Now the trials are over, top analyst Mark Howard takes a look at the leading players in the Cazoo Derby and Oaks.
When it comes to the Cazoo Derby, there is no better place to start than with Aidan O’Brien as the head of Ballydoyle will be bidding for a record breaking ninth victory in Flat racing’s Blue Riband.
Few, if any colt, has impressed more than BOLSHOI BALLET in the trials this spring with the son of Galileo winning both the Ballysax and Derrinstown Stud Stakes at Leopardstown over ten furlongs – Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002) won the same two events en route to Derby success.
Fifth at Group 1 level as a two year old, he is bred to stay well being a full-brother to Southern France and there is no doubt he has progressed since upped in distance and threatens to be even better over a mile and a half.
While he was convincing in victory in the Ballysax, Bolshoi Ballet then trounced his rivals in the Derrinstown and looked every inch a top notch middle distance three year old in the making. The fact the subsequent Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney was nearly seven lengths back in fourth isn’t a negative. He rightly heads the market.
However, even allowing for the fact Bolshoi Ballet sets the standard, it isn’t guaranteed that Ryan Moore will be on board the ante-post favourite.
It was HIGH DEFINITION who fronted the betting during the winter having won both his starts at two. Another son of Galileo, he provided O’Brien with his twentieth win in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh in late September and his trainer waxed lyrical afterwards suggesting he would be something special during his Classic season.
A half-brother to Group 3 winner Innisfree, he was due to return to the fray in the Lingfield Derby Trial but was ruled out because ‘his blood count didn’t come back proper’ according to his handler. With time of the essence, High Definition did make his seasonal reappearance a few days later and, in the circumstances, shaped encouragingly in the Dante Stakes at York.
Outpaced early in the homestraight, Ryan Moore’s partner stayed on with purpose and was closing in on Hurricane Lane and Megallan. Beaten a length and a quarter, the first impressions were that he isn’t quick enough to win a Derby but, on reflection, it would be unwise to discount his claims.
The fact it was a rushed preparation with his connections desperate to provide him with more experience before Epsom and his running style suggesting he wants a longer trip, he remains a dangerous opponent to his stable companion. It is not difficult to make comparisons with Japan, who finished fourth in the Dante before filling third position at Epsom a couple of years ago. He, too, had a far from ideal preparation and it almost certainly cost him Classic glory before he went on to win two Group 1 prizes later that summer. I fear the same may happen to High Definition.
HURRICANE LANE is unbeaten in three starts and was a worthy winner at York. Yet to race beyond ten furlongs, he is a colt by Frankel out of a two miles winner and is therefore bred to improve over the Derby distance. His dam revelled in soft ground and Charlie Appleby’s charge has yet to encounter a quick terrain. He is the chosen mount of William Buick and is an improving sort, but preference is for High Definition to reverse placings early next month. Fitness was a major factor in the Dante.
VAN GOGH is the Ballydoyle ‘third string’ according to the betting but it is not inconceivable that the Group 1 winning two year old could progress appreciably when tackling an extra half mile. Out of the Irish 1000 Guineas and Oaks winner Imagine (the only time she tackled a mile and a half), he won the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in bottomless ground by four lengths in October.
A well held eighth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, the son of American Pharoah may have found the ground too lively (his only run on a fast surface). Back to form last time, he was a creditable third behind Mac Swiney at the Curragh leaving the impression he is ready for a searching stamina test.
Having finished behind Jim Bolger’s Irish Guineas winner twice during his career, many will believe he will have his work cut out to turn the tables, but he will head to Epsom with plenty of experience under his belt and with a pedigree which indicates he will be a much better horse over a mile and a half.
Neither Wings of Eagles (5 runs beforehand in 2017) or Anthony Van Dyck (8 in 2019) had blemish free profiles before they won the Derby, but their experience counted for plenty on the day. Indeed, one can envisage Van Gogh being in the frame on Saturday 5th June.
Bolger won the Derby in 2008 courtesy of New Approach and he is the sire of the aforementioned MAC SWINEY. A three times winner at two, including the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster when seeing off the challenge of One Ruler in atrocious conditions, he produced an underwhelming reappearance in the Derrinstown at Leopardstown this month.
Around seven lengths behind Bolshoi Ballet, he successfully reverted back to a mile in the Irish Guineas at the Curragh with a typically gutsy display edging out his stablemate and English Guineas winner Poetic Flare. Unbeaten on soft and heavy ground, including two Group 1 wins, Bolger has maintained throughout that Mac Swiney is his Derby horse.
It is worth remembering New Approach had been campaigned exclusively over seven furlongs or a mile prior to his trip to Epsom 13 years ago - he finished runner-up in the Irish 2000 Guineas in his ‘prep’ for the Derby. Stamina is unlikely to be an issue and Mac Swiney is battle hardened and relishes a fight. The slower the ground, the better his chance.
Preference would be for the former who was firmly on top of Adayar at the line. A homebred son of Sea The Stars, he is a half-brother to Group 1 winner and former stablemate Ajman Princess and the fact he is a winner on fast and slow ground is a bonus. Both colts look above average, but it is questionable whether they are capable of winning an Epsom Derby.
It is 25 years since Shaamit won the Derby for William Haggas. Storm The Stars finished third behind Golden Horn in 2015 and the Somerville Lodge team are hoping the rain stays away for the progressive MOHAAFETH.
A colt by Frankel out of an unbeaten ten furlongs Listed winner, he was bought for 350,000gns as a yearling and, despite failing to win either of his two races as a juvenile, the Shadwell Estate Company owned three year old has always been one of his trainer’s favourites.
A hard-fought winner over an inadequate trip at Lingfield in mid March, he was produced two smart performances since when upped to ten furlongs at Newmarket this spring. A handicap victory off an opening mark of 85 at the Craven meeting was swiftly followed by a facile success in the Listed Newmarket Stakes at the Guineas meeting.
Jim Crowley’s mount never came off the bridle as he sauntered five lengths clear of the 107 rated Secret Protector. Visually, it was as good as it gets and it was enough to point his connections in the direction of Epsom. He will arrive on the Downs as an unknown quantity and impossible to assess. Another two furlongs could bring about even more improvement.
Fellow Newmarket trainer Ed Dunlop has won the Oaks twice with Ouija Board and Snow Fairy. The latter is the dam of JOHN LEEPER, who is also unbeaten as a three year old.
Named after the trainer’s late father, who won the Derby twice, he had performed with a lot of promise on his only outing as a juvenile when fourth at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting in September.
Returning at Newcastle in late April over a mile and a quarter, the Frankel colt came from the rear before stretching clear to register a four lengths win.
Elevated in class, he overcame keenness to follow up in the Listed Fairway Stakes at Newmarket over a fortnight later. Leading three out, he was pushed out for a ready win under William Buick. Provided he settles, he is bred to stay further and, similar to Mohaafeth, he is difficult to evaluate and who knows what his ceiling of improvement is. Adam Kirby was on hand to guide him around Epsom earlier this week to help him get his eye in.
Ballydoyle also has a stranglehold on the ante-post betting for the Cazoo Oaks 24 hours earlier. O’Brien is seeking his ninth win in the fillies’ classic and the much vaunted SANTA BARBARA is short in the market having finished fourth in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket this month.
A bloodless winner of her sole outing as a juvenile, the daughter of Camelot was sent off 5/2 joint favourite on the Rowley Mile following glowing reports from her trainer regarding her homework during the spring.
While she found her stablemate Mother Earth a length and a quarter too good, she emerged with plenty of credit having travelled strongly before her lack of experience took its toll. That was evident once she came off the bridle hanging to her left as her effort flattened out. Her winning stable companion was having her ninth outing, while Ryan Moore’s mount was attempting to win a Classic on only her second public appearance.
Being a daughter of Camelot, Santa Barbara will almost certainly appreciate the step up in distance with O’Brien immediately nominating a trip to Epsom being on the cards in the post race discussion.
Her older siblings include Group 1 winners Order of Australia (won over 12 furlongs) and Iridessa (won the ten furlongs Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf but only seventh in the Irish Oaks on her only try over the trip) and connections appear confident she will stay a mile and a half.
Mother Earth subsequently finished runner-up in the French equivalent at ParisLongchamp but Fev Rover, who was third at HQ, could only fill tenth position at the Curragh last Sunday. Therefore the jury remains out as to how strong the form at Newmarket is. With that experience under her belt and a step up in distance, expect to see a much improved version of Santa Barbara on Friday week though. Love Divine (2000), Eswarah (2005), Look Here (2008), Was (2012) and Taghrooda (2014) all won the Oaks on their third career outing.
It is fully expected that Ryan Moore will be on board the twice raced filly even though another Ballydoyle inmate SNOWFALL landed the Group 3 Musidora Stakes at York in May.
Similar to Mother Earth, the Deep Impact filly wasn’t spared as a juvenile competing on seven occasions and seemingly fully exposed having been well held in both the Moyglare Stud Stakes and Fillies’ Mile.
However, she proved a different proposition stepping up to ten furlongs with Moore allowed to dictate from the outset. Upping the tempo at the three marker, Snowfall soon had her rivals in trouble before being driven out for a comfortable three and three quarters of a length victory.
From the family of Found, stamina is unlikely to be an issue but whether she possesses the class to land a Classic is debatable. It looked like daylight robbery at York but at least Moore, similar to Dick Turpin, had the decency to wear a mask on the Knavesmire.
Four-and-a-quarter lengths behind Snowfall in the Musidora was TEONA, who had been one of the most talked about three-year-olds during the winter/early spring. A daughter of Sea The Stars out of Group 1 winning filly Ambivalent, she was a wide margin winner of a ten furlongs maiden at Newcastle last backend.
Heavily supported ante-post for the Cazoo Oaks in the weeks before her trip to Yorkshire this month, her temperament got the better of her and she wasn’t able to transfer her homework to the racecourse. Edgy in the stalls, she was slowly away and failed to relax during the first half a mile under Andrea Atzeni.
Despite that, she made smooth headway on the stands side before her effort petered out inside the final furlong and a half. Roger Varian and his team now face a race against time to teach her to become more tractable between now and early next month.
The head of Carlburg Stables has never hidden his regard for Teona and she is bred to stay a mile and a half – her dam was a Listed winner over twelve furlongs and has already produced a Group 2 winner over the same distance. Interestingly, she will sport a hood for the first time in public at Epsom having reportedly worked well in headgear on Tuesday – her mother wore one for the majority of her career and was a five lengths winner when first fitted with one.
Varian is set to be double-handed with Cheshire Oaks runner-up ZEYAADAH expected to line up at Epsom, too. Unbeaten as a juvenile, including Listed success in late October, the Tamayuz filly was unfortunate not to extend her winning run to four starts on the Roodeye.
Jim Crowley’s mount was still full of running rounding the hometurn but met traffic problems, which allowed DUBAI FOUNTAIN to kick for home under Franny Norton. A length separated the pair with Mark Johnston’s runner landing the spoils. It will be a surprise if the winner is able to confirm the form and, while Zeyaadah isn’t considered as classy as Teona, she will stay the trip and has more experience than her well touted stable companion. Any ease underfoot would enhance her chance still further.
Jane Chapple-Hyam is responsible for two quality three-year-old fillies this time around. Bellosa is unbeaten in two starts and already a Listed winner. The daughter of Awtaad booked her place in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot in June having secured the King Charles II Stakes at her local track last time.
SAFFRON BEACH won the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes at the same venue last Autumn and has run two cracking races on the Rowley Mile this spring. Narrowly denied by Sacred in the Nell Gwyn Stakes in April, she then finished in front of the aforementioned Santa Barbara when a length runner-up in the 1000 Guineas eighteen days later. Yet to race beyond a mile, her trainer is hoping she will stay a mile and a half. Her sire New Bay won the Group 2 Prix Niel, but the former French Derby winner was at his best over ten furlongs, while her dam never raced beyond a mile, which implies her stamina isn’t guaranteed.
Glen Shiel provided Archie Watson with his first Group 1 winner since taking out a licence in 2016 when capturing the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot last Autumn.
SHERBET LEMON booked her ticket for Epsom when winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial. Rated 84, the Lemon Drop Kid filly belied her odds of 28/1 when staying on strongly to beat Save A Forest under Paul Mulrennan by three parts of a length.
She had previously found the regally bred Noon Star nearly nine lengths too good in a ten furlongs novice at Wetheby and, while she improved markedly when tackling the longer distance at Lingfield, there remains a doubt as to whether William Haggas’ former assistant’s filly has the gears or class to win at the highest level.