Stayer Akdarena fits the Classic mould for Bolger
Purists may not find it in themselves to back such an ungainly filly for so venerable a Classic. Physically, she is unprepossessing; she wears a visor, and a tongue tie; and she flashes her tail indignantly under the whip. Others, however, will be comfortable with such heterodoxy when it is completed by Jim Bolger, a man who knows his own mind, and is not remotely bothered should others see the world a different way.
That was how he won the Derby itself with New Approach, a couple of years ago, and today one of Ireland's master horsemen can return to Epsom and win the Investec Oaks with Akdarena (4.05).
Even as it stands, her improved form since being fitted with headgear this spring gives her every chance. Last month she won a Group Three race at Naas by seven lengths, eased down, having had her pursuers gasping a long way out. However, her dour style of galloping promises better again over the longer distance today, and likewise a pedigree saturated with staying power. Her sire, Hernando, is a deep well of stamina, while her dam is by a similar influence in Shirley Heights and herself won over a mile and a half. Akdarena will relish every extra blade of grass.
The man who saddled Jet Ski Lady to make all at 50-1 in 1991 could easily repeat the trick in a race where very few will be ridden with complete confidence in their ability to get the trip. Nor has there been the slightest indication that this filly's windmill tail – something that tends to indicate lack of commitment – will do anything other than spur her forwards.
The obvious starting point, among her opposition, is Henry Cecil. No race defines his genius better than the Oaks, and he was inches away from making it nine wins with Midday last year. But his stable jockey, Tom Queally, must have aged 10 years in making the choice between Aviate and Timepiece. Everyone seems unanimous that the latter is infinitely superior, in their homework. Unfortunately, she has yet to offer any corroboration on the track, and Queally has duly elected to ride Aviate.
As an unbeaten, improving graduate of the Musidora Stakes, Aviate certainly fits the mould. Her turn of foot could be decisive, as it was in getting her out of jail at York, but the obvious question remains whether she can harness it as effectively over another two furlongs. Her pedigree offers no guarantees, and it must also be admitted that the York form, even allowing for the fact that she should have won more comfortably, is pretty pedestrian.
As for Timepiece, her defeat behind Rumoush at the Craven meeting was actually a perfectly respectable comeback effort, and she was ridden far too aggressively at Lingfield next time. In the process, however, she has nourished suspicions about her attitude – a family weakness – and her stamina.
Rumoush has followed her here, and it is easy to indulge her defeat in the 1,000 Guineas. Her trainer and jockey had both seemed disposed to send her to an Oaks trial instead, but their mutual patron reckoned it worth dropping her back to a mile. It looks as though Sheikh Hamdan was wrong, for once, though it is hard to be adamant, given her ludicrous disadvantage at the draw. And it may be that his intimacy with her genes had prompted reservations about her ability to stay this kind of distance, albeit her half-brother by Danzig – much more of a speed influence than her own sire, Rahy – won the Cumberland Lodge Stakes last year. More of a concern, perhaps, is that her stable has gone pretty quiet in recent weeks.
Johnny Murtagh has picked Remember When from the three Ballydoyle fillies, and she arrives as perhaps the most accomplished maiden in training after a close-up fourth in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. But while her near relative, Dylan Thomas, was top-class over the trip, it still requires a leap of faith to imagine Danehill Dancer siring an Oaks winner.
The very fact that a trainer as astute as Michael Jarvis is prepared to run Sajjhaa has ignited strong support in the betting, but even a dazzling maiden winner is still only a maiden winner. The odds are now too short to justify the necessary guesswork in her favour. And while inexperienced horses have won Classics even over the bewildering contours of Epsom, including Eswarah for Jarvis himself in 2005, she would remain within her rights to be flummoxed by a rough race.
Perhaps the best each-way value is instead Gertrude Bell, an honest staying filly in the right hands to find the improvement she still needs.
Sariska, who beat Midday so narrowly, returns for the Investec Coronation Cup and her resumption at York suggested that she will prove better again this time round, with the maturing of that imposing physique. But Fame And Glory (2.45) looks ready to confirm himself the season's top older horse over middle distances, the only reservation being that he has had but a dozen days to recover from a knockout performance at the Curragh. With Sea The Stars off to enjoy the spoils of victory, at stud, his serial victim seems to have grown in self-esteem.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Ninth House (8.15 Doncaster) Four wins last year but is back down the weights and pulled five lengths clear of the third when failing only by a neck at Beverley the other day.
Jordaura (2.10 Epsom) Twice finished best but just too late since being stepped up to a mile by his new stable, and a combination of a low draw and the nerveless Jamie Spencer can help make it third time lucky.
One to watch
Himalya (J Noseda) Has required plenty of patience of his connections but he duly remains lightly raced and his neck defeat at Newmarket on Sunday suggests he could yet reward them.
Where the money's going
Midas Touch is 11-2 from 6-1 with Totesport for the Investec Derby.
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