FINDING the winner of this afternoon’s Investec Oaks (4.00pm) is made all the more difficult by the fact that three of the 11 declared runners have only ever raced twice, while four have had just one more run under their belts.
The lack of form clues mean that many hold their prominent positions in the ante-post market on the back of one taking performance, and a decent reputation at home, rather than what they have actually achieved on the racecourse.
Take hot favourite Secret Gesture as a prime example. Trainer Ralph Beckett made no secret of the high regard in which he holds her before her seasonal reappearance in the Lingfield Oaks Trial and she certainly did not disappoint.
I think it’s fair to say that no filly produced a more visually striking display in any trial for Epsom than the daughter of Galileo’s 10-length demolition of Miss You Too.
However, what she actually beat that day remains to be seen and the ease of her victory was more than likely exaggerated by her ability to handle the desperate conditions.
Her trainer is no stranger to Oaks success, having landed the prize with Look Here back in 2008, and her position at the top of the market has surely something to do with the fact that the two have been mentioned favourably in the same breath by Beckett.
Secret Gesture’s closest market rival Moth is the only runner who brings Classic form to the table having finished third to Sky Lantern in this month’s QIPCO 1,000 Guineas.
Aidan O’Brien’s filly stepped up significantly that day from her impressive Curragh maiden win and ran on eye-catchingly at the death. She is bred to relish a step up in trip and the support for her in the market recently suggests she is expected to go close.
However, my main concern with Moth is her ability to handle the unique undulations of Epsom Downs. She looked ill at ease running down into the dip at Newmarket and that’s as flat as a pancake compared with Tattenham Corner.
Her lack of balance that day may simply have been due to a lack of experience, but at just 3/1 with Coral, I am not prepared to take that chance. I will also be siding with Secret Gesture in a match bet against her with Sporting Index.
The most intriguing of the leading fancies is without doubt Sir Michael Stoute’s Liber Nauticus, who won the Musidora at York earlier in the month on the back of a Goodwood maiden win on her only start as a two-year-old.
She took plenty of time to get going on both occasions and is crying out for this 12-furlong test. Yet, the Musidora did not seem the strongest of renewals and her chief market rival Woodland Aria was a blatant non-stayer.
It also has to be pointed out that because she’s such a large physical specimen, she is not certain to be naturally suited to the stiff demands of Epsom.
Having said all of that, Stoute has been involved with enough decent fillies in his training career to know a good one when she comes along and this daughter of Azamour has long been the apple of his eye. My reasons for opposing her are purely based on price as, at 7/2, she is no value on form.
BANOFFEE had not even seen a racecourse six weeks ago and was sent off an unfancied 28/1 shot on her debut at Newbury last month. However, she beat a decent looking field quite smartly that day and stepped up again to win the Cheshire Oaks last time.
She was slowly into her stride in the hands of Kieren Fallon, but still managed to weave her way through to win eased down at the line. I was hugely taken by, not only her streetwise nature, but also the impressive turn of foot she showed when it was needed.
I have no doubt that if she was trained by one of the big guns she would be at least half her current odds of 8/1 with Coral and she looks a decent each-way proposition.
Hughie Morrison narrowly missed out on landing this prize 12 months ago, when Shirocco Star just failed to reel in O’Brien’s Was in the closing stages, and compensation could await this afternoon.
The supposed outsiders should not be disregarded, as three of the last five winners have been 20/1 or bigger. However, there is no reason to believe that Gertrude Versed can reverse the Chester form with my selection, while Say is now very short considering she has only won a four-runner soft ground Cork maiden.
Michael Bell won this Classic in 2009 with Sariska and he fires two bullets this afternoon in Madame Defarge and The Lark. Both have to step up massively on what they have already achieved, but that’s the case for the majority of the field.
Johnny Murtagh produced a masterclass to win two years ago on Dancing Rain and it will be an even bigger shock if he can bring Harry Dunlop’s Roz home in front.
Beckett also saddles Talent, winner of the Pretty Polly at Newmarket, alongside Secret Gesture. Talent is arguably of interest at 16/1 with Coral, but the vibe is it would be a major surprise if she finished in front of her stable companion let alone anything else.
Bill Esdaile’s 1-2-3
2 Secret Gesture
3 Liber Nauticus