2.00 Epsom – The Investec Woodcote Stakes (Conditions Race)

Richard Hannon’s record in the Woodcote can’t be ignored and even though it has now lost its Listed status and is only a conditions race, he still holds a strong hand. Campion is one of the most experienced runners in the field, along with the only other filly in the field Diamond Pursuit, having already had three starts but the form of her Bath win a week ago doesn’t look particularly strong and she will likely be outclassed by her male rivals here.

DE BRUYNE horse looks to be Hannon’s first string with Ryan Moore booked and must hold strong claims on the evidence of his win at Ripon last month. The Showcasing colt found five furlongs on fast ground at Newmarket much too sharp when fifth of 6 behind Way of Wisdom on debut but turned the tables next time out in no uncertain terms upped to today’s trip. This race was mooted as a potential target for the Middleham Park Racing-owned juvenile on the back of that run but connections were even considering the loftier heights of the Coventry at Royal Ascot, suggesting that he is very highly thought of. My only concern is that he wasn’t originally declared for the contest and was only added in once the race had been re-offered but it may simply have been a case that with a whole host of leading contenders not being declared, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Ventura Dragon looks to be the Middleham Park second string on paper and also looks to be behind Zap in Richard Fahey’s pecking order with Paul Hanagan jocked up on the York winner. The son of Mayson shaped nicely on his debut a fortnight ago and, like the selection, is another that has Royal Ascot on his agenda already. Had the weather not took a turn for the better, he would have had a massive chance and while he likely handles better ground, a sounder surface will be more of a leveller here. He looks clear second best though.

Cardsharp won nicely on debut at Brighton and wasn’t unfancied under a penalty in a hot Ascot novice event on his latest start. He didn’t disgrace himself in fourth, only fading out of it late on, and doesn’t have the burden of a penalty this time round but the step up in trip may just find him out.

Brighton winner Holdenhurst looks to be up against it in this class of field and judged on breeding and what he has shown so far, he will probably come into his own over further.


DE BRUYNE horse – 2pts win @ 13/8 (Betfair Sportsbook)

2.35 Epsom – The Investec Click & Invest Mile Handicap Stakes.

G K Chesterton is without doubt the one they all have to beat here but given the likely prohibitive odds in a race as competitive as this, I think the percentage call is to take him on. You couldn’t fail to be impressed with his performance at Newmarket last time and upped only 5lb for that win, he still looks to be on a fair mark here. However, he has shown all his best form when able to get his toe in and the drying conditions look to be going against him here. Factor in that he won in spite of failing to handle the dip on the Rowley Mile, and the camber round the bend at Epsom is something that does worry me slightly. Cheekpieces have been enlisted here to try and keep him on the straight and narrow and while it wouldn’t be a massive surprise were he to come home in front, I think there is better value elsewhere.

Therefore, the selection is SPRING OFFENSIVE, who finished sixth in this very contest last year. He encountered a particularly troubled passage that day, doing well to finish as close as he did and has largely remained in form since then. As a result, he lines up off a 2lb higher mark than twelve months ago but can still be relied upon to run his race. He started off this season with a fine fifth in the Irish Lincoln and backed that up with a solid dead-heat for third (with the re-opposing Stipulate) in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. Paul Hanagan seems to have opted to ride Richard Fahey’s other runner Home Cummins but I still think he looks too big at a double-figure price.

Top weight Remarkable looks up against it conceding at least 7lb to the rest of the field and stepping up in trip to the extended mile as he has looked a distinct non-stayer from what I have seen of him so far.

Sixties Groove will likely have his followers lining up here as the only course winner and having been gelded over the winter but he has shown all of his best form over further and a drop back in trip doesn’t look the most obvious move in my eyes.


SPRING OFFENSIVE– 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (William Hill)

3.10 Epsom – Investec Coronation Cup (Group 1)

The Coronation Cup is on Friday this year and trainer Aidan O’Brien will be hoping to land the first Group 1 of the Derby meeting before going on to continue his success in the Classics. The leading Irish handler fields three in the race as he bids to extend his record to eight wins in the race and his first since St Nicholas Abbey competed his hat-trick in 2013.

He trains the top two in the betting as brothers Highland Reel and Idaho are at the head of the market. The four-time Group 1 winner Highland Reel is favourite for the race and looks to have his ideal conditions to put up a big performance. The five-year-old is proven internationally at the top level with three of his Group 1s coming abroad; his first in the Arlington Million in 2015, the Hong Kong Vase later that year and his most recent in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in December last year. The son of Galileo’s British Group 1 win came in the 2016 King George at Ascot, were he benefitted from a superbly judged front-running ride by Ryan Moore (tactics which Seamie Heffernan repeated to claim victory at Santa Anita). The horse enjoys being ridden positively and is drawn well in stall 3 to get into position on Friday. Highland Reel does have to put a below-par run in Dubai on his reappearance behind him but the ground was too soft for him that day. He will have the better surface he requires at Epsom and will be hard to pass if on form, especially if allowed an easy lead.

Younger brother Idaho will be attempting to gain his first success at the highest level and his trainer believes that he will be able to reach the same level as Highland Reel. His three-year-old campaign featured a good run at Epsom when he finished third in the Derby and the course experience is something that his sibling does not have the benefit of. He then went onto finish second in the Irish Derby, where he battled well but could not reverse the Epsom form with Harzand. Idaho gained Group 2 success in the Great Voltigeur at York on his next start before unfortunately stumbling and unseating jockey Seamie Heffernan when odds-on favourite for the St Leger. He closed 2016 by finishing fifth of nine in the Canadian International and could find it difficult to make the step up to a Group 1 level victory on his reappearance.

O’Brien’s trio in the race is completed by US Army Ranger, who finished a place ahead of Idaho at Epsom last year. He had a big reputation after winning the first two starts of his career, having been unraced as a juvenile, and was sent off as favourite for the Derby. He ran very promisingly to finish runner-up, staying on strongly from the rear of the field down the straight. However, in five runs since then US Army Ranger has not been able to fulfil his potential, remaining with the two victories to his name. Last time out he was just caught close home by Western Hymn as he was stepped up in trip for the Ormonde Stakes at Chester and he will need improvement to get his head in front on Friday.

After O’Brien’s top two in the market comes Journey for trainer John Gosden, who is having her first run of 2017 having enjoyed a progressive season as a four-year-old. She had finished runner-up on her final start as a three-year-old in the Group 1 Fillies and Mares Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot and would build on that to go one place better in 2016. In a four race campaign in 2016 she finished third on her first start in the Group 2 Middleton Stakes at York before the going onto the land a hat-trick. This included Group 3 and Listed success at Haydock and Newmarket which primed her for a big run at Ascot in October. She put up an impressive performance on Champions Day to beat a strong field by four lengths as she stormed clear; Group 1 winning Speedy Boarding was back in second. If returning in the same form Journey would have a big part to play in the Coronation Cup, but she may struggle to reproduce that against race-fit rivals after a break of 230 days.

At the prices it could be worth siding with one of the Godolphin runners to make an impact in the first Group 1 of the Derby Meeting. Frontiersman is beautifully bred being a Dubawi half-brother to Australia and there should be more progress to come from this lightly-raced colt. However, preference is for Saeed bin Suroor’s PRIZE MONEY who showed good form in Dubai over the winter and can build on that here. On his second start at Medan he won a handicap before stepping up to Group 2 level when he got the better of Postponed. Although last year’s winner of the Coronation Cup may not have been the force of old it was still a good performance from PRIZE MONEY as he made smooth progress from the rear of the field to hold off his rival. On his final start in Dubai he ran well in the Group 1 Sheema Classic when he finished a creditable fourth on ground which was softer than ideal. Postponed managed to reverse the form but he was only half a length behind and overall he was four and half lengths away from the impressive Jack Hobbs. Back on better ground, PRIZE MONEY can continue his progress and pose a threat to the market-leader Highland Reel.


PRIZE MONEY – 1pt e/w @ 16/1 (bet365, Coral)

3.45 Epsom – Investec Wealth & Investment Handicap.

With only two winning favourites in the last ten years and the SPs of the last two winners being 16/1 and 25/1, it shows just how competitive this 1m2f handicap usually is.
The first place to start is with last year’s winner Imshivalla who returns twelve months on a mark 8lb lower than last year. Whilst that clearly sounds appealing, there is plenty of reason for that as the six-year-old’s form since then has been in and out to say the least since then. She has turned in the odd good effort, finishing a close third at Ayr in September and fourth at Redcar in November off much higher marks but her recent form leaves a lot to be desired. What could be significant is that the hood was left off last time, perhaps in a bid to freshen her up and with it refitted this afternoon, she has to come into consideration. She gets weight from all of her rivals here but even so I think it would need a big leap of faith to side with her here.

Another with course and distance form is Grapevine who won off a 12lb lower mark than this afternoon. However, he did run as though he may up to this higher mark when second on his return to action having been gelded over the winter. The ground may just have caught him out at Newmarket last time but it would be no surprise to see him leave that form behind here.

Eve Johnson Houghton’s What About Carlo is another with course and distance form to his name having won here on two occasions. His mark of 100 sees him sit towards the top of the weights here but having won off a mark of 95 in October, I don’t think this sort of mark is beyond him. It should also be pointed out that the stable is in very good form at present and it would be no surprise to see him go well at his favourite venue.

Sir Michael Stoute is no stranger to success at this meeting and his runner here Fidaawy looks a typically progressive horse from the stable. He made a winning return to action at Doncaster at the end of April and having been raised just 4lb on the back of that, he is far from handicapped out of this. The hood he wore last time seemed to do a good job in settling him down and with that headgear retained he looks a major player.

Another progressive four-year-old looks to be Brorocco who won over course and distance in April before chasing home a well-regarded Sir Michael Stoute runner at Chester last time. He just got a little too far back last time but made enough headway late on to suggest that he can be competitive off his current mark. Andrew Balding saddled the filly Elbereth to victory in this race two years ago and he looks to have another leading candidate this time around.

Also worth consideration is Examiner who won the extended mile handicap at this meeting last year. Stuart Williams’ six-year-old runs here off the same mark as he won last year and aside from a below-par display in the Spring Mile last time, he had been in good form on the all-weather prior to that. It could be that 1m is on the sharp side for him these days so this trip should suit and given his exploits around here in the past, he has to come under consideration.

However, with so many horses in with chances, I think it might be worth taking a chance on one at a bigger price and I think STORM KING is a little overpriced at around the 14/1 mark. David Griffiths’ eight-year-old has been in the form of his life this term, winning twice including at Chester last time. He made all on that occasion under David Allan and the form of that race has worked out well, with the second and third filling the first two places next time. His prominent running style is likely to be well suited to Epsom and from his inside draw he should be able to get over to the rail pretty quickly. He has only gone up 3lb for his latest win to 83 and having won off a mark of 90 a couple of years ago, he could still have something in hand on the handicapper. He has a low weight with just 8st 7lb on his back and having showed how tough he is to pass last time, I think he has an each-way chance in an open contest.


STORM KING – 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1 (bet365, Coral)

4.30 Epsom – Investec Oaks (Group 1)

The second fillies’ Classic of the season looks a cracking renewal with a number of potentially top-class fillies locking horns.

The only place to start is with Aidan O’Brien who has by far the best record of any trainer with a runner this year, having saddled six winners including the last two. He has three runners this time around, with the pick of those on all known form and jockey bookings being Rhododendron. The Galileo filly has been popular in the market for this race since winning the Fillies Mile at Newmarket in October and for all the winner is an above-average filly, there is no doubt she was a little unlucky in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Obviously, the trip is an unknown as she has never raced beyond 1m but her dam won over 1m2f so there is every reason to think it won’t be a problem. Personally, I think she is the right favourite but in a renewal of this quality I am surprised to see her odds-on in places.

She is joined in the line-up by Alluringly who chased home John Gosden’s Enable at Chester the last time we saw her. In what was a tactically run affair, she just didn’t have the turn of foot to pick up the winner and a more strongly run race is likely to show her in a better light.

The trio of Ballydoyle runners is completed by Pocketfullofdreams who remains a maiden to date. She ran well when second in the Lingfield Oaks Trial last time but the winner of that race was some way short of this level and she would need to take a massive step forward to figure here.

I briefly mentioned Enable in passing earlier and she forms one part of a two-pronged assault from the John Gosden stable. Having run behind stablemate Shutter Speed at Newbury on her return to action, she clearly took a big step forward when winning at Chester last time. There is no doubt she benefitted from a very good front-running ride from Frankie Dettori but the front two drew well clear of the remainder of the field and I suspect both fillies are above average. It would also have to be considered significant that Frankie has picked her over her stablemate Coronet although there doesn’t look to be much between the pair.

In truth, I actually prefer the claims of her stablemate CORONET who looks likely to be suited by the step up to 1m4f for the first time. The Dubawi filly won a smart renewal of the Listed Zetland Stakes as a two-year-old, where she had the likes of Cunco, Permian and Wings Of Eagles in behind her. On the face of it, her reappearance run in the Prix Saint Alary at Deauville was a little disappointing but she missed the break that day and in a slowly run race, did well to make up so much ground in the closing stages. I have no doubt that the 1m4f trip will suit her and if anything I think she could stay further as the season goes on. She is also reported to have come on a lot for that first run of the season and I fancy her to run a big race. Andrea Atzeni’s talents continue to improve and I think she is worth an each-way bet.

Sobetsu was the filly who benefitted from Coronet’s slow break in Deauville as she made all under William Buick to land the spoils. She was thought to be waiting for the Prix Diane but her connections believe the conditions at Epsom on Friday are likely to be more suitable for her so they have decided to go down this route. I suspect that form is somewhat underrated compared to some of the British trials and if there is sufficient give in the ground the Charlie Appleby’s filly could have a big shout.

One who I find difficult to see finishing out of the frame is Andrew Balding’s horseplay who won her maiden by thirteen lengths at Nottingham last October. Despite the quicker ground at Newmarket last time, she turned in a fine performance to win the Pretty Polly, a race which Talent and Taghrooda both won en route to winning the Oaks. I suspect that ground was as quick as she would like, so the rain we have had in the early part of this week will have played into her hands. I think there is more to come from her on just her fourth start and the constantly improving Oisin Murphy in the saddle, I can see her running a big race.

The final one to mention is Roger Charlton’s Natavia who stepped forward from her debut at Newmarket in April to win the Oaks Trial at Newbury a couple of weeks ago. She clearly improved a lot for that outing and the progeny of Nathaniel look set to make their name over middle distances. It was hard not to be impressed with the way she won that day but the form of those behind her isn’t that strong. Her connections will also have been relieved to see the rain come earlier in the week and although she needs a big step up, it has to be considered significant that she is running at all, especially with the owner having another leading hope in Enable. Pat Smullen comes over to ride her and as long as her inexperience doesn’t catch her out, she could have a say.


CORONET – 1pt e/w @ 11/1 (William Hill)

5.15 Epsom – Investec Savings Surrey Stakes (Listed Race)

Only seven runners for the penultimate race on day 1 of the meeting but it still looks a competitive affair with the favourite at this stage being Sutter County. Mark Johnston’s colt won one of the first 2yo races of last season but suffered a setback shortly after his second run which disrupted the rest of his campaign. He was on the go throughout the winter on the all-weather, winning once at Newcastle but also turning in a number of good efforts in defeat. He got back to winning ways on the turf last weekend when winning a handicap at Goodwood on Saturday. He made all that day and a similar ride from his inside draw is likely to work out well but I suspect that there are more talented performers in the field.

John Gosden’s Seven Heavens is another who is likely to go forward having turned in a much better effort when third in Listed company a couple of weeks ago. He continues to be very keen in his races and whilst he did settle better in front at Newmarket, it is hard to argue that he is reaching his full potential at present. I imagine that Frankie will let him stride on again here despite his wide draw although there is a danger that he could get racing too early with Sutter County also likely to be handy.

With that in mind, I think it might be worth taking a chance on the Irish raider TRUE VALOUR who got off the mark at the fourth attempt at Limerick in April. Johnny Murtagh’s colt did have some good form at two including running Lancaster Bomber close at Leopardstown in August. He wasn’t beaten far in Listed company at Naas last time, having led early on he just got a little tired in the closing stages. I think it is significant that Ryan Moore has been booked to ride this colt and in a race in which the first two I have mentioned might set a strong gallop, I suspect that Moore will be able to track the pair and make his move when appropriate. On form I don’t think there is a lot between a number of these and at around the 4/1 mark, I think he is worth a small win bet.

That is not to say that this is a three horse as there are plenty of interesting contenders in the remainder of the field. Roger Varian has always had a high opinion of Solomon’s Bay and he ran with some promise behind Seven Heavens at Newmarket last time. I’m not sure he enjoys Newmarket as he has run below expectations on both starts there and although he has a bit to find with the leading protagonists, there are few better jockeys around Epsom than Silvestre De Sousa.

I should also mention Hugo Palmer’s Koropick who wouldn’t have appreciated the soft ground at Newbury on his return to action. He had some good form as a 2yo including when fifth in the Middle Park and we should learn more about his prospects for the season here.


TRUE VALOUR – 1pt win @ 9/2 (Stan James)

5.50 Epsom – The Investec Foreign Exchange Handicap Stakes

The finale looks a devilishly difficult race to try and decipher as each of the 12 runners can have a case made for them.
Mark Johnston has won two of the last three renewals and from a raft of entries, the master of Middleham has pinned his hopes solely on Aardwolf. The son of Cape Cross looks a much better animal having been gelded over the winter but was mist disappointing at Goodwood last Saturday and the handicapper may just have his measure at present.

Richard Fahey is the only other trainer to have landed this contest in the last ten years with a runner here and his Atteq must warrant respect. The Invincible Spirit colt had shown some near useful form but has really started to get his act together of late, scoring in a Beverley handicap before fishing runner-up at Musselburgh last time out. The form of his latest effort has taken a few knocks though so a 5lb rise looks pretty harsh and he appears to be the Al Shaqab second string with Frankie opting to ride Wahash.
Richard Hannon’s charge has been racing over further than the 7f trip here of late but he hasn’t been finishing his races off as strongly as he could so this could turn out to be exactly what he needs. Up 3lb for his runners-up effort in a heavy ground Doncaster handicap, he may just find one or two better treated here.

His stablemate Plant Pot Power could be an interesting contender having had just the sole start so far this season. He was well beaten at Chelmsford however and although he holds the re-opposing Juanito Chico on their Kempton nursery 1-2 back in October, there still appear to be a few less exposed sorts with more upside.

One of which is Eaton Square, who promised a great deal last season but ultimately disappointed. The well-bred three-year-old was an expensive Breeze-Up purchase last year and looked a nice prospect as he struck on debut at Nottingham in July. He didn’t kick on from that though, looking a tad one-paced when runner-up in a conditions event at Salisbury next time before being outclassed in the Group 3 Horris Hill Stakes to round off the campaign. However, it is interesting that connections have persevered with him and now he has been gelded over the winter, he could be an entirely different proposition. That being said, it will be tough for him to concede weight all round to more experienced and match-fit rivals and he may be best watched first time out.

Therefore, the selection is MUSAWAAT who shaped particularly well on his seasonal bow at Doncaster last month and on a fair mark just 3lb higher for that effort. He showed a good attitude to score on debut at Newbury in September before finding Group 3 company too hot when behind Eaton Square in the Horris Hill. He has done all his racing on ground with a bit of give in it but I think there is more to come when we see him on a sound surface, which he looks likely to get here.

The other runner that is of great interest is bottom weight Black Trilby on the back of his solid second at Leicester on his handicap debut last time out. Clive Cox’s well-bred colt was highly-tried in a trio of very hot maidens as a juvenile and while he performed well without troubling the judge, a little bit more was expected of him. He is the only maiden in the field but could quite feasibly be well treated as a result and a mark of 82 could still underestimate him.


MUSAWAAT – 1pt win @ 7/1 (Betstars)