Minding literally unstoppable in Oaks
“Will anyone beat Minding in the Epsom Oaks?” No – not her rivals, not a busted sinus in a tough loss 12 days ago, not the trip, not the ground, not even a traffic mash-up that shuffled her back to what should have been a hopeless position at the head of the straight.
Going into Friday’s classic, I’d played devil’s advocate about all of the various things that could foil Minding at an unpalatable price. But last year’s European champion 2-year-old filly, and sensational winner of the 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, scoffed at them all. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for her nightmare passage, the Aidan O’Brien star would have won by a far larger margin than 1 3/4 lengths.
If you missed it, watch the Oaks replay here and imagine how many other horses could have been such a deft escape artist. Had she fallen short, Minding would have been universally acclaimed as an unlucky loser, and sure to gain revenge in short order.
Yet Minding was so superior that she could literally afford to be snatched up, relegated to last, and have to keep changing lanes as though on a traffic-ridden highway. And all on ground that turned out to be riding softer than the official “good to soft” description implied, over a demanding 1 1/2 miles of Epsom real estate. Despite it all, she churned her way past the opportunistic Architecture and reminded her critics, doubters, and wishy-washy question mongers (I think that’s me) that she was the best. Period. End of story.
All-world jockey Ryan Moore knew it all along, even in the darkest moments: “I never felt the race was slipping away though. I knew she had the class to win.”
O’Brien, however, wasn’t as sanguine, confessing his regrets about running her in the May 22 Irish 1000 Guineas (G1):
“Yes, plenty! I was ready to hang my head today…
“It's been a tough couple of weeks with her -- we were worried about her, but everyone at home was happy with her…Obviously, the second half of the race at the Curragh was tough on her, and she got fair trauma to her head [in the gate] - you can see the marks still on her, and she would have run the race with a burst sinus, so it was hard on her and you aren't really sure until the next race.
“You couldn't be [sure she’d stay the distance]. Obviously, the lads [Magnier, Tabor and Smith] owned the mare [Minding's dam Lillie Langtry] as well and she was quick and didn't get much further than a mile - she was a fast filly - so you can't be sure, but Galileo is an incredible influence on stamina, and if they don't have the stamina he gives them the courage, so usually the courage get them through.
“In the Oaks the last five furlongs were tough on her and I thought Ryan did very well; he didn't panic and then when he got her out, he didn't go chasing after them - the second filly was gone but Ryan let her gather herself and slowly come to them, and I think she got down past the two [furlong marker] to a furlong and a half and then I'd say she went into empty a little bit because of what had happened to her two weeks ago and then the race today, so he had to call on courage with her then. She really responded, so she was very courageous, I thought, today.”
“Maybe we should have run her in the Derby!” co-owner Michael Tabor ruminated afterward.
Of course, with Coolmore being in the stallion-making business, that was never going to happen.
“It was hardly even mentioned,” Tabor said. “For me personally, I'm a purist - I like the fillies to run against the fillies and the colts to run against the colts.”
But Minding’s future targets will probably include males. Moore said that Minding’s ideal trip is probably 1 1/4 miles, but added that they could go for the 1 1/2-mile Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). If that time comes, I'll revert to being a wishy-washy question monger.
Although Minding won as she was entitled to, it may be advisable to treat the rest of the Oaks form cautiously. The final time of 2:42.66 (8.16 seconds slower than standard, according to Racing Post), and the almost unbelievable way that the field was strung out like steeplechasers, both underscore the role of the rain-softened ground.
Runner-up Architecture ran a terrific race, but can anyone take literally a 31-length form turnaround with sixth-placer Seventh Heaven, who’d edged her at Lingfield? There was a gap of eight lengths back to Harlequeen in third, and another 14-length chasm to pacesetting Somehow in fourth.
Godolphin’s Skiffle traveled really well for much of the way before emptying in the straight and winding up fifth. On better going, she might have improved on that finish. But even if she were still fifth, it would have been a much closer result. Considering that Skiffle was supplemented after winning the Height of Fashion in only her second career start, this was a better-than-appears performance from a most promising filly.
I wish there were a similarly positive report card for Turret Rocks, who was the disappointment of the race as my value play. In hindsight, I should have been more concerned about the ground for her, but other high-class progeny of Fastnet Rock tend to cope with softish conditions. Granted, it was a fair deal soggier than I’d expected, but nothing could have prepared me for her abjectly throwing in the towel a half-mile out. Perhaps the market drift told the tale – Turret Rocks went off at almost the price of my “live longshot” Harlequeen.
Jockey Kevin Manning summed up Turret Rocks’ Oaks debacle: “I traveled well down the hill but just as I was coming four furlongs from home the ground shifted under her and she lost her confidence, she started to back off and her run was done.”
Will the Jim Bolger yard rebound with Moonlight Magic in Saturday’s Derby (G1), where he’s also drawn in the unfavorable post 1? Or will Coolmore pull off the double with a Derby quintet led by US Army Ranger and Deauville?
The weather forecast is improving, sparking hopes that the ground will as well.
Minding photo courtesy of British Champions Series via Twitter