EPSOM OAKS PREVIEW
This time last year the wonderfully talented Love was scorching the Epsom turf on her way to an emphatic victory in the 2020 Oaks and this year could well produce another superstar, my mission is to figure out who that might be.
Of the home contingent Zeyaadah leads the line for Roger Varian, and it is no wonder why, in four starts the Tamayuz filly has won three and finished a seriously taking second last time out in the Chester Oaks to Dubai Fountain having had to wait for a gap before staying on powerfully. In all of her wins she was dropped in, and ridden for luck before mowing down the opposition, overcoming plenty of trouble particularly when looking very vulnerable at Beverley and Newmarket as a two-year-old. The Chester Oaks confirmed she’s well in herself and although she’s got to overcome stall one, she looks set for another big run today.
Teona is a filly I was really drawn to at the backend of last year having put up two smart displays at Newcastle in the winter and accompanies her stablemate, Zeyaadah, here for the Varian team. Teona returned to racing with a decent third behind Snowfall in the Musidora at York but blew her chances having raced too keenly throughout and faded at the finish as a result. She made her challenge widest of all and travelled smoothly into contention but didn’t find much for Andrea Atzeni’s pressure, which is no real surprise, given how enthusiastic she travelled. She sports a hood today and if it can settle her, this daughter of the brilliant Sea The Stars and the quirky but very smart, Group 1-winning mare, Ambivalent, could very well be up to the task but there are risks attached...
The Lingfield Oaks threw up the Oaks winner in 2019 when Anapurna landed the spoils and this year, you could argue that this year’s Linfield Oaks form is somewhat overlooked. Sherbet Lemon landed something of a shock four weeks ago with Save A Forest, Ocean Road, Divinely and Technique all in behind. It was a slow time on a soft surface, but she showed guts to fend off her rivals and having wandered around in the closing stages there could be lots of improvement to come but there will need to be. She’d overturned the form with Loving Dreams on that occasion, having previously finished well behind her and today’s non-runner Noon Star at Wetherby, so she’s a filly on the up but she’ll also have to prove she’ll be even better back on a quicker surface. Save A Forest and Ocean Road both ran credible races there, but if she can handle the ground, I’d be a little surprised if they improved past this filly who looks tough as old boots and should relish the test.
My attention was initially drawn to Santa Barbara who entered the 1,000 Guineas with a reputation that sent tremors through the racing socials, with this filly “dominating” whoever she worked with. You could not have been much happier with her return either, for all she didn’t get her head in front she was only making her second start to date and took everything, quite literally, in her stride. She was only really undone by her lack of experience, and perhaps match fitness, that day and to have only gone down by a length and a quarter was really quite some feat.
Being by an Epsom Derby winner in Camelot, this seems to be the logical step and if ever there was someone to ready her for a test like this, it would be eight-time winning trainer Aidan O’Brien. But I do have a few reservations... Despite her sire blitzing the Derby field back in 2012, he’s yet to produce a winner that’s been able to get their head in front at the course in 15 attempts, for all that Pink Dogwood and Sir Dragonet both went down by the finest of margins back in the 2019 Oaks and Derby respectively.
That statistic likely won’t last much longer, and it could well be this filly to break that streak, but I am a bit concerned about whether she’ll get the trip or stay it quite as well as some of her opponents. She's closely related to two Group 1 winners so she’s bred for the job but, to date, only her half-brother Order Of Australia, has proven form over a mile and a half but he has since developed into a much more potent proposition returned to a mile, taking the Breeders’ Cup mile last November. Santa Barbara started out over a mile when scoring impressively at the Curragh so there’s every chance she’ll be capable of getting further but given the speed she showed in the Guineas, it would not surprise me if a return to a mile or a mile and a quarter sees her to better effect a little further down the line, a lot like another of O’Brien’s top fillies in recent seasons; Rhododendron.
Instead, I’m siding with her stablemate SNOWFALL, who captured the Musidora in emphatic fashion last time out. She was able to dictate at her own pace on that occasion but won as she liked, and she demonstrated plenty of pace in the straight, powering right through the line and repelling a very capable field in the process. She sprung something of a surprise on that occasion having done little to get the pulses raising at the end of her juvenile season when soundly beaten in a Group 2 and two Group 1’s but she may well have found her feet now upped in distance. I was previously more excited about the proposition of Teona now sporting a hood but watching the Musidora back, she really powered away impressively and there's reason to suggest she can uphold that form. If Noon Star was still in here, she’d be well up there in the market and she accounted for her decisively, with Teona and Mystery Angel even further behind. She’s not going to get an easily lead today, but I imagine she’ll be ridden prominently and, if getting a run on the likes of Santa Barabara, Zeyaadah and Teona, she’ll be very tricky to peg back. She’s drawn well, Frankie’s on board and being out of a mile and a half Group 3 winner and by Deep Impact, there’s every chance she’ll be up to repeating her York efforts and passing her biggest test to date.
Selection: SNOWFALL 6/1
Outsider: Sherbet Lemon 33/1