Due to one of those occasional calendar quirks where the first Saturday in June – the Derby’s immovable slot – arrives before the first Friday in June, this year’s Oaks is to be run on the last day of May. Regardless of date idiosyncrasies, it is still the same high class set of puzzles as it always is, and the septet of challenges commences with the Woodcote Stakes.
2.00 Woodcote Stakes (Class 2, 6f, 2yo)
An early stamina test for the juveniles, most of whom will have raced only at five furlongs hitherto. It is not unknown for horses to head to Royal Ascot from here, Mark Johnston’s Buratino doubling up in the Coventry Stakes at the Royal meeting four years ago.
A small field of seven line up this year, headed by Charlie Appleby’s impressive Wolverhampton scorer, Pinatubo. By Shamardal out of a Dalakhani mare, he’s bred regally but for middle distances; and that initial effort coming on the sand is a touch non-standard, too. However, it didn’t stop Chilworth Icon, beaten on Kempton’s all-weather in 2012, from prevailing here and it likely won’t be the thing to stop the jolly. Whether he’s quite nippy and/or precocious enough would be a greater reservation given his pedigree.
At around 6/4 I’m looking to find something else, and perhaps Misty Grey is the one. Trained by Mark Johnston, a five time winner of the race including three since 2011, this son of Dark Angel couldn’t lay up on debut over five but left that form well behind when dotting up by seven lengths up in trip at Ripon a fortnight ago. He recorded big numbers there and makes appeal at the early 4/1.
He’s quick from the gate and looks the value.
Of the rest, Oh Purple Reign, Rayong and Dancinginthewoods are all once raced debut winners with obvious scope to step forward again. They need to leap forward more than Misty Grey, which is, naturally, far from impossible.
Selection: Misty Grey 7/2 general
2.35 Investec Mile (Class 2 handicap, 1m, 4yo+)
A big field and a slight edge to low drawn runner. Those racing prominently, though not on the speed, have had the best of it under similar circumstances to today; and that makes Wahash, a presser drawn six, of interest. He ran his best race of the season in a valuable handicap on Bath’s Good Friday card (one mile, fast ground) and that quirky strip wouldn’t be a million miles removed from Epsom’s kinky constitution. He’s a 20/1 shot.
Arigato, 16/1 currently, was first and third in his two visits to the course last year. Both were at this distance, on good ground. Entitled to need his first run of the season, this will have been the plan and stall ten is not insurmountable. Josephine Gordon rides.
At the top end of the market, Greenside has progressive form and won a Windsor handicap (1m, good) last time. He looks likely to go well again under just a four pound correction.
Loads more with chances but I’ll be taking a couple of big priced pokes e/w against the field, ideally with four places in this fifteen-runner shemozzle.
Two longshot guesses against the field: Wahash 20/1 BetVictor, Arigato 16/1 general
3.10 Coronation Cup (1m4f, 4yo+, Group 1)
A field of nine in the absence of Coronet for this first of three Group 1’s at the meeting, the other two being the two-races-hence Oaks and the following day’s Derby.
The field is headed by Kew Gardens, winner of the Grand Prix de Paris and St Leger last season, both G1, and second in his seasonal pipe opener at Chester. Although he was beaten a big eight lengths that day (by the re-opposing Morando), it was on soft ground; the return to quicker and with the run under his belt he’ll likely go close if handling the track. That last point is a concern given he was only ninth in Masar’s Derby, a standout low point in his overall form profile. It’s enough to look elsewhere for this punter.
Old Persian beat Kew Gardens in the Great Voltigeur last August, and comes here off the back of victory in the Grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in Meydan. It can be difficult for horses to acclimatise on their first start back from the Emirates, besides which his G1 form closer to these shores is at a lower level (well beaten in both the Irish Derby and St Leger). It’s possible – likely even – he’s improved from three to four, but my feeling is that the Meydan form is less than bombproof.
Lah Ti Dar is more appealing. She was all out to win on seasonal debut but win she did, and she’s sure to come on for the run. With just six career starts to her name, her narrow defeat by Magical in the Group 1 Fillies and Mares on Champions Day reads well, as does her close second to Kew Gardens in the St Leger. At 7/2 and with conditions just about spot on she ought to give a decent run for our money.
Of the each way players, Salouen was a head second to a sub-par Cracksman in a shallow renewal of this race last year. He’s a likeable flagship horse in a smaller yard, but this is a deeper race. Morando looks flattered by that Chester romp and has yet to race above G3 level; Defoe has promised more than he’s delivered in recent seasons, sent to Germany in search of weaker G1’s and only placing; and Communique looks seven pounds (at least) shy of what’s required.
Perhaps Marmelo might give Hail Mary players a little excitement: Hughie Morrison is pitching in with Telecaster in the Derby tomorrow and this lad was a good winner at Newbury last time in a career best. He’d been second in the Melbourne Cup on his previous run and it’s not inconceivable he’s still improving aged six. He does tend to do his running late and there’s a chance that Salouen and Communique make this a good test, in which case Marmelo could finish best to outrun odds of 22/1 in a place.
Selection: Lah Ti Dar 4/1 888sport, Boyle
Hail Mary each way alternative: Marmelo 22/1 or look for extra places
3.45 Investec Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 4yo+)
There’s normally plenty of time for all jockeys to ride a race over this trip, though middle draws are slightly favoured.
Mountain Angel is up five pounds for a course and distance (and class and going) win last month but it might not stop him. Roger Varian’s consistent five-year-old was quietly progressive last term, going from a rating of 83 to 96, and now up to 101 after that victory first time out in 2019. He has the draw and run style to offset a couple of those pounds and has already proven his liking for conditions. Available at 9/2, I’ll not be over-thinking this one…
Sir Michael Stoute saddles Elector, and Ryan Moore rides. This lad won over nine furlongs last time, needing all of the trip to get up. He should appreciate the longer distance this day, then, and is an upwardly mobile type. None of this has been lost on the market, however.
What About Carlo has been a standing dish in this race in recent seasons, though he did miss the gig last term. He was third in 2017 off 100, third in 2016 off 100, 11th in 2015 and won the 3yo equivalent handicap in 2014. Racing off 100 here it would be symmetrical if nothing else were he to finish third.
Loads of others with chances as always.
Selection: Mountain Angel 9/2 general
4.30 Oaks (1m4f, Group 1, 3yo)
The big race, the fillies’ Classic. And a big field, too, with fourteen slated to face the starter. The draw is an interesting, and perhaps atypical, place to start. Look at the graph below, which shows IV3 (the average impact value of a stall plus its nearest neighbours) in large field races on quick ground at the Oaks range. I’ve included the ‘guide lines’ as well: all going, all field sizes, and everything.
Note how low, but not very low, is favoured.
Above is the draw/pace heat map for the same breakdown – quick ground, big fields, 1m4f all races. We can see that combining a lowish draw and a prominent run style is a solid edge in bigger fields.
Here is how the field shapes up for the race, ordered by draw:
Again, we see from the coloured blobs at the top the advantage of early prominence, though closer inspection reveals it is not a terminal blow to be a later runner (IV’s of 0.71 and 0.76 for midfield and hold up runners, which generally include a fair amount of dead wood, is acceptable).
What is more noteworthy is that there is no obvious pace in the race. The expectation might reasonably be that one of Aidan O’Brien’s four will go forward, most likely Delphinia or Peach Tree. Favourite Pink Dogwood has a wide draw and a mid-division run style in what might end up being a packing field. It feels like there could be trouble in running, and out the front could just be a good place to be if the fractions are not too fast.
On form, Pink Dogwood has robust credentials. She was involved in the blanket finish to the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac last October, and then won a Listed race over ten furlongs on her sole start this term. The worry, aside from the draw, is that her winning has come on softer turf so, in a race where you need to be much the best and/or have all conditions in your favour, she might not quite have that.
John Gosden saddles two, the pick of which on market rank is Mehdaayih, unbeaten in her last three, the most recent of which was a four length drubbing of her Cheshire Oaks rivals. That was on good to soft and she was fair running away from them at the finish; if she’s improved again, she’ll be a player here.
But I preferred the prep of her stablemate, Anapurna, at Lingfield. Granted the Oaks trial there is not the strongest historically, but this daughter of Frankel, out of a Montjeu mare, is bred in the purple. She won by six lengths that last day, on soft ground, but her pedigree suggests quicker might be better. With just three runs on the board she must improve again, she gets Frankie doing the steering, she’s drawn three with a little bit of early pace, and she’s an each way price at 6/1.
William Haggas also sends two to post, the better fancied being Maqsad. She was an unambiguous winner of the Pretty Polly Stakes (Listed) over ten furlongs last time and is another progressing apace. Although that was a facile success I’m not totally convinced of her stamina credentials based on breeding, though her class is not in doubt.
Haggas also runs the slow-starting Frankellina who, with a level break, would have won the Musidora at York last time. That was a bunch finish, the merit of which is debatable; but this daughter of, you guessed it, Frankel will have more time to get her act together over the longer trip. In fact, a slow start from her wide gate might even be beneficial: she could slot in and be, in the parlance, ridden for luck. Ultimately, though, I don’t think she’ll be quite good enough.
This is a race where the O’Brien ‘others’ are generally worth a look. Obie has saddled winners at 7/1, 20/1 and 50/1 since 2012 so it won’t be the surprise that the SP return implies if the likes of Fleeting or especially Peach Tree go close.
Fleeting won the Group 2 May Hill Stakes last autumn before clunking in the 1000 Guineas this spring. She wasn’t knocked about on that first day of term and might be capable of better over this longer trip. Her pedigree offers mixed messages on that front, mind.
Peach Tree is quite interesting at a price. She was whacked out of sight by Fleeting in the May Hill but, prior to that, she’d run up to Just Wonderful in a Group 3 and, since then, won a mile Listed race last backend before running as though she needed it in the G3 Blue Wind Stakes over ten furlongs. She’ll improve for the run – beaten just a length – and has trainer’s son Donnacha, winner on the ‘wrong’ one last year, in the plate. 50/1 in a place is a very juicy peach indeed, and too tempting not to have a small swipe at.
The likes of Manuela De Vega (hampered when no match for Mehdaayih last time, trained by Ralph Beckett, strong Oaks record), and Tarnawa (Dermot Weld Aga Khan filly, more exposed than most) will have their backers, too.
Selection: Anapurna each way 6/1 Coral
Hail Mary each way: Peach Tree 50/1 bet365
5.15 Surrey Stakes (7f, Listed, 3yo)
I’m at the track tomorrow – Lonsdale Enclosure, beverages – so will be past the point of no return by this juncture I suspect. The seven is a fair trip, starting in a chute at the arc of the home bend. High draws have to do a little more and are slightly inconvenienced, though can still win (of course).
The win and, in the image below, place percentages of prominent racers tell a very clear tale in smallish fields at this trip.
Quickest away, and drawn inside, are likely to be Miss Celestial and Vintage Brut. The former is trained by Sir Mark Prescott but she needs a big step forward on her Brighton novice winning form even if she failed to stay in the May Hill on her only subsequent venture. Vintage Brut is more obvious, though still not glaring, in that he’s bred for this sort of trip and has been running over shorter. He’s got plenty of zip and seems the likeliest early leader.
The one to note is Space Blues. He didn’t get the run of the race at York last time and yet was still miles the best. He again may not find the transit straightforward here but has so much ability that he must go close if even nearly handling the camber.
Johnny G’s Angel’s Hideaway gets a big drop in class and a small drop in trip having contested the 1000 Guineas last time. Three of the seven horses to contest a Newmarket Guineas won the Surrey Stakes next time out, this lass finishing a close enough fourth in that Classic.
Urban Icon represents the same angle at a bigger price, having run only so-so in the boys’ Guineas. That was the path taken by Code Red (won 14/1) and Oceans Minstrel (won 8/1) who were both spanked at Newmarket prior to surprising here.
A trappy race in some respects, though I may be guilty of over-complicating it. Space Blues and Angel’s Hideaway are the class runners. If all eight line up, though, I’ll chance Urban Icon with his ‘wise guy’ profile.
Each way selection: Urban Icon 5/1
5.50 Zebra Handicap (7f, Class 2, 3yo+)
I’ll be in a fairly advanced state of inebriation by this point, and will be cheering Corazon Espinado (6/1) for small money at a fair price.