaks is confirmed.

The filly was twice a winner in her two-year-old campaign, triumphing on her racecourse debut before going on to take the Group Three Oh So Sharp Stakes last season.

This year she was beaten only narrowly on her return in the Nell Gwyn Stakes, and then runner-up again in the opening fillies’ Classic of the season.

Chapple-Hyam had initially intended to take Saffron Beach to the Curragh this weekend for the Irish 1,000 Guineas, but that plan was shelved.

Saffron Beach will sample the famous Epsom undulations on Monday
Saffron Beach will sample the famous Epsom undulations on Monday (David Davies/PA)

The daughter of New Bay holds a handful of further Group One entries, with the Oaks the most imminent engagement on June 4.

Epsom usually hosts a ‘Breakfast With The Stars’ morning of gallops before its two Classics, with a small crowd of trainers, owners and media in attendance.

The event will be hosted behind closed doors this year, and Chapple-Hyam intends to take the opportunity to test Saffron Beach on Epsom’s undulating track.

“She’s going on Monday to the behind-closed-doors gallop at Epsom, the morning they hold ahead of the Derby and the Oaks” said the Suffolk trainer.

“She’s booked in for that, and we’ll see how she goes around there and then make a decision. There’s just no rush to make a decision.”

Adam Kirby and Saffron Beach in action at Newmarket
Adam Kirby and Saffron Beach in action at Newmarket (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Adam Kirby has ridden Saffron Beach in all four of her racecourse starts, and Chapple-Hyam will trust his assessment of how she handles the descent from Tattenham Corner to the winning post.

“She’s all good and scheduled to go on Monday, and hopefully Adam Kirby will be available to come and ride her,” she added.

“I’ve talked to Adam, so we’ll just tee her up and confirm everything.

“We’ll see if Adam’s comfortable with her coming down the hill. We’re dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Varian still keen on Oaks tilt for Teona

Roger Varian remains keen on a tilt at the Cazoo Oaks with Teona following her third-placed finish in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York.

The daughter of Sea The Stars was second-favourite for next month’s Epsom Classic before her seasonal reappearance on the Knavesmire, having been well-backed during the spring on the basis of a wide-margin victory on the all-weather at Newcastle in November.

While she met with defeat in Wednesday’s trial – picking up minor honours behind the front-running Snowfall and the regally-bred Noon Star – Varian saw enough encouragement in his filly’s performance to suggest she merits her place in the Oaks field.

Teona (far left) caught the eye in defeat at York
Teona (far left) caught the eye in defeat at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Teona pulled fiercely for her head in the early stages, but travelled smoothly into contention before being beaten just over four lengths.

Varian said: “It was a muddling race and not much of a trial, I don’t think, in terms of how it was run.

“We look at it as a trial – it wasn’t her main seasonal goal. It’s given her a day out and got some of the fizz out of her.

“When you’re a little bit fresh and keen and they’re going so slow up front, it’s very hard to win. I thought after they’d gone one furlong that she would struggle to win, but she shaped well and moved up nicely and will come on for the run.

“I should think that we’ll still look at the Oaks. I’ve lost no faith in her. She’s a very good filly and hopefully she’ll prove that in time.

“We put a line through the Musidora in terms of the result. But we learnt plenty, and it did her good to get a day out, so it wasn’t a complete loss.”

Technique continues learning curve with Oaks Trial outing

Martyn Meade believes the experience of running in Lingfield’s Novibet Oaks Trial Fillies’ Stakes could prove invaluable for Technique ahead of a potential bid for Classic glory at Epsom next month.

Successful on her racecourse debut at Wolverhampton in late January, the daughter of Mastercraftsman marked herself out as an Oaks contender when narrowly beaten by Wirko in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom two and a half weeks ago.

In the immediate aftermath, Meade suggested his filly could head straight for the Cazoo-sponsored showpiece on June 4, but ultimately decided to give her another outing in this weekend’s Listed contest.

“She’s in good shape and obviously coped with Epsom quite well,” said the trainer.

“Initially I thought about going straight to the Oaks, but then I thought we should step her up and make sure she absolutely gets the mile and a half – and having only run twice, I think that bit more experience might help as well.

“We’ve got plenty of time to be able to do it, so she’ll go and take her chance.”

Meade admits the disappointing performance of Wirko in Wednesday’s Chester Vase tempers enthusiasm to some degree, but is nevertheless confident Technique can prove her worth on Saturday.

He added: “It would have been nice to see him (Wirko) boost the form, but that wasn’t to be and maybe that was down to the track or something.

“Technique’s work at home has been good and she came out of Epsom very well, so we’ll roll the dice.

“I think she’ll be fine on slightly softer ground. I don’t think that will be a problem at this stage.”

Hugo Palmer’s Ocean Road has all the right credentials to make up into a nice three-year-old.

Related to Michael Bell’s globetrotter Wigmore Hall, she broke her maiden at the second time of asking with an impressive display on the all-weather at this venue in December.

Palmer said: “She’s done well through the winter and she looks a lot stronger now. Her work has all pointed towards an Oaks trial and now we are at that juncture.

“She’s a half-sister to Wigmore Hall and she’s by a Derby winner (Australia), so she deserves a chance to see what she can do.

“We’re running in a trial to tell us where we are and we’ll know an awful lot more after it.

“The Oaks picture does look open, but we are only halfway through the trials I suppose – we’ve still got the Musidora at York, the Goodwood race and a few others and who knows what is still to come out of Ballydoyle?”

Nash Nasha (left) on her way to winning at Sandown
Nash Nasha (left) on her way to winning at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Charlie Appleby’s Nash Nasha has also won on the all-weather at Lingfield and battled well to defy a 7lb penalty on her return to action at Sandown a fortnight ago.

“She’s come out of her last race well and already has a bit of experience there (Lingfield). Admittedly it was on the all-weather, but she’s been there at least,” said Appleby.

“We thought the ground was going to be pretty soft at Chester, so we thought it might be more sensible ground for her at Lingfield.”

John Gosden has saddled three of the last four winners of the Oaks Trial. Now in partnership with son Thady, the Clarehaven handler this year has two contenders, with Frankie Dettori partnering Loving Dream and Martin Harley booked to ride Regent.

Aidan O’Brien’s Divinely is the sole Irish representative, while the Marco Botti-trained Invite, Roger Varian’s Save A Forest and Sherbet Lemon from Archie Watson’s yard complete the line-up.

Ryan Moore, who rides Divinely, told Betfair: “There is some rain around on Saturday and that wouldn’t inconvenience her, as she won her Group Three at the Curragh on heavy ground before running slightly below that level upped in class in the Moyglare.

“She is a sister to Found, so you have to view the step up in trip positively, so she has definite prospects in an open race.”

Dubai Fountain rewards favourite-backers in Cheshire Oaks

Dubai Fountain booked her Epsom ticket as she made a successful reappearance in the Weatherbys ePassport Cheshire Oaks at Chester.

Mark Johnston’s filly was the clear standard-setter on juvenile form, which included a fourth-placed finish on her most recent appearance in the Group One Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in October.

The daughter of Teofilo was the 13-8 favourite for her comeback in the hands of Chester specialist Franny Norton, who after tracking the pacesetting Quenelle D’Or for much of the contest, committed for home before the home turn.

That decision from the veteran Liverpudlian may well have proved crucial, as the previously unbeaten Zeyaadah was briefly caught in a pocket before the gap came early in the home straight, by which time Dubai Fountain was in full flight.

Zeyaadah made inroads late on, but the Johnston runner had enough in the tank to keep her at bay by a length.

Paddy Power cut both the winner and the runner-up to 14-1 from 20-1 for the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom on June 4, with the brilliant Enable the last horse to win both races in 2017.

Johnston said: “Franny said it was very stop-start and he was happy to get a lead, but the pace was on and off which didn’t really suit.

“He was having to wake her up and then steady her again, so he could never get her into a nice rhythm – he felt it wasn’t her best performance, but it was good enough for me, I was happy with that.

“It will be straight to Epsom now, we were saying throughout last year we thought she was an Oaks filly rather than a Guineas filly.

“She obviously failed to win a Group race last year, but she ran some great races. We’ve been thinking about the Oaks for a long time.

“She was beaten just a length by the Guineas winner (Mother Earth) over a mile last year, when we always felt she’d be better over further.

“I don’t think the key to her chance was going up in trip, she’s good enough, otherwise you’d be saying that about every horse who ran in a trial. She’s been running at that level (Group One) there’s no reason to think she’s not good enough.

Dubai Fountain (second left) came out on top in a
Dubai Fountain (second left) came out on top in a “stop-start” Cheshire Oaks (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We’ll just have to hope there’s not one better!”

Norton said: “I didn’t find a rhythm straight away, but I was happy with where I was. Then I just felt it was all a bit muddly, a bit stop-start.

“Going down the gears and back up didn’t suit her, but once I revved her up three out it was game over. I could feel one coming, so she just needed a couple of flicks to keep her going.”