Epsom Day 1 Preview & Tips
The first of two stunning days racing, Friday’s centrepiece, the Investec Oaks, is supported by three further Pattern races and three high quality handicaps. In other words, it’s a brilliant punting card!
We get underway at 2.00 with the…
2.00 Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Group 3, 1m 114 yards)
It’s the turn of the (largely) older fillies and mares first as, although this race is open to three-year-olds and up, it rarely appeals to connections of the Classic generation, who have plenty of alternatives at this time of year. Indeed, just 15 3yo’s have lined up in the past decade, with a solitary placed effort to show for that; and only one filly from that age range has run since 2011.
David Elsworth’s Arabian Queen will make it two since 2011, and she has a bit of a squeak in receipt of almost a stone weight for age. She was a winner over six soft furlongs in the Group 2 Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket last year, and was only three lengths back in sixth in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot.
Bred for a mile and more, this is the first time she’ll actually race over such a range. With Silvestre de Sousa booked, and berthed in stall one, she could be interesting if choosing to race prominently – a decision which would require connections to take stamina on trust.
The market is headed by Odeliz, Karl Burke’s talented but frustrating mare. Although her proximity to smart lasses like Secret Gesture, Fintry and Thistle Bird (in this race last year) scream ability, she’s yet to win above Class 3 in ten attempts. It’s likely she’ll again be on the premises, but I’m happy to let her beat me if she can.
Olly Stevens runs Lightning Thunder, a filly who was very highly tried last season. A winner of her first two starts as a juvenile, she went down by just a head to subsequent 1000 Guineas heroine, Miss France, in the seven furlongs Oh So Sharp Stakes in September 2013. She showed that to be no fluke by again following the same filly home – at a similarly close margin – in the Guineas.
Less effective on the soft Curragh surface, she still matched her silver medal Newmarket exploits in the Irish 1000 Guineas, albeit at a healthy three length deficit to the winner there. Sadly, in two more runs last year her form tailed off, and she offered little encouragement on her 2015 bow.
Lightning Thunder is the highest rated in the field, but there must be a question about how much of the fire still burns. On her best form, she wins. I’m not at all sure she’ll bring that ‘A game’ to this party.
The good news is, that having discounted the top two in the market for varying reasons, we’re now 7/1 the field. The bad news is it doesn’t get much easier!
Sir Mark Prescott’s Don’t Be is a really interesting contender. She started life in France where she raced thirteen times before moving to Newmarket in June last year. An inauspicious start saw her lose three Class 5 handicaps prior to only her second career win – at the 17th time of asking – in a Wolverhampton Class 5 handicap.
She followed up in some style, however, winning five on the bounce on the all weather. She’s most recently added a Listed win on the turf to her progressive profile, and that Goodwood mile contest maps quite well against this event. There are slight reservations about both the extra half a furlong, for which she could conceivably improve; and the rung further up the class ladder, but she’s clearly a late developer and may not be done improving yet.
Crowley’s Law is another lightly progressive type, but she’s not won since her handicapping days, and was just chinned by Don’t Be last time, the latter going away at the death. I would be surprised if she reversed form.
Arguably the ‘now’ filly is Bold Lass, David Lanigan’s daughter of Sea The Stars having won three of her last four contests. Although they were all in handicap company, she ought to improve from her last day success – her first run of the season – and is interesting at the prices. If we assume that neither of the highest rated will run to their marks of 110 and 108 respectively, a reasonable assumption in my book, she probably needs to find four or five pounds. At her current rate of advancement, that’s more probable than possible. 8/1 looks compelling.
Of the rest, it’s possible to make a case for David Simcock’s ex-French filly, Victoria Regina. She was a close up third on her UK debut on the all weather two months ago, and ought to step forward from there. I know nothing of M. Heloury, who previously trained the Mastercraftsman filly, though it’s probably fair to say that Simcock is at least his equal in terms of conditioning horses. As such, she may be slightly over-priced at 9/1 with trip, class and ground all fine.
Finally, the pace-pushing Lamar could very well appreciate the drop in trip, with her poor draw in ten mitigated by a general lack of early toe inside (Amulet excepted). I can see Kirby stalking Ryan Moore on Amulet before attempting to steal things on the home turn. Sadly, for Lamar/Kirby, I can also see them getting run down by something inside the final eighth: perhaps Bold Lass.
Selection: I suspect they might bet close to 4/1 the field by post time, and Bold Lass (8/1 general) is a touch of value in a very open contest.
2.35 Investec Handicap (Class 2, 1m 2f 18 yds)
A great handicap, with plenty of familiar names in its ranks. Finding the winner won’t be easy, but there are a few angles in at least.
First, a trainer in tremendous form – and always one to look out for in big meeting handicaps – is Mark Johnston. We’re not helped hugely by the fact he saddles a trio nor by the fact that they’re the first three in the betting at this early juncture.
My pick would be Sennockian Star, a game old stick who has dropped almost a stone from his last winning turf rating, but who did win last time out on the all weather. That was off 95, yet he gets in here off a pound lower. His four previous course runs have yielded a win and a second, the win over this trip, and he’ll have no truck with the ground. Joe Fanning gets the leg up.
Master Of Finance is also interesting with conditions again in his favour. However, now up to a mark of 96, I suspect the ‘capper may have him for the time being. Although similar comments don’t apply to Fire Fighting, Johnston’s third entry, he does have a horrendous car park draw (13 of 13) to overcome. That will at least give him clear sailing, in all likelihood, as any amount of hard luck stories play out on the rail when those in mid pack attempt to clamber over each other for running room.
One that should get the run of the race is Fattsota, a front runner drawn right on the inside. Ryan Moore is the pilot, and although his mount has top weight, the pair are unbeaten in their only union, which was over this course and distance in 2013. David O’Meara’s seven year old could lead them for a long way, and any trouble in behind would be to his advantage.
Seagull Star is a very lightly raced lad for another in-form squad, that of William Haggas. First time in a handicap for a trainer who does well with such types, the trip looks perfect for this well-bred colt (by Sea The Stars out of a Montjeu mare). He drops back in trip and grade here having been tried in Pattern company last term. Stall four should enable him to track the pace and, with luck, avoid the expected scrimmaging, in which case 10/1 is probably a mite on the generous side.
Lots more with chances, including old stagers like Tres Coronas and Dance And Dance.
Selection: Wide open, and lots of chances. At the prices, then, I’ll split my stake, win only, on two stars, Sennockian Star (7/1 general) and Seagull Star (10/1 totesport, Betfred).
3.10 Diomed Stakes (Group 3, 1m 114yds)
Another three-year-old and upwards race where the Classic crop are poorly represented. Indeed, while the opening ladies’ version of this race has one 3yo, the chaps’ equivalent has none this year. Moreover, the last time a three-year-old ran in this was 2010, and only nine have contested it (all beaten) since the turn of the century, so surely there’s a case to change the race conditions.
Anyway, be that as it may, despite just seven runners going to post it looks a very competitive and classy renewal, all bar one of the entries being rated 109 or higher. Custom Cut, a winning machine and dual Group 2 scorer, heads the weights and has a penalty to defy. Although dominating small fields is his calling card (ten of his eleven careers wins in fields of ten or less), he doesn’t have a lot to spare on ratings and the five pounds he concedes all round puts him in negative equity with Tullius, Arod, and Shifting Power, as well as markedly levelling the playing field with most of the rest.
Arod looks a more likely winner. Certainly his third in the Group 1 Lockinge last time is a stand out piece of form this season, and he can back that up with other strong efforts. Those include second to The Grey Gatsby and fourth in Australia’s Derby. This mile plus yards range might be at the minimum end of his requirements, especially in what could turn out to be a tactical contest (no obvious pace angle), though.
If anything, this looks like it could set up for a shock, with so many closely matched and so little shape to the race.
Tullius is a hugely likeable older boy, and he has the joint top official rating – and no five pound penalty. He might conceivably want more juice in the ground than the forecast good going, and in a race of fractions, that could turn the tide against him.
Perhaps Shifting Power is the one: consistent in defeat last term, including when second in a pair of Group 1’s, he has both tactical toe and conditions in his favour. A winner last time, he ought to be spot on for this day.
Selection: A muddling affair in prospect and it’s easy to see most of them winning under various differing scenarios. On balance, Shifting Power (10/3 general) is the most likely winner to my eye, though Tullius could be a bit of value if any rain arrives down Surrey way.
3.45 Investec Mile (Handicap) (Class 2, 1m 114yds)
The second ferocious handicap, and a well backed jolly already. Abseil won the race last year, and he bids to repeat the dose again this time off a seven pound higher mark. I lampooned his prospects last year, convinced he’d get into a traffic jam with his, to that point, habitual late running style. Imagine my surprise then when he was always front rank and won as cosily as you like. He’s generally raced more prominently ever since.
That effort six starts back was his last winning form, though he ran a taking third in a big field Listed handicap three weeks ago. My issue, apart from simply whether he’s well enough handicapped off 99 and top weight, is that he’s drawn stall twelve. With at least four horses inside him wanting to get on with things, Abseil could get trapped very wide and/or have to sit and wait for gaps later on. Either way, I’m against him again, without necessarily wanting to go into ‘lay’ territory, at 3/1.
The one I like, relatively, is Gratzie. Mick Channon’s filly is also poorly drawn, ostensibly at least, just inside Abseil. But she has less need of a prominent early position, and can let things unfold ahead of her. With the top speed rating (on Dr May’s excellent component of the Geegeez Gold provision) in what is likely to be a true run contest, this four time winner (from thirteen starts), including two over course and distance, looks worth a small play at 9/1.
Lots more with cases to be made, though not by this scribe, in a race with many more permutations than runners.
Selection: Gratzie looks good value at 9/1 with her track and trip form, allied to a generally progressive profile and a fast time already in her locker.
4.30 Investec Oaks (Group 1, 1m 4f 10yds)
I previewed this race earlier in the week, and you can read my full ‘chapter and verse’ Oaks preview here.
To summarize, I think it’s a hot race, and the market probably has the top trio at about the right prices. The better value play for me, though far from the most likely winner, is Together Forever, a Group 1 winner last year; and Jazzi Top is an interesting progressive sort with a similar profile to some other recent winners.
They’re both still available at the prices in the preview (TF at 10’s, JT at 14’s), and I think they’re both still playable accordingly.
5.15 Surrey Stakes (Listed, 7f)
Another tricky race on a day of tricky races, and in all honesty I haven’t got a clue. I can see why there’s been a bit of early support for tentative favourite, Aces. He’s lightly raced, and may not have stayed the mile in the Greenham.
I can see why Mubtaghaa is second choice – Haggas is in great form, and this lad had plenty of juvie performances to put him in the mix in an average Surrey Stakes. I can see why Secret Brief is at the top end of the betting too, having been progressive at this sort of trip at two.
But I wouldn’t be sure that any of those three have trained on, which may be why they’re showing up here rather than in the Jersey at Royal Ascot (of course, they can do both!) – especially in a year when the Jersey is likely to cut up as owners go pot hunting for the new six furlong Commonwealth Cup.
Ryan Moore is an interesting jockey booking on Ballymore Castle, though his draw in eight for a handy type is off-putting. Perhaps Realtra will prove best of the Middleham Park Racing triumvirate: he was above average last year, and looks steadily progressive already this term.
But if I was going to have a bet – and I will probably have a very small interest – I’d side with Willie Muir’s Code Red. He’s been outclassed in two starts so far this year – sixth in the Greenham when needing the run, and ten lengths behind Gleneagles in the 2000 Guineas. It’s possible he didn’t stay the mile of the Guineas, though it was a fair enough effort in the context of this race anyway; and his stable is in much better form now than it was then. 20/1 outsider of the field looks only slightly unfair, but in a heat where cases can be made for – and especially against – all of them, it’s worth sixpence throwaway.
Selection: As tentative as is possible, Code Red (20/1) might bounce back to his winning two year old form, which has been working out well enough.
5.50 Investec Stakes (Handicap) (Class 2, 7f)
We close a desperately difficult looking card (cue six winning favourites!) with a small field of the same age group as the Surrey Stakes running over the same distance, and just a class and a half below. Seems a bit odd to me, but there we are…
Regular readers will know that three-year-old handicaps are something of a blind spot for me, but my (myopic) eye is drawn to the handicap debutant, Make It Up. A course and distance winner on his first start last year, he also won over the undulations at Goodwood two runs later before a sub-par performance in the Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket last autumn. This race has been the plan for a while, and conditions are known to be on point.
Make It Up has led in each of his races so far, and that will likely be the case again.
There don’t look to be too many progressive sorts against him, with the exception perhaps of the bottom one, Al Bandar. Simon Crisford is in his first season as a trainer having previously been spokesperson for Godolphin. He’s three from nine so far (Mutawathea runs Thursday night, after I write), and is one to follow in the training ranks. Currently +14.2 points to level stakes.
Al Bandar was second (beaten a short head) and first in two runs at this trip last backend for Richard Hannon, before failing to see out a mile twice so far this season for Crisford. If anything is going to run by Make It Up late in the day, it could be Crisford’s colt.
Selection: I like Make It Up and I quite like Al Bandar. At 3/1 and 9/2 respectively, there’s very little between them in value terms, with the known fitness of Al Bandar just giving him the nod.