After all the build-up on and off the track, the Epsom weekend begins in earnest today with seven races. The Oaks is the obvious highlight, a deep one at that, with the Group One Coronation Cup an exciting race to have playing second fiddle.
The usual stars are on show. Aiden O’Brien has two big favourites in Rhododendron and Highland Reel, but the likes of Godolphin and John Gosden will be hoping it doesn’t all go the way of Ballydoyle.
2.00 – CARDSHARP (M Johnston) 7/2
One of our selections for the day comes in the opener, a conditions juvenile race over 6F. Cardsharp followed up his winning debut with a fourth at Ascot, a run that is much better than it appears on paper and under a 6lb penalty for his previous win. The favourite still has a lot to prove and I can’t touch at the short-price. He stole a march on his rivals at Ripon and nothing ever got into the race. Admittedly, Cardsharp beat nothing on debut but did it in style and Mark Johnston’s youngsters are coming on for their early runs this season, compared with the early blitz the yard had on the juvenile races last summer. Zap for Ricard Fahey could be a good horse, but there’s very little to go off and has been quiet in the market. Holdenhurst could be overpriced, but with only seven going to post it’s not worth the saver. It’s not the strongest race to get us underway, but I’m confident Cardsharp will go close.
2.35 – No bet
Next up at Epsom is a Class 2 Handicap over the extended mile, and in all honesty it’s a horrible betting heat with nothing jumping out at all. The top two in the market have obvious claims, but are both very inconsistent. Out of the two I’d side with Remarkable who I think will come on for his Victoria Cup effort, but far from convinced for betting purposes. Nothing at a bigger price appeals either.
3.10 – HAWKBILL (C Appleby) 10/1 & AIR PILOT (R Beckett) 40/1
Journey would be the bet in this race every time, but in this instance making his return to the track, he looks like he he needs the run first time out. Last year he was beat very tamely at York, before putting a string of impressive runs together. Any significant rain and I’m all over Hawkbill, if not I doubt he’ll even run, but either way I’d wait and see. Air Pilot is overpriced at 40s and worth a small EW dart. The 8YO is consistent enough and won at Naas on his reappearance. He has some big runs in the book and is not a 40/1 horse in this field. It’s a tricky race and Highland Reel will take some stopping from the front, but without this downpour I wouldn’t be having much of a play.
3.45 – BROROCCO (A Balding) 5/1
My second big fancy comes in the shape of Brorocco, who has plenty going for him and retains some value at the top of the market. He won well at Epsom in April and backed it up with a solid second at Chester behind a ridiculously well placed Stoute horse. He ran into plenty of trouble here and was drawn widest of all, take it for much better than the face value. A lot of the 4YO’s rivals are out of form and on the slide in the weights rather than progressing and I’d take the horse on the up in races like this every time. Fidaawy, another Stoute 4YO, is vying for favouritism but I’m hoping the 8lbs advantage can see Andrew Balding’s animal home in front.
4.30 – The Oaks: Rhododendron (No Bet) & HORSEPLAY (A Balding)
Aiden O’Brien and Rhododendron take all the beating in this one, but is too short in what looks on paper a deep Oaks, especially if the downpour does strike. I was quite sweet on Coronet until Frankie Dettori deserted her to jump on Enable, who could be anything admittedly and ran a blinder at Chester. Sobetsu will want the rain and has been sent to Epsom at late notice over the French equivalent. Roger Charlton is very strong on Natavia, but I would have wanted to see more than just her Newbury romp beforehand. Horseplay is the EW play at 18s and won’t mind any rain. The Nottingham run was one of the 2YO performances of last year and the Listed victory at Newmarket showed a tidy turn of foot and was impressive enough to warrant a run in the Oaks. Lets not forget the American filly, Daddy’s Lil Darling, who’s trainer insists they’re not just here for the Pimms.
5.15 – No Bet
I wouldn’t trust Sutter County with my pennies, but I also can’t nail one down confidently to take him on. Seven Heavens is a frustrating type and could be too good for these on his day, but is very hot and cold. True Valour is the other fancied horse but the Irish form is hard to stack up against the equivalent British form.
5.50 – ZAMJAR (E Dunlop) 14/1
Our final part of the well fancied trio. He won for us at Chester and only up 2lbs he seems overpriced. The form of the previous Newbury run is still playing out nicely and as a 3YO he’s definitely in the improving bracket. He has a good draw and hopefully Josie Gordon can get him settled in behind the leaders. At 14s he’s far too big to leave alone and certainly an EW bet.
Hawkbill 10/1 (Only with rain, and quite a bit)