By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
Investec Oaks is the pinnacle race for three-year-old fillies over one mile and four furlongs. For the first time ever, the Oaks and the Derby will be raced on the same day due to the altered schedule in the aftermath of Coronavirus, with the Oaks taking place and hour and fifteen minutes before the Derby, at 3:40.
Epsom Downs racecourse offers a unique test for these fillies. The course is a horse-shoe shape and the maximum trip ran at the course is the Oaks/Derby trip of one mile four furlongs and six yards. They climb from 360m above sea level to the highest point of the track, which sits at 500m above sea level, on the sweeping left-hand bend at roughly the five and a half furlong marker. From there, it is predominately downhill until the last half a furlong when the ground climbs towards the winning post.
A field of just eight go to post this year for the race, which is the smallest field we have seen for a while. There were fourteen runners last year when the daughter of Frankel, Anapurna, won for Frankie Dettori and John Gosden. This famous combination has a big day on Sunday with Enable in the Coral-Eclipse but, before then, they are running Frankly Darling in the Investec Oaks. This filly made her debut in October, when a staying on second over a mile on heavy ground. She burst onto people’s radar when she started off this season with a five-length victory at Newcastle. She then went to Royal Ascot and she strongly won over this trip in the Ribblesdale Stakes, with Ennistymon, Passion and Bharani Star. The Ribblesdale looks a good form line for this race. On pedigree, Frankly Darling is by Frankel (so bred for the trip) and the dam is a Daylami mare who won the Cheshire Oaks and has had progeny stay past one mile six.
John Gosden has two runners and his other is Tiempo Vuela. She was a three-length winner on her debut but stepped up to listed company and finished seventh of eight in the Pretty Polly, when Queen Daenerys was second. She was keen and unbalanced so will have to improve to feature in this. However, she may benefit from the step up in trip as her dam won at one mile and five furlongs.
Aidan O’Brien has won two of the last four renewals with the wonderful Minding and Forever Together. He has three fillies representing him this year – Love, Passion and Ennistymon. Love is the chief market rival of Frankly Darling. At two, her highlights were winning a group three, winning the group one Moyglare Stud and coming third in the Fillies Mile. She returned to Newmarket on the seventh of June this year to convincingly win the 1000 Guineas but this race is four furlongs further. Before the Guineas, I think people expected that race to be a stepping stone to the Oaks. She is by Galileo, who won the Derby, and, quite interestingly, out of a mare who never won a race for Stuart Edmunds yet has produced four black type winners. Love’s full sisters Peach Tree and Flattering both ran in this race.
Seamie Heffernan has a busy weekend. He rides Ennistymon in the Oaks and Russian Emperor in the Derby. Then, on Sunday, he goes to Chantilly where he rides Order Of Australia in the Prix Du Jockey Club and Peaceful in the Prix de Diane. After this, he is looking at a fourteen-day quarantine period when returning to Ireland. Focusing on the Oaks, Ennistymon, who’s name is evidently hard to pronounce for an English person. This Galileo filly could only manage seventh on debut but won on her first start as a three year old. That win earned her a place in the Ribblesdale field over one mile four. She only had about three horses behind her for most of the way and moved off the rail, running quite wide down the home straight. She showed a great attitude to fly down the outside and get second. If she’d been more prominent, she would’ve finished closer to Frankly Darling.
Passion failed to quicken to the same extent as Ennistymon at Royal Ascot, finishing two and a half lengths behind her after settling nicely. She was the choice of Ryan Moore for the race after coming fourth in a Navan listed race six days earlier. She was seventh over a mile in the May Hill Stakes, after a maiden win at Cork, but the mile was never going to be her trip. She’s a full sister to St Leger winner Capri and two mile group three winner Cypress Creek. The trip will not be a problem and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her running over a longer trip in time.
Bharani Star filled the fourth place spot behind Frankly Darling, Ennistymon and Passion. She was stone last for the majority of the way, which was a deliberate move by Andrea Atzeni. She was still travelling well when some of the other fillies were showing distress signals and she stayed close to the rail in the final stages and she galloped nicely to the line. For a 100/1 shot, that was a great run. She was fifth on her debut and then fourth behind Queen Daenerys. Her only win was eight days before Royal Ascot when she dead heated.
Queen Daenerys is Roger Varian’s second string it appears with Andrea Atzeni riding Gold Wand. William Buick rides Queen Daenerys. This daughter of Frankel came second to Cloak Of Spirits, who was second in the 1000 Guineas, on debut and then won at Newmarket, with Bharani Star in fourth. After this, she finished sixth in the Fillies Mile and the trip was probably on the short side there. She had a wind op over the winter and ran a nice race last time at Newmarket. Gold Wand probably has the best chance of the fair. She’s by Derby winner Golden Horn and out of a twice-raced black type achieving mare. Gold Wand had to fight on her debut and was just headed to be beaten a neck. She won a class five at Newbury on the 11th June over one mile two and she led from the two furlong pole. She has scope to improve.
I’ve been struggling to work this race out. A lot of fillies have great chances. Frankly Darling is the horse who’s shown the most this season over the trip. She’s in the plum draw of three, which has thrown up the last two winners. But then there’s Love. She’s the 1000 Guineas winner and is the only horse with a group one win to her name – and she has two for that matter! I’ve watched back the Ribblesdale three times and I really like the way ENNISTYMON ran on. She was ridden cold that day and ran on well to get close to Frankly Darling, who was admittedly being eased down. Frankly Darling is quite a free going sort and I think this test may not suit her as Epsom is a unique track. Seamus Heffernan said, when asked if things will be different when Ennistymon faces off Frankly Darling again, in an interview, “It’ll be different when I ride her”, which is very encouraging. With just eight runners, there isn’t much each way value on offer but Bharani Star could out run her odds.