Sail can lead O'Brien fleet to Oaks victory

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The Independent Online

So the old place has lost none of its magic, after all. For much of the spring, those who cherish Epsom watched aghast as Jim Bolger yawned indifferently at the idea of testing his best horses here. Whatever gestures he may or may not have had in mind, however, he has ended up running both New Approach and Lush Lashes at what remains the world's most venerable race meeting.

Perhaps he was piqued that his commitment to his home Classics was so ill rewarded, firm ground at the Curragh having palpably inhibited New Approach in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Ironically, the one guarantee throughout had been that Epsom would not be firm, albeit Nature has so far absolved its management of any awkward decisions on watering.

As it happens, one of the few possible reservations about Lush Lashes in the Juddmonte Oaks today is that she seems so effective on fast ground. The track was drying out yesterday, but will presumably remain easier than when she eviscerated a strong field in the Musidora Stakes.

Having stayed on late for sixth in the 1,000 Guineas – just like Casual Look, before she won here in 2003 – Lush Lashes travelled luxuriantly over the longer distance at York before thundering five lengths clear. As a daughter of Galileo, from the family of an Arc winner in Saumarez, she should be equally comfortable with this next step up in trip, and clearly sets the standard.

But the short odds against her demand a closer inspection of her chance. Having outpaced a big field of precocious horses on her debut, over seven furlongs on fast ground, was she really too slow for a mile in the Guineas? Or was it only on leaving the Dip that she felt able to level off? She may well find the undulations here an unpleasant novelty.

By the same token, with four starts between them, do the next two in the betting have enough experience to cope with the hill? Chinese White and Katiyra are bred to build on their encouraging achievements over shorter distances, and their trainers command obvious respect. But Dermot Weld was initially reluctant to come here, while John Oxx candidly regrets the setback that limited his filly to one start this spring.

The first three favourites are all trained in Ireland but remain outnumbered, two to one, by the man who has plundered this prize three times already. Aidan O'Brien fields six runners, setting a puzzle within a puzzle, and the example of last year's race discourages dogmatic conclusions.

All My Loving was presumed best of his four runners then, but instead it was Peeping Fawn – a 20-1 shot who had needed four runs to break her maiden – who got closest to Light Shift. And she went on to win her next four starts at Group One level, a vivid measure of the way O'Brien's horses flourish with racing.

His team this time, for instance, includes Tiffany Diamond, who was beaten twice in handicaps off just 70 before chasing home Adored – the choice here of stable jockey Johnny Murtagh – in a Group race at Naas and then bolting home in a maiden at the Curragh.

Adored needed three starts in maidens herself, and is another daughter of Galileo likely to thrive for the extra distance. But Murtagh's decision – which he found very difficult – has tilted the odds away from Sail, who now appeals as the best value in the race.

Like Light Shift last year, Sail won the Cheshire Oaks. And while the strict form leaves her requiring further improvement, she did very well to cut down Sugar Mint after that one broke away from a steady pace into the short straight. Sail handled the dizzy Chester circuit smoothly, which augurs well for this track, but is hardly bred for a test of speed of that kind. In the year of his retirement, a searching examination at this trip can qualify her as one of the last Classic winners sired by the great Sadler's Wells.

The home defence looks fragile, but Michita was a striking winner at Goodwood and is respected. She outclassed her rivals in a good time, but may not want a brutish test of stamina.

Murtagh may also have made the wrong choice in the day's other Group One race, the Juddmonte Coronation Cup. Admittedly it could all prove academic if Getaway matches the impression he made on his first visit to these shores, at Newmarket last month, but he will be a corresponding price and it is very hard to resist Macarthur at 14-1.

It would have been hard for Murtagh to reject Soldier Of Fortune, after that nine-length success in the Irish Derby last summer. But the suspicion persists that heavy ground transformed the colt that day, and his subsequent form is no better than that achieved by Macarthur at Chester last month.

Macarthur was certainly rated to be the better colt at home this time last year, and this late developer can emulate Scorpion, who was also the Ballydoyle second string when beating Septimus last year.

JUDDMONTE OAKS (GROUP 1) (CLASS 1) £350,000 added 3YO fillies 1m 4f Penalty Value £208,119; 4.05 Epsom; BBC2

1. 5-011 ADORED (23) (Mrs J Magnier & M Tabor) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0; J Murtagh 16

Aidan O'Brien's first string based on jockey bookings and improving with experience. Group 3 winner at Naas on latest start and bred for this trip. Respected

2. 1-2 CAPE AMBER (23) (Five Horses Ltd) P Chapple-Hyam 9 0; J P Spencer 6

Unexposed and highly regarded by her top handler. Well held by Lush Lashes at York last month but that was her first run since August. Not dismissed

3. 1-1 CHINESE WHITE (33) (Lady O'Reilly) D Weld (Irl) 9 0; P J Smullen 14

Has not been fully extended to win both her starts, including a Listed heat at Gowran Park last time. This is much tougher but she is impossible to ignore

4. 4-11 CLOWANCE (21) (Seasons Holidays) R Charlton 9 0; L Dettori 3

Improving with experience and has handled rain-softened ground well. Listed-race winner at Newbury on latest start and she may have plenty more to offer

5. 6-6014 ICE QUEEN (27) (BF) (M Tabor, D Smith & Mrs J Magnier) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0; D R McCabe 5

Looked ordinary until breaking her duck in Cork maiden last month. Subsequently well beaten in Lingfield Oaks Trial and she does not look up to this task

6. 1-2 KATIYRA (26) (BF) (H H Aga Khan) J Oxx (Irl) 9 0; M J Kinane 11

Well thought of filly who improved on her maiden win with a fine second in a 1m Group 3 on latest start. That form is strong and today's trip should suit her

7. 1-2 LOOK HERE (27) (J Richmond-Watson) R M Beckett 9 0; S Sanders 13

Form of her Salisbury maiden win worked out well and she was staying on when second in a Listed Oaks Trial over 1m 3f at Lingfield last month. Place claims

8. 1-061 LUSH LASHES (23) (Mrs J Bolger) J Bolger (Irl) 9 0; K J Manning 8

Sixth in the 1,000 Guineas on seasonal bow. Delivered on that promise with fine victory in Group 3 Musidora Stakes at York last month and the one to beat on form

9. 1-01 MICHITA (16) (Stonerside Stable LLC) J Gosden 9 0; J Fortune 9

Well held in Fred Darling Stakes over 7f on reappearance but relished step up to 1m 2f when readily landing a Listed heat at Goodwood last month. Could run a big race

10. 23-31 MIRACLE SEEKER (27) (D Burke) C G Cox 9 0; A Kirby 2

Opened her account at the fourth time of asking in what looked a weak Oaks Trial at Lingfield last month. Expected to find a few too good here

11. 24 MOONSTONE (23) (Mrs J Magnier, M Tabor & D Smith) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0; R Hughes 10

Twice-raced maiden who was well held in fourth behind Lush Lashes in the Group 3 Musidora Stakes at York last month. Needs longer trip to bring about improvement

12. 0-21 SAIL (30) (M Tabor, D Smith & Mrs J Magnier) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0; R L Moore 4

Progressed with every outing and beat Sugar Mint when winning Listed Cheshire Oaks at Chester last month. More needed but no forlorn hope

13. 11 SAPHIRA'S FIRE (33) (M Caddy) W Muir 9 0; Martin Dwyer 1

Unbeaten filly who remains something of an unknown entity. It did not look the strongest Listed Pretty Polly Stakes that she won at Newmarket last month though

14. 41-206 SAVETHISDANCEFORME (12) (Smith, Magnier, Tabor) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0; C O'Donoghue 15

Looks some way down the pecking order of the Ballydoyle representatives in this event and hard to fancy despite the longer trip being a possible plus

15. 246-12 SUGAR MINT (30) (R Barnes) B Hills 9 0; M Hills T 12

Followed workmanlike maiden win at Bath with a close-up second to Sail in the Listed Cheshire Oaks at Chester last month, but others make more appeal today

16. -02221 TIFFANY DIAMOND (12) (D Smith, M Tabor & Mrs J Magnier) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0; J A Heffernan 7

Not the number one choice of the O'Brien sextet and although holding her form quite well this term, she has stacks to find with the principals

- 16 declared -

BETTING: 11-4 Lush Lashes, 4-1 Chinese White, 11-2 Katiyra, 8-1 Clowance, 10-1 Adored, Cape Amber, 12-1 Michita, Sail, 20-1 Moonstone, 33-1 others.

2007: Light Shift 9 0 T E Durcan 13-2 (H Cecil) drawn (11), 14 ran.

VERDICT:

Lush Lashes is a worthy favourite having bounded clear of Cape Amber to land the Group 3 Musidora Stakes at York last month. She was previously sixth in the 1,000 Guineas and the step up to 1m 4f looks sure to suit. Dangers abound, however, not least the John Oxx-trained Katiyra. She stepped up on her debut win when second in a 1,000 Guineas trial at Leopardstown last month and the winner has subsequently franked the form with a close third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. She is bred to stay every yard of this trip and must rate highly. The Ballydoyle first string, Adored, is progressing and is also expected to relish the extra yardage, while Clowance and Sail are also hard to leave from calculations.

Experts' predictions for the Oaks

CHRIS McGRATH

1. Sail

2. Lush Lashes

3. Michita

SUE MONTGOMERY

1. Chinese White

2. Lush Lashes

3. Michita

HYPERION

1. Michita

2. Lush Lashes

3. Katiyra

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