ESDAILE PREVIEWS TODAY’S INVESTEC OAKS
THE JOB of clerk of the course can be difficult at the best of times, but Andrew Cooper, the man in charge of producing the best possible surface for this weekend’s Investec Derby Festival, must have been tearing out the few hairs he has left over the past fortnight.
At the Breakfast with the Stars event last Thursday some of the jockeys were describing conditions as heavy, but with a drying day yesterday and a bright, sunny forecast today, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock if conditions were on the fast side of good for the Investec Oaks (In Memory Of Sir Henry Cecil) at 4.00pm.
That is music to my ears because I was seriously worried that my main fancy for the race TARFASHA was going to miss out due to her preference for quicker ground.
Dermot Weld’s filly really impressed me when comfortably taking the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas last month on her seasonal reappearance. It was a performance that oozed class and I have no doubt that she is going to improve for the step up to 1m 4f.
She was only beaten a neck by tomorrow’s Investec Derby hope Geoffrey Chaucer on debut at Leopardstown last summer before going on to land her maiden at her trainer’s beloved Galway.
I don’t think she was right when turned over by My Titania in September and she showed that performance was all wrong last month.
Weld has been in red hot form this season, as has his stable jockey Pat Smullen who keeps the mount here. The multiple Irish champion jockey is one of the best in the business and I have faith in him to have his ride well-positioned from a good draw in stall 10 and not panic as the 17 runners round Tattenham Corner. Take the 7/1 with Coral.
Sheikh Hamdan hasn’t had the best of luck in Classics in recent years – his last success was Ghanaati in the 1000 Guineas in 2009 – but if Tarfasha doesn’t give him a first Investec Oaks since Eswarah in 2005, his other runner Taghrooda has every chance of doing so.
John Gosden’s daughter of Sea The Stars is unbeaten in two starts and was mightily impressive when dotting up in the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket last time, interestingly the same race that last year’s Oaks heroine Talent won.
The form of that win has rightly been questioned, but the majority of those to have come out of it have run on unsuitably soft ground subsequently. It was the visual impression that struck me and if Tarfasha wasn’t in the line-up she would have been the selection.
Gosden has some top class three-year-olds this season. He saddled a one-two in the Group Three Pinnacle Stakes at Haydock last weekend and I’m pretty sure Taghrooda is well ahead of them in the pecking order.
The worry would be jockey Paul Hanagan’s record at Epsom, as well as the fact that this is the first time he has had a major chance in a Classic. It isn’t a course that has really suited him in the past but, on the flip-side, Taghrooda seems a fairly uncomplicated filly and looks certain to stay the trip.
Marvellous has been the money horse ever since she won last month’s Irish 1000 Guineas under Ryan Moore and is now Coral’s 3/1 favourite. For me that’s too short, especially after having a hard race just a fortnight ago on testing ground.
Aidan O’Brien is always to be respected at Epsom, but his son Joseph has a tricky draw to overcome in stall two and there are some doubts on the dam’s side of Marvellous’ pedigree about her getting the trip.
Funnily enough the each-way play in the race could actually be Ballydoyle’s second string Palace who was ridden by O’Brien Jnr in the Irish Guineas, but will have Moore aboard this time.
She was comprehensively beaten by her stablemate at the Curragh, having been tapped for toe up the home straight. However, similarly to the yard’s Peeping Fawn, she has been campaigned exclusively up to a mile so far and she could improve massively for the extra distance.
There are plenty of other fillies in with a shout and let’s not forget that the last three winners of this race have all been 20/1 shots.
Ihtimal’s chance improves with the ground drying out and she has the assistance of man of the moment Kieren Fallon, although there have to be big stamina doubts with her.
Both Marsh Daisy and Madame Chiang would surely prefer slightly softer conditions. It would be a wonderful story if the former could win with Jimmy Fortune, whose wife Jan sadly passed away just a few weeks ago, in the saddle. She certainly isn’t without a chance and I could see her sneaking into the top four.
Another to consider is Luca Cumani’s Volume who won the Swettenham Stud Trial at Newbury last time, a trial that is becoming increasingly important for the Oaks. Richard Hughes won with a spare ride 12 months ago but he’s going to need all his tactical nous from stall 17.
Ralph Beckett’s supplemented runner Honor Bound also can’t be ruled out, but for me it will be Sheikh Hamdan who will be walking into the winner’s enclosure.
BILL ESDAILE’S 1-2-3