Aiming for the Sky
The Lingfield Oaks Trial has had a far bigger impact on events at Epsom Downs in June than the Derby Trial held later on the card in recent years which has, in no small part, been down to the support of the race by Ralph Beckett.
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Beckett's Epsom heroine Look Here finished second at Lingfield before obliging at 33/1 while Secret Gesture won her trial before chasing home stablemate Talent 12 months ago.
This year, the Kimpton handler ran three fillies (none of whom hold an Oaks entry) with the least fancied obliging and he indicated that she is unlikely to be supplemented for the Investec Oaks while John Gosden, trainer of the runner-up Criteria, indicated that his filly would head to Royal Ascot for the Ribblesdale.
It is, perhaps, not surprising that several bookmakers took the opportunity to shorten up the front two in the betting for the Classic, namely Gosden's Taghrooda and Cambridge, a once raced filly from Charlie Hills' yard who holds an entry in the Musidora as well as the Swettenham Stud Stakes, another trial that has had a fair influence on events on the Downs.
Neither of the first two in the market, Casual Smile nor Queen's Prize, ran their races but there were several performances from those in behind that can be upgraded and, as Look Here showed in 2008, it may not be wise to dismiss the form out of hand.
The time of the race was slow (the runner-up was always to the fore and was coming back at the winner on the line) and this didn't appear to suit a number of those in behind with the relatively exposed Island Remede finishing strongly for fourth while both of Beckett's other runners can be given another chance.
Jim Crowley's choice, Moonrise Landing, patently failed to handle the track and appeared to finish full of running while Kallisha was only beaten two lengths into fourth despite being stopped in her run from two furlong out to one furlong out and could, arguably, be counted an unlucky loser.
It was just the second racecourse outing for both runners and they are open to considerable improvement as a result; it will be surprising if any of their connections decide to shell out the £30,000 supplementary fee but it may pay to think twice if they do.
Snow Sky produced a far more impressive performance in winning the Derby Trial in a time that was over a second faster than the Oaks and, as such, it was no surprise to see his odds tumble from 66/1 to 25s.
There have been eight winners that have gone on to win at Epsom in the race's history with High-Rise the most recent in 1998. Silver Patriarch had come within a short-head the previous year while Main Sequence also filled the runner-up's berth in 2012 when a five-length second to Camelot.
Snow Sky has already been beaten four times in a six race career which does not smack of being a Classic winner although he was deemed good enough to run in the Racing Post Trophy and, as a son of Nayef, could feasibly have been expected to come into his own this year. As well as boosting the form of juvenile Group One winner Kingston Hill (whose odds didn't alter), he also advertised the Classic credentials of Western Hymn who had comfortably accounted for him at Newbury.
Again, firms reacted by cutting the unbeaten Gosden runner to as low as 8/1 from 16s although we need only look back to last weekend to remind ourselves that trials form can be quickly turned on its head as the Master of Clarehaven Stables will know only too well.
Sir Michael Stoute's assertion that Snow Sky 'ticks all the boxes' is an interesting one although next week's Dante Stakes at York has been his preferred trial for his Derby runners and it may be more telling that he doesn't have a horse entered for the Group Two on the Knavesmire.
Hartnell, ridden by Western Hymn's jockey William Buick, improved from his reappearance in the Epsom Derby Trial to chase home the winner, finishing further in front of beaten favourite Mekong River than he had in France as a juvenile (in a race won by Coral-Eclipse entry Prince Gibraltar) while Sudden Wonder helps to provide a marker to the form having stayed on from further back than ideal.
The market is relatively weak behind the outstanding candidate and favourite, Australia, and Western Hymn and the layers are possibly keen not to get caught out each-way but a far more interesting proposition at 20/1 is Orchestra following his victory in the Dee Stakes.
He may have been relatively easy to back beforehand and may only have had a nose in hand from a racefit Romsdal (representing Buick and Gosden who will have a good idea where they stand at Epsom - a penny for your thoughts gentlemen?) but he moved easily and powefully through much of his reappearance.
It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to believe that he can improve by several pounds with that run under his belt while better ground should also be in his favour with Joseph O'Brien commenting after his maiden win that 'the better ground also helped'.
The conditions that day were officially described as 'good', as they were on his debut, and a little sun in Surrey wouldn't go amiss for this Galileo colt but the Chester contest has been a significant trial for Aidan O'Brien with Ruler of the World successful 12 months previously.
There's a deck of cards to be shuffled at Ballydoyle and the small matter of the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on Sunday but I'd still far rather be backing Orchestra at 20s rather than Snow Sky at 25s given both the nature of the performances and the paths that their respective trainers usually take to Epsom.