Will anyone beat Minding in the Epsom Oaks?

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

May 31st, 2016

With the setback to undefeated Musidora (G3) winner So Mi Dar, Friday’s Oaks (G1) lost its most riveting story line: her clash with Aidan O’Brien’s brilliant Minding. Now the Epsom classic appears at Minding’s mercy, at least according to the market.

It’s easy to see why. The daughter of Galileo and multiple Group 1-winning miler Lillie Langtry concluded her juvenile season with a devastating display in the Fillies’ Mile (G1) (click link for video). Minding picked up right where she left off, over the same Newmarket course and distance, in the 1000 Guineas (G1) on May 1.

Yet if you’re probing for reasons not to jump on the odds-on favorite’s bandwagon, I can think of two: she had a mishap when narrowly upset in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), and she’s not a slam dunk over an extra half-mile.

Minding’s Irish Guineas loss is especially annoying because she wasn’t even supposed to be there. That was supposed to be stablemate Ballydoyle’s place to shine. But after Ballydoyle’s pre-race bloodwork was unsatisfactory, an audible was called, and Minding was pitched in. The Coolmore lads may well regret the change of plan.

Unfortunately, Minding hit her head on the gate so hard that she burst a sinus. Yet she raced through the head-spinning feeling and nearly pulled out a victory, only to be edged by soft-ground aficionado Jet Setting, whom she’d left in another zip code at Newmarket. They pulled 10 lengths clear of third at the Curragh, underscoring just how hard Minding tried in adverse circumstances.

All reports are that O’Brien and his vet are pleased with Minding since her misadventure, and she’ll be presented in fine condition at Epsom. But the fact remains that she’s wheeling back on fairly short rest from an unplanned race that turned out to be more than she’d bargained for.

As a result, Minding is stretching out to 1 1/2 miles in less than ideal circumstances. The trip concern isn’t strictly on pedigree, since Galileo can carry you a long way. And even though her dam, Lillie Langtry, never raced past a mile, she’s by Danehill Dancer out of a Darshaan mare.

My slight scruple arises from how Minding kills off her foes with a deadly burst of speed, delivered in quick strides. For whatever it’s worth, my gut instinct is that the added ground might stretch her beyond her comfort zone.

But if Galileo can carry you a long way, so can sheer class. Minding might just have so much in hand over her rivals that she can get away with it. So Mi Dar would have tested Minding to the limit, and in her absence, there’s no equivalent rival to endorse unreservedly.

That still leaves us with a few value-priced options, though.

Jim Bolger’s homebred Turret Rocks is by Fastnet Rock, sire of last year’s Oaks stunner Qualify. Turret Rocks has a lot more going for her than Qualify did.

Victorious over males in her unveiling going a mile at Gowran last summer, Turret Rocks cut back in trip to seven furlongs and ran creditably in both the Silver Flash (G3) and Debutante (G2). But she really wanted to go farther, and accordingly performed better when stepping back up to a mile. Turret Rocks scored a breakthrough in the May Hill (G2), and took runner-up honors to Ballydoyle in a fast renewal of the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1). Off until this season, Turret Rocks resumed with a sixth to Minding in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, where she was in the front rank early before tiring. That was a useful comeback for a filly who’ll strip fitter this time, and get the added ground she already desires.

Skiffle brings a different profile as a late developer who’s yet to be tested against the best of her generation. But she’s shown enough for the Godolphin brain trust to supplement her for £30,000, with John Ferguson observing that “the Oaks might be a little more open than we thought.”

A beautifully bred daughter of Dubawi and the stakes-winning, Group 2-placed King’s Best mare Princesse Dansante, from the immediate family of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Solemia, Skiffle didn’t make her debut until May 6. The Charlie Appleby pupil completely missed the start in that Ascot maiden, slow to go before rearing a bit as if to say, “What? Go now? Am I supposed to follow them?” But Skiffle finished with interest for third in a race dominated by forward types.

Pitched straight into the May 19 Height of Fashion at Goodwood, Skiffle demonstrated quantum improvement while getting more education. She broke well, but had to maneuver her way through traffic before nabbing favored The Black Princess (an early Oaks entry who still holds an engagement in the Ribblesdale [G2]). There was a yawning gap of seven lengths back to Play Gal in third. Epsom represents another order of magnitude in just her third start, but Skiffle has talent, a good attitude, a sustained kick, and no shortage of stamina.

The Mick Channon-trained Harlequeen has yet to run a bad race in her life, making her an intriguing exotics candidate at big odds. Second to the colt Linguistic in a lucrative Tattersalls race, she thereby has collateral form with a few Derby (G1) preps. Harlequeen also represents So Mi Dar’s formline: she was fourth, but beaten only a couple of heads for second, in the Musidora.

O’Brien has four besides Minding in the Oaks -- Even Song, Seventh Heaven, Somehow, and How High the Moon. Even Song, a Mastercraftsman half-sister to reigning St Leger (G1) victress Simple Verse, is the most appealing. That said, if anyone else trained her, she’d be a better price. Even Song was a commanding maiden winner at Leopardstown last October, prompting jockey Colm O’Donoghue to tell that “she’s an Oaks filly for sure.”

Even Song didn’t have much of a chance to burnish her Oaks credentials when next seen in the May 1 Pretty Polly at Newmarket. Not only did the race develop into a sit-sprint that wouldn’t have suited her, but she also got butchered looking for a seam and did well to recover for third. Even with a clear passage, she wouldn’t have threatened the impressive Swiss Range.

Seventh Heaven didn’t enjoy herself in the Lingfield Oaks Trial either, but knuckled down well to outduel Architecture from the Hugo Palmer yard. Architecture is well regarded by her trainer, who’s given her an entry in the Irish Champion (G1). While that may be aiming a bit high, Architecture did travel very well around Lingfield, and further progression would put her in the mix.

Somehow, by Fastnet Rock and out of 2006 Epsom/Irish Oaks (G1) star Alexandrova, didn’t look ready for prime time when scraping home in her stakes debut in the Cheshire Oaks. On the bright side, she’s got to be a natural to win despite her evident cluelessness. But if you need constant nudging to stay focused at Chester, chances are Epsom’s coming a bit too quickly on the learning curve. Hence at this writing, she and Seventh Heaven are both uncertain to line up on Friday.

How High the Moon has yet to live up to her pedigree, as a full sister to Diamondsandrubies produced by triple classic place-getter Quarter Moon (runner-up in the 2002 Oaks).

Diamonds Pour Moi, a close third to Somehow at Chester, represents two-time Oaks-winning trainer Ralph Beckett. Look Here (2008), who handed Beckett his first Oaks, sprang a 33-1 surprise after losing her trial as well.

Australian Queen is a Fastnet Rock half-sister to Arabian Queen, who shocked Golden Horn in last summer’s Juddmonte International (G1). Likewise a Jeff Smith homebred trained by David Elsworth, Australian Queen has been well beaten by Swiss Range and So Mi Dar in the Pretty Polly and Musidora respectively. She has bomb potential only if you look at the pedigree and connections angle.