Epsom Oaks studded with Crystal, Diamondsandrubies
We're tag-teaming again, with Kellie Reilly setting the table for the feast, and Vance Hanson marking his choices from the menu.
One day before the colts take to historic Epsom Downs for the Derby (Eng-G1), they chivalrously let the fillies go first in Friday's Oaks (Eng-G1) over the same 1 1/2-mile trip.
Legatissimo ranks as the favorite in the wake of her victory in the One Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1) at Newmarket. Cutting back in trip to a mile, just a week after taking the 9 1/2-furlong Victor McCalmont Memorial at Gowran, she stayed on strongly up the rising ground to nab the high-class Lucida in time. And she keeps the virtuouso Ryan Moore in the saddle at Epsom.
Trained by David Wachman for the Coolmore partnership, Legatissimo is bred to thrive at the Oaks distance. The daughter of Danehill Dancer is out of a full sister to Fame and Glory, runner-up to Sea the Stars in the 2009 Derby and later victorious in the Irish Derby (Ire-G1), Coronation Cup (Eng-G1) and Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-G1).
Yet Legatissimo could be worth taking on in the Oaks. No filly has turned the Guineas/Oaks double since Kazzia in 2002, and before her, you have to go back another dozen years to find Salsabil (1990). Moreover, Legatissimo has drawn post 1 -- and according to Racing Post, the last Oaks winner to break from that spot was also Salsabil.
On a more speculative note, Legatissimo also didn't seem particularly in love with Newmarket's undulations, switching leads a couple of times until she really found her stride. Although she had no problem at Gowran, that image of her finding her balance at Newmarket is lingering in my mind.
To top it off, this year's Oaks is brimming with appealing alternatives to Legatissmo.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Crystal Zvezda looked like a superstar in embryo in the Fillies' Trial at Newbury, where she inhaled the entire field in a few strides. Appearing to be shot out of a cannon in the stretch, she angled out, came around, and took off in a display of devastating athleticism. You can crab the form, but not the way she disposed of them.
Crystal Zvezda is a Dubawi half-sister to two Stoute trainees who excelled at 1 1/2 miles, reigning Canadian International (Can-G1) winner Hillstar and the superb mare Crystal Capella.
On the other hand, Crystal Zvezda is likely to be a skimpy price for a listed stakes winner who faces the biggest class test of her career. Still, she's working sharply, according to Sporting Life's gallops reporter, and could be just as good as her reputation suggests.
Bringing a somewhat similar profile is Diamondsandrubies, arguably the best of the trio representing Aidan O'Brien (along with Together Forever and the longshot Qualify, who so far hasn't built on her promising two-year-old campaign).
A blueblood daughter of Fastnet Rock, Diamondsandrubies still looked a tad green when a closing third in the Salsabil S. two back at Navan. The runner-up that day, Pleascach, took a big leap forward to win her next two -- the Blue Wind (Ire-G3) and the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1) -- and now she's got her sights set on the boys in the Irish Derby!
Diamondsandrubies likewise improved mightily in her ensuing start in the Cheshire Oaks. Despite getting a violent slap in the face from a rival's whip cornering for home, she simply went into overdrive and bounded six lengths clear.
If there's one quibble about Diamondsandrubies, it's the ground. Her best performances have all come on varying degrees of rain-softened ground, and she figures to face quicker conditions Friday (unless the rains come down a bit more heavily than forecast). That's not to say she won't be just as effective on good going, but she has the type of rounded action that hints she'd prefer a little give.
Diamondsandrubies has the Oaks in her blood: her dam Quarter Moon was second in the 2002 Oaks, and Quarter Moon is in turn a full sister to two other Oaks placegetters, Yesterday and All My Loving. You could say her immediate family's overdue, or that she'll continue the pattern of minor awards.
Stablemate Together Forever already boasts a Group 1 score in last fall's Fillies' Mile (Eng-G1), the culmination of a juvenile season that saw her steadily improve. And she resumed with a near-miss second in the Musidora (Eng-G3) to Star of Seville while spotting that foe four pounds.
So what's not to like? I suspect that Together Forever was a little opportunistic in that Fillies' Mile, coping with the soft conditions better than the others and capitalizing on the fact that Lucida ran well below her best. Furthermore, this year's Musidora doesn't strike me as a vintage one. And as a Galileo half-sister to Group 1-winning miler Lord Shanakill, she might not be best suited by the Oaks trip.
Far more interesting is Jack Naylor, who hails from the yard of Jessica Harrington.
By Champs Elysees, out of the stakes-winning Nashwan mare Fashionable (a three-quarter sister to Wandesta), Jack Naylor was bred to excel with maturity and added distance. But she exceeded any reasonable expectations as a two-year-old, defeating both Legatissimo and Together Forever and placing third to standouts Found and Ervedya in the Prix Marcel Boussac (Fr-G1).
Jack Naylor kicked off her sophomore campaign with a terrific fourth in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1) at a mile, just missing third by a diminishing whisker. She was beaten all of two lengths by Pleascach and 1 1/2 lengths by Found (substantially less than her four-length margin of defeat in the Boussac).
The one caution about Jack Naylor is that she has come up short at the highest level. The extra half-mile of the Oaks ought to work to her benefit, but neither would it be surprising if she still found one too good.
Lady of Dubai is another who should prosper at the Oaks trip, but has shown plenty over shorter. The Luca Cumani trainee travels exceptionally well in the early stages, and that quality is always a plus at Epsom.
In her juvenile finale in the Montrose, Lady of Dubai struck the front easily, only to be beaten by a better turn of foot from Irish Rookie. That result looked better after Irish Rookie just finished second to Ervedya in the French One Thousand Guineas (Fr-G1). Lady of Dubai reappeared in the Height of Fashion at Goodwood, again moving best throughout, and galloped all over them.
By Dubawi, Lady of Dubai is out of a three-quarter sister to the stayer Roses for the Lady. Her second dam, Group 3 heroine Head in the Clouds, is a full sister to St Leger (Eng-G1) winner Millenary.
Like Crystal Zvezda, Lady of Dubai brings a mouthwatering pedigree, and a visually impressive listed win, into her biggest test so far.
John Gosden's duo of Jazzi Top and Star of Seville appear more like place chances than win candidates, both on pedigree and form.
Jazzi Top stepped up off a Kempton maiden win to take Newmarket's Pretty Polly, but the runner-up was subsequently blown away by Pleascach. Star of Seville is a strong pace factor, as evidenced by her front-running score over colts in a conditions race as well as the Musidora. In the latter, however, she appeared to be at the end of her tether, and had to dig in bravely to hold off Together Forever (who was giving her four pounds). It's questionable whether she can confirm form going longer at level weights.
Bellajeu must be mentioned because she's trained by two-time Oaks winner Ralph Beckett. That said, she hardly has the profile of his past winners Look Here (2008) and Talent (2013). Still a maiden after four attempts, the stoutly bred daughter of Montjeu looked a dour type as she stayed on for second in the Lingfield Oaks Trial. Bellajeu could be one for even longer trips in such races as the Lillie Langtry (Eng-G3) at Glorious Goodwood or the Park Hill (Eng-G2) at Doncaster, but it's tough to see her cut a swath here.
Finally, the real wild card is French raider Al Naamah, who may have the raw ability to be a surprise package -- if she can get her act together.
A full sister to 2012 Oaks winner Was, and a three-quarter sister to 2008 Derby star New Approach, Al Naamah accordingly sold for 5 million guineas, a European record price for a sales yearling, at Tattersalls. Although she's been beaten twice in Group 3 company since her smart debut victory, it's too soon to write off this big filly who's still developing.
Indeed, Al Naamah traveled smoothly at every stage of her comeback in the Prix Cleopatre (Fr-G3), only to be mugged on the line by the lunging Little Nightingale. Aside from conceding a fitness edge to her rival, Al Naamah was also reportedly in season, and due to come on significantly for that experience. Even so, the form doesn't look too bad: the filly Little Nightingale beat in her maiden win has since come back to land the Diana-Trial (Ger-G2).
Al Naamah is conditioned by the masterful Andre Fabre, who dispatched her to Epsom for a work over the course during "Breakfast with the Stars." If anyone can conjure up the necessary improvement, it's Fabre, and that makes her an intriguing longshot.
Vance Hanson’s Verdict: One of the more visually impressive trial winners was DIAMONDSANDRUBIES, who relished the soft going at Chester last month to win the Cheshire Oaks by a widening six lengths. She hasn’t quite demonstrated the same aptitude on faster ground, but the jury is still out whether she is totally in need of wet conditions. A winner at nine and 11 1/2 furlongs already this year, there is little concern about her ability to get 12. She is out of Quarter Moon, runner-up in both the Oaks and Irish Oaks in 2002. She’s attractive at a price.
CRYSTAL ZVEZDA, a half-sister to top-class performers Hillstar and Crystal Capella, could not have been more impressive in her comeback effort in the May 16 Fillies Trial at Newbury. She and JACK NAYLOR, a fast-closing fourth in the Irish 1000 Guineas in her season debut, should both relish the added ground.
I’ll be taking a stand against 1000 Guineas heroine LEGATISSIMO as well as the pair from the Musidora, STAR OF SEVILLE and TOGETHER FOREVER. However, Pretty Polly winner JAZZI TOP is an interesting longshot for the trifecta. She’s a half to Group 1 winner and Oaks third Izzi Top, and showed notable progression taking the Pretty Polly at Newmarket May 3.