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Alex Hammond previews the Oaks and the Derby at Epsom Downs

Alex Hammond Posted 30th May 2013 view comments

The Derby meeting at Epsom gets underway on Friday for two cracking days racing.

It's been pretty damp over the last few days and as of Thursday the ground was described as 'Good to Soft, Soft in places' from 'Good to Soft, Good in places'. The five-furlong straight course is 'Good to Soft'. However, it's expected to be more like good for Saturday's big race.

Secret Gesture: has plenty to recommend her for The Oaks, says Alex

Secret Gesture: has plenty to recommend her for The Oaks, says Alex

The Oaks though could be run on easy ground and that will be right up Secret Gesture's street. There is plenty to recommend her as she was the impressive winner of the Lingfield Oaks Trial and handled the cambers of the track well at the Surrey venue.

Epsom is notoriously tricky for horses that don't handle coming round Tattenham corner and down the hill, but Lingfield with its similar layout gives you a good idea if a horse will act round Epsom. Sheikh Fahad's Qatar Racing bought a half share of this filly in the week and he will be hoping his investments continue to pay off after a win in the Irish 1000 Guineas last weekend with Just the Judge.

It's Moth for me in what looks like an open race as she comes into this contest with strong classic form and will appreciate the step up to this distance being a daughter of Galileo.

Alex Hammond
Quotes of the week

Jim Crowley keeps the ride despite the new ownership. Her trainer Ralph Beckett also saddles Talent, a filly that won't have any problems staying the mile and a half. So, the trainer has two chances to add to his win with Look Here in 2008.

Aidan O'Brien's Moth is another leading contender and she is at the top of my list after her excellent effort to be third, staying on, in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, the second has since gone on to win the Irish 1000 Guineas.

Moth didn't get the clearest of runs at Newmarket and her pedigree suggests the step up to the Oaks trip will be in her favour, you can't beat classic form. She handles softer ground too and I like her.

Sir Michael Stoute suffered a blow when Telescope was taken out of the Derby after failing to sparkle in the last couple of weeks and subsequently picking up a slightly sore shin. He will be hoping to gain some compensation with Liber Nauticus in this contest. However, I wasn't impressed with her win in the Musidora at York last time out and it didn't look visually impressive, although that race is usually a decent trial for the Oaks.

Hughie Morrison trains Banoffee and her owners forked out £30,000 to add her to the race earlier this month, so if she finishes in the first three she will repay that investment. She showed a good turn of foot to win the Cheshire Oaks last time out under Kieren Fallon who rides her once again but like the favourite she will have to keep progressing to win this race.

It's Moth for me in what looks like an open race as she comes into this contest with strong classic form and will appreciate the step up to this distance being a daughter of Galileo and related to winners that stayed a mile and a half.

The Derby

Moving on to Saturday and there is no arguing that the best horse in the Derby is Jim Bolger's Dawn Approach. However, whether he wins the race or not remains open to debate due to his possible stamina limitations.

The 2000 Guineas winner is by a Derby winner in New Approach, but there is plenty of speed on the dam's side of the pedigree and that means there has to be an element of doubt. It will be his first try beyond a mile and I'm not sure how many Coventry winners have gone on to win the Derby (maybe someone can tweet me if they know the answer @skysportsAlexH).

It's possible his class may get him home and we could all be made to look like fools if he powers away with the contest. He has a relaxed temperament and should relax in the contest and no doubt Kevin Manning will be trying to put him to sleep in the early stages. Aidan O'Brien will certainly be doing his best to overhaul the favourite and no doubt will want to make it a good stamina test with his five runners.

Sky Sports News have been to Ballydoyle this week and you can get a last minute look at some of his Epsom runners on Friday and Saturday morning.

Battle of Marengo is his first string and he will be ridden by son Joseph. He has followed a tried and tested route with this horse who won the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial last time out albeit in workmanlike fashion. His second string looks to be Ruler of the World who will be ridden by Ryan Moore who was on board when the horse won the Chester Vase last time out.

There are some interesting raiders from Europe with Andre Fabre saddling Ocovango, who came over to gallop at the track at Epsom's Breakfast with the Stars morning last week. Fabre isn't a man to underestimate and he won this race with Pour Moi in 2011.

Chopin will be ridden by Jamie Spencer for Qatar Racing who supplemented the colt for this race, he is trained in Germany by Andreas Wohler. It's hard to weigh up the former of those two. Although they are the best in their respective countries, it's questionable the standard of horses they have been beating. I'm not sure I'd want to be backing the favourite at the prices with such a question mark over the trip and I think there could be some each way value to be had.

Elaine Burke's runner Libertarian comes here with one of the main trials under his belt. I'm sure if one of the big named trainers had won the Dante with this horse he would be attracting much more attention. It's true he's an inexperienced horse who still showed signs of greenness at York, but he will have learned plenty from that run and at his double figure price might be worth a punt.

So, there's no doubt that Dawn Approach is the classiest horse in the field and although I wouldn't back him at the price I wouldn't be strongly opposing him either.

Aidan O'Brien's Battle of Marengo has to be respected despite the manner of his win at Leopardstown last time out and maybe the fitting of cheek-pieces for the first time will wake him up a bit, he should certainly get the race run to suit.

I can't see Libertarian taking the Derby trophy back to Middleham, but apparently he has worked the 'wrong' way round the High Moor gallop and if he can do that without too much trouble he should handle Epsom ok. I rode up that gallop a couple of weeks ago and going left handed back down the hill would only be successfully negotiated by a well-balanced horse. He's my each way pick.

The Dash

The big sprint is the Dash over the flying five at Epsom and this handicap has attracted many of the usual suspects. The David Barron-trained Long Awaited could be the one here for me. He was short of room when well beaten in this race last year, but subsequently won over this course and distance with blinkers fitted which he wears again on Saturday.

Richard Hughes has won on him and he takes the ride again and the horse should get some ease in the ground to help his cause too. He has won on good to firm, but also handles easier and although the softer ground doesn't seem essential, it may just slow one or two of the others down. Last year's winner Stone of Folca runs again off a 3lb higher mark.

Duke of Firenze is another of the protagonists for Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore. You could make a case for several of these runners in a typically open sprint, but I'm with Long Awaited who isn't overly exposed and therefore there could be more to come.

St Nicholas Abbey is bidding to win the Coronation Cup for a record breaking third time and I can't see any reason why he shouldn't do it. I make no apology for selecting him in this race as it's his for the taking. He is a world-class horse given the right circumstances and he gets that here. He won the Sheema Classic in Dubai and this is his first outing since then. He only faces four rivals, one of which is his stablemate Chamonix.

Dunaden is his nearest market rival and what a horse he has been for connections. He has won almost £5m in prize money thanks to his successful globetrotting exploits which have seen him winning the Melbourne Cup, the Hong Kong Vase and Caulfield Cup as well as numerous placings at the highest level.

He finished third over an extended 10 furlongs last time out which is a trip short of his best and the step back up to this mile and a half will help. I think St Nicholas Abbey will put his name in the history books though.


Moth in the Oaks @ 3/1 with Sky Bet

Libertarian in the Derby @ 16/1 with Sky Bet (each way)

Long Awaited in the Dash @ 9/1 with Sky Bet

St Nicholas Abbey in the Coronation Cup @ 2/5 with Sky Bet

Comments (1)

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David Hennell says...

If the ground is riding the soft side of good i think Secret Gesture will take all the beating and as for the Derby it will go back to Ireland but not to Jim Bolgers stable as Dawn Approach wont stay the trip so i think it will go to Aiden O'Briens and Battle of Marengo.Lets all hope its a great race.Im looking forward to being there.

Posted 03:31 31st May 2013

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