By Nicholas Godfrey
GB: With five of the 14 runners, Aidan O’Brien appears to be in pole position among the trainers yet again as he seeks his ninth Oaks (4.30pm BST) winner when the Cazoo Derby Festival kicks off with the historic fillies’ Classic at Epsom on Friday.
Much-touted Santa Barbara (Ryan Moore) and Musidora Stakes winner Snowfall (Frankie Dettori) lead the Ballydoyle team for the £375,000 event, in which the betting suggests chief opposition to the O’Brien contingent will come from Newmarket-based Roger Varian. His three runners include highly rated pair Zeyaadah and Teona.
Other fancied types include 1,000 Guineas runner-up Saffron Beach, Lingfield Oaks Trial winner Sherbet Lemon and Dubai Fountain, who beat Zeyaadah in the Cheshire Oaks.
On the same card, William Haggas-trained Al Aasy is hot favourite for the Coral Coronation Cup (3.10pm BST). Main rivals in the G1 event are Ballydoyle brothers Japan and Mogul.
Shall we talk about it?
“Divinely, we always liked her a lot and she is a sister to Found. She won a G3 last year and had one run at Lingfield this year. I remember Ryan said after he was delighted with her. They went very slow and it didn’t suit her but he was happy with her run. Her work has been very nice since and her figures from her work have been coming out very high so that is usually a very good sign.”
“She was screaming out as a middle-distance filly last year. It was nice to see her reappear like she did and you would have no concerns about the ground with her. She is a very big, lengthy filly. The experience of going around Chester will not be lost on her and it will stand her in good stead going around Epsom. She had Snowfall well behind her in the Fillies’ Mile and she has just won her trial. I think Dubai Fountain has been underestimated as she never runs a bad race.”
Charlie Johnston (assistant trainer)
“La Joconde is another filly that we always thought more of than she has shown. We think there is plenty to come from her. We think she is a very solid filly and we think she has plenty of quality.”
“It looked a more logical step to supplement her for the Oaks than the Ribblesdale, which is run on a more conventional track and might not suit her as well as an unconventional track like Epsom. She seems to be in great form at home. I would consider her a lively outsider and I think she deserves her place. She showed a liking for faster ground and that she had a turn of foot at Newmarket in the Pretty Polly, which is a renowned Oaks trial.”
“I think she has come on an enormous amount from Lingfield, where we felt the soft ground blunted her speed. I’d be confident that she has come on at least 10lb and if she has come on 20lb she is going to be right there. She has stripped down to hard fit now, 18 kilos lighter than she was at Lingfield, and her work has been really good. She is an outsider, but I think she is a lively outsider. The question with all of them is will they stay; I am pretty sure she will.”
“We were delighted with her run in the Guineas. It was a big ask for her and for us she passed the test with flying colours. The ground was quick that day and it makes it a little bit more tricky for a horse with not a lot of experience at Newmarket because they race hard into that dip and they can get found out, but we were delighted with the way she travelled and she showed us the class she showed us at home.
“She has only had the two runs which is not a lot going into the Oaks but we are excited – everything has gone very smoothly and very well. The Guineas is the Guineas but you would imagine natural improvement to come and she hasn’t shown us anything in her work to suggest otherwise.
“We were always going to go into the Oaks not knowing whether she would get a mile and a half or not but I suppose we will find that out. She is by Camelot which is a big help and we know that she has a lot of class.”
Save A Forest
“She is an interesting filly – she is very laidback at home and doesn’t give us any clues or anything away in her homework. But I love any animals, fillies or colts, who take a step forward with each run. The exciting thing about her is that you don’t know when she will reach her ceiling. However she runs in the Oaks, I can almost guarantee it will be a good deal better than at Lingfield as that is the pattern of her progress. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her run a nice race.”
“It was a really good performance at Lingfield and she pulled it out of the bag. She was a bit green late on so there is plenty more to come. Obviously we are all there to try and win the race but I hope she can finish in the top five or six. There are a few that you would have doubts about stamina but Sherbet Lemon does everything right to ensure she gets it. She settles and she travels. I can’t knock her. Whether she will be able to dictate like she did around Lingfield that day around Epsom I’m not so sure but we will see.”
Hollie Doyle (jockey)
“We always thought the world of her last year and that is probably why we campaigned her in such good races. She might have been a little bit weak but she is bred to be a classy filly, and bred like a filly that could get the trip.
“We were delighted with her at York. She has come out of York very well. We think maybe that going up in trip on better ground, and her having another year under her belt to get stronger has all come together. She has always worked like a filly that had loads of class but just didn’t get it together last year.”
“She is a big, strong, energetic filly and had a lot of fizz on the day at York. She got a little upset at the starting gates. She over-raced a little bit off a very steady gallop. She made a nice move in the straight and then probably got tired in the final 100 yards. There were a lot of positives to take from the race, the biggest being able to give her a day out.
“Of course, the Oaks presents a different sort of challenge and a different sort of test, but I think she is extremely talented and I hope she does not make the juvenile mistakes she made at York.”
“Willow is out of Peeping Fawn and she has progressed with every run. She will love the trip and if there is any ease in the ground that won’t bother her. Physically she is doing well.”
“I was delighted with her at Chester – the visual impression was very good. She was a shade unlucky and not taking anything away from the winner, you could have made a case for Zeyaadah winning that day had she got running a bit earlier in the straight. I know that Jim (Crowley) got a mighty feel from her as he was buzzing when he got off and we think it was a very good run in defeat. I think there is a good deal of improvement there.
“I hope she will stay, although she is not guaranteed to on pedigree, being by Tamayuz but middle-distance lines in her family should give her a chance, Her running style also gives her a chance. She has a relaxed style of running, is a good-moving filly, well-balanced and can quicken so I would be hopeful over a trip.”
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