Looking down Coolmore roster for Epsom Oaks, Coronation Cup winners

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June 1st, 2017

Friday's Oaks (G1) at Epsom has a strong favorite in Rhododendron (#9), the head of her class at two and an unlucky second in the 1000 Guineas (G1) in her season debut. It's uncertain whether her odds in the U.S. pool ultimately will be as low as they are in the British market, which pegs her at or around even-money, but that's simply too low a price to take as she's seemingly one of several genuine-looking contenders in a fascinating renewal of the 1 1/2-mile classic.

Re-watching the major Oaks trials, it was hard not to be visually impressed with the Cheshire Oaks result on May 10 which saw Enable (#4), the likely second choice at Epsom, turn in a convincing 1 3/4-length victory over Alluringly to advance her mark to two wins in three starts. Trained by John Gosden and from the family of Flintshire, the Juddmonte homebred looks very live at around 9-2.

However, Alluringly (#1) arguably has decent claims at an even fatter price. Unplaced in two starts last season, the daughter of Fastnet Rock broke through on season debut at Tipperary April 20 and was an odds-on choice to capture the Chester trial, ultimately proving second best on the day. It obviously says a lot (nor is it a surprise) that jockey Ryan Moore sticks with fellow Aidan O'Brien trainee Rhododendron, but Seamie Heffernan has won his share of big races on the supposed second/third string Coolmore entries, and the bloodlines also suggest Alluringly is a proper fit for this race. Her second dam, All to Beautiful, was second in the 2004 Oaks and is a sibling to Galileo and Sea the Stars, whose Epsom exploits need no rehashing.

In the range of 15-1 on most overseas markets, Alluringly will be my primary Win play. However, I'll also use Enable on top of my Exacta and Trifecta wheels as backup while hoping Rhododendron falls short of validating the public's support.

Two other fillies that have caught my eye are Horseplay (#5) and Natavia (#7), both recent trial winners at Newmarket and Newbury, respectively. Horseplay seems more of an upset win threat that Natavia, as the latter's career only just started in the latter half of April. I'll be using both in the exotics.

Here's how I'll play the Oaks:

Alluringly (#1) to WIN

EXACTA: 1,4 with 1,4,5,9

TRIFECTA: 1,4 with 1,4,5,9 with 1,4,5,7,9

Always one of my favorite races, the Coronation Cup (G1) is among the top 1 1/2-mile events for older horses on the English racing calendar. Highland Reel (#4), who American fans recall won the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) in dazzling style on the front end last fall, is the hot favorite to snap a two-race losing skid. However, it's that streak that gives me cause for pause.

I was in attendance at Sha Tin when Highland Reel shockingly lost his title defense of the Hong Kong Vase (G1) in December, a result that's still find hard to fathom considering the class edge he held over that field. Highland Reel was also ineffective in his only prior start this year when trailing in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on wet ground.

Softer conditions are generally not Highland Reel's forte, and he proved last October he could bounce back from a bad loss. However, like Rhododendron, he's unattractive at a short price given the seeming quality of his competition.

The mare Journey (#10) has strong claims given her British Champions Day win, but I'll be pulling for Heffernan here, too, as he guides Idaho (#5). A 14-1 chance I fancied a bit in last year's Derby (G1), Idaho fared better than my top selection, Cloth of Stars, in finishing third to Harzand. Narrowly second to that rival in the Irish Derby (G1), he went on to take the Great Voltigeur (G2) and was terribly unlucky when favored in the St Leger (G1), unseating Heffernan when reaching contention.

After the unfortunate circumstances that occurred a month earlier at Doncaster, I'm willing to draw a line through Idaho's dull performance in the Canadian International (G1) last time. Based on his overall record last season, I still think this colt has a bright future and his experience over this course presumably aids his chances.

Idaho (#5) to WIN