Training legend Aidan O’Brien sends out a quartet led by favorite Pink Dogwood in Friday’s Oaks (G1) at Epsom, but all-time great Frankel counters with a three-strong posse of daughters – Mehdaayih, Anapurna, and Frankellina – that could be more than a match for the Ballydoyle brigade.
Mehdaayih and Anapurna, both trained by John Gosden, come off dynamic stakes debuts in Oaks trials. Emirates Park’s Mehdaayih was so dominant in the Cheshire Oaks that she not only warranted supplementing to the Epsom classic, but also threatened Pink Dogwood for favoritism. Anapurna, a Meon Valley homebred, similarly flaunted her ability in the Oaks Trial at Lingfield. That soft-ground affair marked Anapurna’s first turf try, and she will encounter quicker conditions at Epsom. Frankie Dettori stays aboard, while Rob Havlin maintains the mount on Mehdaayih, who’s proven on varying types of ground.
Frankellina is the lesser fancied entrant for William Haggas, at least judging by the market support for stablemate Maqsad, but she’s got a big home reputation in her own right. Up in time in her Yarmouth unveiling last October, Frankellina encountered a setback that gave her a later start to her sophomore campaign. When resurfacing in the Musidora (G3), she totally missed the break, found herself several lengths behind the field, and still nearly pulled it off when dead-heating for second to Nausha in a thriller. Frankellina likely would have won outright with a sensible start. If she could go close at York in those circumstances, off a less-than-ideal preparation, the well-regarded filly might have a quantum leap forward up her sleeve. Frankellina has upset appeal at 15-1.
Sheikh Hamdan’s Maqsad is steaming into third favoritism behind Pink Dogwood and Mehdaayih, thabks to a romp in the Pretty Polly at Newmarket. Connections have admitted to a stamina question for the Siyouni filly, but she does boast heft through her maternal grandparents Galileo and Aquarelliste.
Pink Dogwood is bred to stay at least 1 1/2 miles as a daughter of Camelot, and a full sister to last year’s Irish Derby (G1) hero Latrobe. She arguably wouldn’t be the Oaks favorite, however, if she represented a trainer other than seven-time Oaks winner O’Brien. Fifth in a subpar renewal of the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) on Arc Day, Pink Dogwood began to fulfill her promise with a comeback score in the Salsabil at Navan. Still, she’s a very short price for her resume.
The rest of the Ballydoyle brigade are longshots. Donnacha O’Brien’s mount Peach Tree, who’d beaten Tarnawa in a listed stakes at Navan in October, was fourth to the same Aga Khan rival in the Blue Wind (G3) off the bench. Stablemate Delphinia was third in the same tune-up. Fleeting, upset winner of last September’s May Hill (G2), trailed in the 1000 Guineas (G1).
The Dermot Weld-trained Tarnawa has won or placed in all six starts. Considering how she moved forward off a third to Pink Dogwood when taking the Blue Wind, the Shamardal filly is eligible to continue her progress.
In an open-looking Oaks, it wouldn’t be a surprise if a filly reversed form. Manuela de Vega wasn’t fully cranked when second to Mehdaayih at Chester. Trained by two-time Oaks winner Ralph Beckett, the daughter of Lope de Vega dismissed the boys in last fall’s Silver Tankard at Pontefract. The ever-dangerous Roger Varian keeps the faith with Sea the Stars blueblood Tauteke, best of the rest behind Anapurna but reportedly in much better heart now than at Lingfield.
Fellow Sea the Stars filly Lavender’s Blue just missed to Queen Power in the Haras de Bouquetot Fillies’ Trial at Newbury, straight off her debut win. The Amanda Perrett pupil has scope to do much better. Musidora fifth Blue Gardenia had concluded her juvenile campaign with a Montrose Fillies’ S. victory for David O’Meara, while Sh Boom must step up markedly to factor.
Two races earlier, the Coronation Cup (G1) serves as a rematch of last year’s St Leger (G1). O’Brien’s Kew Gardens beat Gosden’s filly Lah Ti Dar that day, with Godolphin’s Old Persian fifth, but the result could be different around 1 1/2 miles at Epsom. Old Persian has progressed in the interim, turning the Dubai City of Gold (G2)/Sheema Classic (G1) double at Meydan, and persuading trainer Charlie Appleby to add him to the line-up. Lah Ti Dar, by Dubawi like Old Persian, is similarly entitled to thrive with maturity. After a hard-fought comeback win in the Middleton (G2), Lah Ti Dar is sure to appreciate the added ground here.
Kew Gardens’ reappearance, a distant second to Morando in a soft-ground Ormonde (G3), shouldn’t be held against him. Nor should his ninth in the 2018 Derby (G1) over course and distance, where he was burned up on the pace, or his third to Old Persian in the Great Voltigeur (G2) that was simply a warm-up for the Leger. Yet it could be significant that two of his marquee wins have come over further, including the Queen’s Vase (G2) at Royal Ascot, and he went to France to break through at about 1 1/2 miles in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). Kews Gardens has been made eligible for the Ascot Gold Cup (G1), prompting the question of whether he can be outpaced by a sharper foe at this trip.
That’s already the burning question for Marmelo. The multiple Group 2-winning stayer and Melbourne Cup (G1) runner-up successfully answered it in the 1 1/2-mile Finest Surprise (aka John Porter) (G3), but this is a tougher spot. Two of his victims turned the page next out in the Jockey Club (G2), where Communique stole it and Defoe finished a solid second. Varian’s Defoe figures to get a better set-up here, with Cypress Creek presumably ensuring a good tempo for Kew Gardens. Salouen, who almost upset Cracksman here a year ago, just romped in the Buckhounds at Ascot but would rather not have such pace pressure.