Lydia Hislop: Road to Epsom
Lydia Hislop concludes her popular Road to Epsom series with a look at the recent ebbs and flows ahead of the Investec Oaks and Derby.
It’s been a week of wobbles at the top of the Epsom ante-post markets, especially in the case of Investec Oaks favourite Taghrooda, whose price continues to drift. In her case, the unease has been caused by actions; in Australia’s case in the Investec Derby betting, it’s been caused by talk.
The potential field was whittled down to 27 at last week's forfeit stage and it was Geoffrey Chaucer - stablemate of ante-post favourite and the twice-checked third in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial - who was backed when punters saw who remained.
He is now clear second favourite behind the still odds-on Australia, who has drifted a tad. Apparently, it was suggested by Paddy Power last Thursday that Geoffrey Chaucer had "absolutely smashed" Australia in a gallop. Yawn.
In other news, True Story was also backed - despite his flat Dante display and the unconvincing excuses that followed. It was also confirmed at that stage that Snow Sky, the Lingfield Derby Trial winner, would run at Epsom.
John Gosden is plainly keen to get more experience into Western Hymn and it's not difficult to see why. Last week, he galloped with a companion on Lingfield’s all-weather track and again showed that tendency to hang in behind when asked to go past.
Like his Sandown run, his head carriage was awkward or babyish, depending on how forgiving you are, and he also hung left when hitting the front. These traits, combined with something of a rounded flourish of an action, are likely to be exposed by Epsom's ruthless downhill bend and camber.
However, we will get a sneak preview of this - albeit not at racing pace, of course - when he heads there this Thursday for the Breakfast With The Stars promotional morning. He will be joined by Andrew Balding’s Impulsive Moment, Ed Dunlop’s Red Galileo and Roger Varian’s Kingston Hill.
Gosden also has some insight into the form of Roger Charlton's Derby hopeful, Observational, who won the Derby last-chance saloon at Goodwood last Friday - otherwise known as the Cocked Hat Stakes and standing in the calendar where the Predominate used to be.
Marzocco, not entered in the Derby, represented Gosden and got outpaced before staying on strongly (as he did in Epsom's Derby Trial over a shorter trip) and being held by a neck at the line. He also received something of a bump from Observational as that horse angled out to make his challenge.
It was a steadily run race and is unlikely to have shown either Marzocco or the winner in their best light. Observational will surely improve for Epsom's stiff 12 furlongs, handles downhill tracks and has an extremely determined head carriage. He will have to improve again to figure at Epsom, but that was only his third start and less attractive rivals are trading at far shorter prices.
The most remarkable horse to stand his ground at the forfeit stage is Hydrogen, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam and as yet unraced.
He's closely related to his trainer's 2007 Derby winner, Authorized, and is clearly well thought of, given he also has an Irish Derby and Group Three entry. Yet he is not due to set foot on a racecourse until this Friday (at Newmarket's July course) at the earliest.
"Like his Sandown run, his head carriage was awkward or babyish, depending on how forgiving you are, and he also hung left when hitting the front. These traits, combined with something of a rounded flourish of an action, are likely to be exposed by Epsom's ruthless downhill bend and camber."
The Height Of Fashion Stakes (identical in slot and conditions to the old Lupe) is also set to provide a last-gasp classic contender - although it did not appear likely on the day. Winning trainer Hughie Morrison's immediate reaction was to assert that Epsom "probably isn't [the] track" for Marsh Daisy.
However, Morrison subsequently reflected with owner Sir Thomas Pilkington that the authoritative two-length winner had earned a shot at the Oaks and they plan to supplement her at a cost of £30,000 this week. It was a route to Epsom used by Morrison in 2012 with Coquet, who finished a hampered sixth.
Marsh Daisy will certainly stay, is improving fast and, although unproven on ground without cut, is unlikely to find the ground offputtingly fast on the day. Morrison has said he would prefer some rain to fall, however, and his gut reaction about track suitability is a background concern.
Incidentally, Anipa - whom Roger Varian indicated at York might yet be supplemented for Epsom - still does not feature in the ante-post betting. For what it's worth, Cheshire Oaks runner-up Secret Pursuit disappointed (having refused to settle) at Goodwood and Psychometry was beaten further than at Chester.
Talking of disappointing collateral form, Taghrooda's Pretty Polly form has only been trashed again and again. Jordan Princess, Sound Reflection, Uchenna and Surcingle have all been trounced on their next starts.
Admittedly, in three of those four cases, the ground was soft – very different from Newmarket’s good-to-firm. Uchenna was never travelling at Goodwood, whereas Jordan Princess travelled strongly before finding little. She may have enjoyed neither the ground nor the increased accent on stamina.
However, these performances have loosened Taghrooda's grip at the top of the market and will encourage connections of potential rivals to twist rather than stick. It is surely now more likely that owner companion, Tarfasha, will line up alongside her. She was duly shortened at the weekend.
Taghrooda will also gallop at Breakfast With The Stars, along with David Simcock’s Madame Chiang and the Ed Dunlop-trained pair Amazing Maria and Island Remede.
On Sunday, another challenger emerged in the shape of Marvellous, who won the Irish 1000 Guineas ultimately in good style. Having been nudged along at each increase in pace, she got motoring a furlong-and-a-half out, headed Lightning Thunder well inside the final furlong and won going away.
It was a tremendously likeable effort from a filly having only her third start and, in typical Aidan O’Brien style, represented a huge improvement on her seasonal debut behind stablemate, Bracelet. She was reported to have been coughing earlier in the season but had lately made great strides at home.
However, her stamina for the Oaks is a doubt on her speedier dam side and, although she is reportedly Epsom-bound and has been backed accordingly, the Prix De Diane might be more up her street. She is yet to tackle a fast surface, but that scenario wouldn’t arise on Friday week.
Among the 24 entries that remain in the Oaks field after its forfeit stage, the most left-field entry is Lady Dragon, stablemate of Sinnamary and second in a maiden for unraced fillies on her sole start last Tuesday. Experience, ability and stamina are all inadequate.