Steve Hughes looks at the opening day of Epsom’s Classic weekend with two selections from the first day card, including the Oaks itself.
The third of the British classics the Oaks looks set to be a well above average renewal with some top classic form from the Guineas on offer, and plenty of the trial race winners also taking part. Godolphin have a decent record over the years in this race and could have the winner again this year. Another Godolphin/Kieren Fallon runner is also fancied in an earlier handicap on the card. Carloswayback was a 13/2 (advised) winner on Thursday.
Epsom 2.10: Clon Brulee
This represents Clon Brulee’s first run for Godolphin in England since he was purchased out of the David Barron yard, and although the horses did not really shine in three runs on the Tapeta in Dubai this winter, a return to turf plus a first run after a break could be the ideal circumstances for the 5yo to shine this afternoon.
The horse has excelled in the early part of the past two seasons winning his first two starts of both 2012 and 2013 all over this 10f trip and on all types of going. Particularly impressive was his win in the Zetland Gold Cup at Redcar last May against a decent field. He did go on to prove more than just a spring horse to be reckoned with by landing another big handicap at Doncaster’s Leger meeting in September, although that too came after a short break.
He ran to a reasonable standard in Meydan with two fourth places, but has had a nice break since mid-February to refresh himself for another season on grass. Although he is on a career high mark of 99, 6lbs higher than for his Doncaster success, there is no reason to think he won’t develop further this season given he is only five and Godolphin obviously saw something in him to buy him last autumn.
Epsom 4.00: Ihtimal
Plenty is often made of breeding when it comes to speculating whether a particular horse has the stamina for an Oaks or Derby, given few horses have even raced over this 12f trip before the big day. Whilst there are slight doubts on that basis about Ihtimal, I prefer to use the evidence of her recent races which have seen her come on strong at the finish each time. Her form stands comparison so far against any other runner in the field and she will take all the beating this afternoon.
She was kept busy last season, having already run twice by the time of Royal Ascot where she finished third in the Chesham Stakes, the staying race at the meeting for juveniles. However it was later in the year when she really came into her own, winning a Group 3 at Newmarket, then a Group 2 impressively at Doncaster before finishing third to Chriselliam in the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Newmarket. It could be argued that the race came too soon (just two weeks) after Doncaster, but Ihtimal just seemed to be outpaced early on before running on strongly into third at the finish.
She had a short spell racing in Dubai over the winter, winning easily on both occasions including a mammoth 10l win in the UAE Oaks, her first attempt over 10f, showing no signs of stopping. Her third in the English 1000 Guineas at Newmarket was a fine effort in the circumstances, again doing all her best work in the closing stages. Any ground seems to come alike to her, so if she does get the trip she has the quality over this extra distance to see off the opposition here.
1pt win – Clon Brulee – 2.10 Epsom (9/1 general)
1pt each-way – Ihtimal – 4.00 Epsom (10/1 BetVictor, Stan James)