Lancs Oaks: Horse-by-horse
Matt Brocklebank provides a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Bet365 Lancashire Oaks at Haydock and expects John Gosden to enhance his fine record in the Group Two contest.
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ASTONISHING - Major improver during her three-year-old campaign, never better than when thrashing Songbird to claim Listed prize at Newmarket on her final outing in 2013. Has found life much tougher in a couple of Group Three assignments this term and finished behind Sultanina and Silk Sari over this course and distance last time. Hopes pinned on better ground sparking a return to peak form, but even that might not be enough.
CHARITY LANE - Yet to race in this country having previously been trained by new trainer's brother, Stefano Botti, in Italy and her last public appearance came back in October. However, she was a winning machine 'back home', landing a 1m3f Group Two at San Siro last May and taking Group One glory over 1m2f at Capannelle last time. The form of that race could have worked out better, but she's bred to relish this even more demanding test and merits a look in the betting market at the very least.
MOMENT IN TIME - Looks likely to go off as one of the outsiders having struggled to make her presence felt in a couple of starts since returning from a spell in Dubai. She did OK in Meydan, a fourth place in the Dubai Gold Cup the obvious highlight, and it's worth noting she won a Group Three over this track and trip last summer. Fairly exposed though and opposable on balance.
POMOLOGY - Trainer John Gosden has won this prize three times in the past 10 years, including in 2011 and 2012, so very interesting he decides to run this filly here on her first outing as a four-year-old. She was very progressive at three, winning three from three including a Group Three at Deauville over the extended mile and a half when last sighted in August. Entitled to have strengthened up again during the interim and there should be enough pace to bring her abundant stamina into play.
ROCK CHOIR - Trainer remains in tremendous form but it'll take a leap of faith to side with this daughter of Pivotal as she hasn't added to her tally since landing a Newbury handicap off a mark of 82 last July, albeit impressively. Disappointed in that sphere on her seasonal return at Newmarket in May and only marginally improved on that effort when fifth at Nottingham last month. Not much in her pedigree to suggest another step up in trip will help and she can only be watched for the time being.
SEAL OF APPROVAL - Comes into this as the highest-rated in the field having recovered from a bad experience at Doncaster (fell after clipping heels) to win the Group One filly and mares event at Ascot on Champions Day in October. Made a very pleasing reappearance when fourth behind some strong stayers in the Yorkshire Cup and dropping back in distance won't do her any harm. However, needs plenty of rain to be seen at her best and won't line up if it remains on the quick side.
SILK SARI - Trainer knows what's required to win this having saddled Pongee to victory in 2004 and there was a lot to like about her strong-finishing half-length third behind re-opposing Sultanina in course and distance Pinnacle Stakes here in May. That was only the sixth race of her life and she should keep improving over time.
SULTANINA - Along with the returning Pomology, she helps provide Gosden with a really strong hand in the race and, like her stablemate, she is yet to taste defeat. Unraced before this season, she followed up her winning debut in May in gritty fashion when taking a C&D Group Three. Holds Silk Sari and Astonishing on that form and remains open to stacks of improvement.
TALENT - Lived up to her name as a three-year-old, winning the Pretty Polly and the Oak but she has come up short in four subsequent outings, albeit at the highest level. Her St Leger second to Leading Light is all the more meritorious given the winner's Ascot exploits last month and her moderate comeback run in the Coronation Cup can certainly be excused. Will be strongly fancied to take advantage of this dip in class, but it's hard to be overly confident.
WALL OF SOUND - Deserves a crack at this prize having progressed through the handicap ranks and proved a miserable Goodwood effort all wrong when a half-length second to Secret Gesture in the Warwickshire Oaks at Nottingham last month, beating Rock Choir in the process. This demands more though and plenty to prove stepping back up in distance.
WE'LL GO WALKING - Formerly trained by Jim Bolger, she has shown a good level of ability in two starts for Johnny Murtagh this term, finishing second to subsequent Oaks second Tarfasha in the Blue Wind at Naas and third behind Secret Gesture and the reopposing Wall Of Sound at Nottingham. That form needs improving upon and while it's not out of the question, other less exposed types look more likely for top spot.
LUSTROUS - Not too far behind the pick of these filles on official ratings and her form this season has been generally progressive. Won a Listed race over a mile at York in May before proving her stamina for this trip when staying on for a half-length second to Bracelet in the Ribblesdale. Possibly not the strongest renewal of that Royal Ascot Group Two but she could have more to offer and might be ridden a little more prominently this time having shown the distance isn't an issue.
It will be fascinating to see how multiple Italian winner Charity Line fares in the betting market but without such insight it seems a safe policy to focus on John Gosden's thus far unbeaten representatives.
Stamina is obviously Pomology's strong suit but she hasn't raced yet this season and preference is for SULTANINA, who has been kept fresh for this event after claiming Group Three honours over this course and distance at the end of May.
She toughed it out in tremendous style to see off another stable companion, Freedom's Light, on that occasion and that rival has since gone one better at Pontefract.
It'll take a good performance to lower the selection's colours, but Talent is feared dipping in class having understandably struggled to make an impression behind Cirrus Des Aigles, Flinshire and Ambivalent on her return to action in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.