2.00 Epsom – Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Group 3)
Karl Burke’s Odeliz looked a filly on the up when she chased home Thistle Bird in this contest twelve months ago and whilst she couldn’t get her head in front last season, she was twice placed in Group 3 company and beaten only half a length in the Grade 1 E.P Taylor Stakes. She has already had two runs this term, finishing down the field in Ireland, although the ground was bottomless on that occasion and there were signs of a return to form when she finished fourth in the Middleton Stakes last time. My slight concern is that she has still only won three times in her career, the last of which came in September 2013 and she tends to find one too good on the day. She heads the market at around 3/1 and whilst I think she should probably be favourite, there are enough fillies amongst the rest of the field to take her on.
An important runner as to how the race might be run is James Tate’s LAMAR who has led on her last two starts over nine and ten furlongs respectively. She looks likely to try and do the same once again here in the hands of Adam Kirby whom we have seen execute such tactics to good effect on several occasions. She took on the colts at Goodwood last time and looked to have them on the stretch for a long way before being collared late on. She should be able to get her own way out in front and the drop back in trip is also likely to play into her favour. I can see her kicking on from the home turn and being difficult to peg back. She looks to have solid each-way claims at around the 10/1 mark.
Also of interest is David Elsworth’s Arabian Queen who makes her first start since running behind Tiggy Wiggy in the Cheveley Park Stakes. She was a smart two-year-old winning the Group 2 Duchess of Cambridge Stakes in July and should continue to improve this year. In terms of her pedigree the step up to an extended mile should be no problem for the filly but off such a lay-off, you have to take fitness on trust. As the only three-year-old in the line-up she receives at 12lb from the whole of the field and could be another to outrun her price, with no weight on her back.
2.35 Epsom – Investec Wealth & Investment Stakes (Handicap)
This handicap is always particularly tricky and it doesn’t look to be any easier this time around. The place to start seems to be with Mark Johnston who throws three darts at the race in the shape of Fire Fighting, Master Of Finance and Sennockian Star. I do find it difficult to work out Mark Johnston especially when he has three horses in a race likes this. Joe Fanning would appear to be on the ‘first string’ but Paul Mulrennan retains the ride on Fire Fighting on whom he won last time. The four-year-old stretched clear to win the Zetland Gold Cup at Redcar and having won here already, the track shouldn’t pose any problems for him. He will have to overcome a poor draw in 13 but he looks a solid candidate for the frame on his recent form.
Also of interest is Mick Channon’s Nancy From Nairobi who has finished second on her first two starts this term. She was collared close home by the progressive Mahsoob at Newbury who has since gone on to win at York. At Lingfield next time, she kept on well in the closing stages to chase home Burano and having finished just half a length behind him, the 3lb pull in the weights should allow her to reverse the form with this rival. It is significant that Richard Hughes has been booked to ride her as he is the only jockey to have won on her in her career to date. She too has a wide draw in stall 11 but should be thereabouts if she continues her fine run of form.
However, it might be best to take a chance on SEAGULL STAR who was highly thought of as a three-year-old and was last seen finishing down the field in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot . Prior to that he ran in the Chester Vase behind Orchestra and looks an intriguing proposition dropping back into handicap company. His absence of nearly a year is obviously a concern but the William Haggas yard could not be in better form and his jockey Harry Bentley is also riding with plenty of confidence at present. His mark of 93 looks workable considering how much connections thought of him as a three-year-old and he looks overpriced at around the 8/1 mark.
3.10 Epsom – Investec Diomed Stakes (Group 3)
Twelve months ago, AROD lined up in the Derby, finishing fourth behind the brilliant Australia on the day. This season has seen him dropped back in trip and having finished a close second in the Earl Of Sefton behind French Navy, Peter Chapple-Hyam’s colt ran a stormer to finish third in the Lockinge behind Night Of Thunder. That is clearly an excellent piece of form for a horse who is starting to fulfil some of the potential that connections felt he had. He currently sits at the head of the market and given that we know he handles the track, he looks justified in his place at the head of affairs.
Custom Cut is a remarkably consistent performer and whilst he could only finish ninth in the Lockinge, he was only beaten five lengths by the winner. Prior to that he had won six of his last seven starts including twice at Group 2 level so this sort of test shouldn’t be beyond him. In the absence of Danny Tudhope due to a broken finger, O’Meara has turned to Ryan Moore to take the mount which is certainly a positive move. He carries a 5lb Group 2 penalty which makes it difficult to see him reversing form with Arod but he is likely to run his race as he always does and it will be interesting to see whether anything is good enough to peg him back.
Also prominent in the market is Shifting Power whose connections have always that he is a Group 1 horse and considering he has twice been placed in that company, perhaps they are right. He finished behind Custom Cut at Sandown in April and has since taken a Listed contest at Windsor with a bit in hand. My only negative would be that his only bad run last year came at Goodwood where it was stated that he didn’t handle the track and whilst they are not the same place, I would have concerns as to how he will handle the nature of Epsom’s track.
3.45 Epsom – Investec Mile handicap
In terms of age, the most successful group in recent years has been the four and five-year-olds as they have accounted for eight of the last ten winners between them. This accounts for all but three of this year’s field with a cross going against the name of the two six-year-olds Regulation and Sound Advice as well as the seven-year-old Forceful Appeal.
The weight carried by runners is often an important factor in handicaps and it has been here as only three of the ten most recent winners have carried more than 9st 3lb. In terms of this year’s field that removes the top two as they appear on the racecard, Abseil and God Willing. Lacan and Saucy Minx also sat above that threshold but have Marc Monaghan and Kieran Shoemark taking three and five pounds off their back respectively.
Closely linked to the weight carried by runners is their official rating and it is interesting to note that of the last ten winners, seven were rated between 85 and 94. At the top end of the field, the top four on the racecard (Abseil, God Willing, Lacan & Saucy Minx) all miss out along with the bottom four on the card (Imshivalla, Gratzie, Forceful Appeal and Obsidian).
The fact that seven of the most recent winners had achieved a top five finish on her latest start suggests that this is not a race in which you should be hoping for one to bounce back to form. Looking at this year’s renewal, the vast majority of the field come here in some sort of form except the quintet of Merry Me, Mujazif, Lesha, Imshivalla and Forceful Appeal.
The draw can often play a big part in the outcome and this race is no different, as six winners in the last decade have come from stall 8 or lower. horses to have that advantage this year include the likes of God Willing, Regulation and Zugzwang. In 2006, Hinterland did the impossible and won from stall 15 but on the whole, it is best to be drawn low here.
On the undulations of Epsom, track position can often be crucial and it is worth highlighting that seven of the last ten winners either led or tracked the leaders. This could be down to the fact that horses coming from behind can often find trouble in running but whatever the reasons, it is worth factoring in. It is difficult to pigeon hole some of these horses as hold up performers but those likely to be held up include Lacan, Saucy Minx, Regulation and Gratzie.
The final factor worthy of consideration is the betting and on the whole this has been a terrible race for favourite backers. Last year’s winning favourite Abseil was only the second in the last decade but with an average winning SP of 7/1, you don’t want to be looking too far away from the market principals. At the time of writing, Abseil once again heads the market at around the 7/2 mark with God Willing following him at around 8/1.
ZUGZWANG – 7/7
Sound Advice – 6/7
Obsidian – 6/7
The only horse to fit all seven of our trends is Ed De Giles’ ZUGZWANG. The four-year-old was steadily progressive last season and looked to have plenty in hand when winning at Bath in April. Despite being raised 7lb on the back of that effort he was only beaten by a head in his bid for the follow up at Newmarket. He does drop back in trip here but he arrives in the form of his life and with Jamie Spencer keeping the ride, he looks to have a strong chance at around the 9/1 mark.
Keith Dalgleish’s Sound Advice has already landed a big pot this term having won the Thirsk Hunt Cup at the beginning of last month. He couldn’t follow up at Ripon off his higher mark last time but he likes to race prominently which should suit the Epsom track well. As a six-year-old he sits just outside the desired bracket but otherwise he looks to have a solid profile.
The final member of the shortlist is Obsidian who joined Richard Fahey from the John Gosden yard at the end of last season. This lightly-raced colt got off the mark over a mile at Thirsk in May but didn’t seem to enjoy the drop to seven furlongs last time. Rated only 81, he looks to have something to find in order to go close but he is lightly-raced and is entitled to find further improvement. He sneaks in at the bottom of the weights and could run better than his 20/1 price suggests.
4.30 Epsom – Investec Oaks (Group 1)
The Oaks has thrown up its fair share of excitement over the years and this year’s renewal looks as open as ever, with a couple of lightly-raced fillies having staked their claims with successful trials.
Perhaps the most impressive winner of her trial to the eye was Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Zvezda who routed her rivals at Newbury in May. She was given plenty to do by Ryan Moore that day but stayed on strongly down the outside to win going away from some pretty smart rivals. There have been several promising reports from the gallops of her work since that victory and she looks to be coming to the boil at the right time. Her trainer has won the race twice before although not for some time and despite Moore being replaced with Hughes for this assignment, she still looks a strong player.
I must declare an interest in Star Of Seville having backed her before the Musidora and in truth I think she is a little overpriced at around 16/1. There are doubts on paper about her stamina but I don’t see her having any problem with the extra two furlongs as she has shaped like a proper stayer in her previous races. It is isn’t ideal that Frankie has decided to get off her and ride Jazzi Top but William Buick is riding with a lot of confidence at the minute and perhaps he can exercise some of his Epsom demons here. In truth, she looks an each-way bet but could be susceptible to a filly with a turn of foot.
One filly who I think is very overpriced is Ralph Beckett’s Bellajeu who despite being a maiden, is bred to get every yard of the mile and a half trip tomorrow afternoon. In a race where there are doubts surrounding the stamina credentials of at least half the field, she is a certain stayer and will not be stopping as the field climb in the final furlong. There is no doubt that she needs to step forward significantly to mix it with some of the fillies who have been contesting group races but there is definitely more to come from her. This filly joined Ralph Beckett over the winter and we know how well he has done with fillies over the years. She was still a little green at Lingfield last time but I felt she was the one to take out of the race and if that has brought her on, I would not be surprised to see her outrun her odds of 40/1 and hit the frame.
In terms of the winner, I am a little torn between Legatissimo, Crystal Zvezda and JACK NAYLOR but I will plump for the last-named on the back of her run in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. She was an eye-catching fourth that day and was doing all of her best work at the finish suggesting that this extra distance should be in her favour. She beat the favourite Legatissimo as a two-year-old and could just be the filly that has snuck under the radar. She is drawn in stall nine, a stall which has produced five winners since 1990 and whilst the bounce factor is a slight concern following up after such a long lay-off, I think she looks to have strong claims at around the 7/1 mark.
5.15 Epsom – Investec Surrey Stakes (Listed Race)
David O’Meara came here last year with That Is The Spirit to take this prize and he sends another lightly-raced colt here this time in the shape of HAIL THE HERO. The former Aidan O’Brien inmate joined the yard in the winter and made a winning debut when running away with a maiden at Doncaster’s Lincoln meeting. He was upped in grade and ran better than his odds of 33/1 and 100/1 in the Craven and 2000 Guineas suggested. This looks a more realistic target and if he handles the track, he can go close for last year’s winning trainer.
Also of interest is Charlie Appleby’s Secret Brief who ran well to finish second in the Listed Heron Stakes last week at Sandown. He was keen early on but battled gamely in the closing stages, only to be headed by the impressive winner in the closing stages. The drop back to seven furlongs should be in his favour having won twice over this trip during his juvenile campaign. A turnaround of eight days is quick enough but if he can reproduce his latest run, he shouldn’t be too far away.
I should also mention Mubtaghaa who enjoyed his day in the sun when winning a valuable sales race at York’s Ebor meeting. The horses behind him that day included Group 3 winning filly New Providence and Craven Stakes winner Kool Kompany. Prior to that he had chased home Hootenanny at Royal Ascot when finishing third, but he finished his campaign by being beaten five lengths by Godolphin’s Maftool. He needs to step up to get involved here but should be open to further improvement.
5.50 Epsom – Investec Specialist Bank Stakes (Handicap)
Simon Crisford has made a fine start to his career with a training license and has a notable runner here in the shape of Al Bandar who was last seen finishing third at Doncaster a few weeks ago. He looked to be travelling well for a long way but couldn’t quicken inside the final furlong with the two horses in front in the end. Clearly connections think that stamina was an issue on that occasion as he drops back to seven furlongs here and having won his maiden over this trip, it should prove more suitable. Silvestre De Sousa keeps the ride and despite being beaten off this mark last time, it would be no surprise to see him leave that run behind here.
Ed Dunlop’s Fieldsman can boast winning form over course and distance, having landed a nursery at Epsom in September. He won with more in hand than the two lengths winning-margin suggested on that occasion and has been far from disgraced in two subsequent starts. He was keen early on when stepped up to a mile last time and paid for those exertions in the closing stages but he is worth another chance back to seven furlongs.
However, the preference is for Eve Johnson Houghton’s GORING who probably failed to deliver on his potential as a two-year-old. However, now that he is a year older, he seems to have strengthened up and having won well at Beverley in April, he was a little unlucky to bump into a smart rival the following month. A feature of his races have been how well he has travelled and the drop back to seven furlongs should be no problem for him. This colt is heading the right way and he could prove a bit better than his current mark of 81, so is worth siding with here.