With just the nine runners declared for Friday’s Oaks, this will be the first single-runner Oaks field since the brilliant Ouija Board won in 2004.
Even Song was not declared, but Ballydoyle still run a third of the field. Having a small field is likely to remove any hard luck stories in-running, and it should be a truly run race to remember. It is hard to oppose Minding, but if you are minded to take her on, my preference is for Somehow and Skiffle.
Minding. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Ryan Moore.
The race obviously centres around this excellent filly, who has not finished outside the first two in her 7 career starts. However, she has never raced beyond a mile, and whilst being by Galileo suggests she should have the stamina to see out the Oaks trip, her dam Lillie Langtry was a miler through and through. The fact that Minding got beaten in the Irish 1000 Guineas doesn’t concern me; she and Jet Setting finished a long way clear of the rest and it was simply a brilliant performance from Jet Setting that won the day, not a poor run from Minding. Minding also injured herself when banging her head in the stalls, so we can certainly forgive her in defeat. Ryan Moore is a man of few words, but his smile after her victory in the Fillies Mile in October last year spoke volumes. If she stays, she wins, but there is certainly value if we look elsewhere.
Skiffle. Trainer: Charlie Appleby. Jockey: William Buick.
The great Godolphin revival is underway, but in order to be an actual revival rather than flattering to deceive, it needs to be underpinned by big Group 1 victories and not merely valuable handicaps. Skiffle hadn’t even been seen on a racecourse before May, and she was very green on her debut when she fluffed her lines at the start. However, she evidently learned from that and was very impressive at Goodwood the next time out, posting an RPR fully 26lbs above that debut. She remains thoroughly unexposed and the way she has finished both her races over 10 furlongs suggests she will appreciate the step up in trip too.
Turret Rocks. Trainer: Jim Bolger. Jockey: Kevin Manning.
Turret Rocks was a very smart 2yo, finishing second to Ballydoyle in the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day on her final start last year. She was then a creditable sixth in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, but I simply can’t see enough in her to overturn the form with Minding. Like Minding, she has not raced over further than a mile but with Galileo’s influence in the dam line she should improve for the extra distance, but unlike Minding has never raced on ground softer than good. The genius of Jim Bolger should never be underestimated, but at single figure odds she is certainly short enough for me.
Somehow. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Seamie Heffernan.
I was at Nottingham racecourse early in April when I received a text from Mrs Potter, a much shrewder judge than I am. It simply said “The Oaks winner runs later”. She duly beat a Dermot Weld favourite that day at the Curragh, over 10 furlongs on yielding ground, before taking the tried and trusted Ballydoyle route of a Chester trial. Somehow was sent off 8/15F for the Cheshire Oaks, but gave herself an enormous amount of work to do before getting up close to home. In both those races, whilst far from spectacular, she was doing her best work at the finish, and so if Minding doesn’t stay, Somehow could be there to pick up the pieces.
Architecture. Trainer: Hugo Palmer. Jockey: Frankie Dettori.
Viewers of The Morning Line will have noted that Architecture was one of Hugo Palmer’s five horses to follow this year, and his work with Covert Love suggests he knows how to get the best out of an improving filly. Architecture took a huge step forward in her latest start at Lingfield, finishing a neck second to Seventh Heaven in a listed race having previously won a class 5 maiden at Nottingham in her final start as a 2yo. If she finds a similar amount of improvement again, you can certainly see her threatening the places. My gut feeling is that the Oaks may come just too soon for her and she’ll be winning some valuable races later in the season.
Seventh Heaven. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Colm O’Donoghue.
Ballydoyle’s third string and the winner of the aforementioned Lingfield race, beating Architecture, this is another daughter of Galileo and she should stay the distance having seen out that Lingfield race in good style. The rest of her form doesn’t really stand out, and whilst the Ballydoyle outsiders often outrun their prices, Seventh Heaven’s role here will surely be to set the race up for Minding and Somehow.
Harlequeen. Trainer: Mick Channon. Jockey: Silvestre De Sousa.
This filly by Canford Cliffs put in a career best performance in the Musidora Stakes at York last month, but that was still only good enough for 4th place behind So Mi Dar, Fireglow and Promising Run, whilst her sole other start this season was a decent second behind Linguistic at Newmarket in April. Thus her only career victory remains her maiden win at Goodwood in September, and whilst she should be able to cope with whatever ground conditions transpire on Friday, this looks a bit too tough to back her with any confidence.
Diamonds Pour Moi. Trainer: Ralph Beckett. Jockey: Oisin Murphy.
Another lightly-raced filly, with just two career starts and only one this season. That was a third behind Somehow in the Cheshire Oaks, where she stayed on well but couldn’t quicken enough to get her head in front at any stage. That form, along with her official rating, suggests she will find several too good for her here.
Australian Queen. Trainer: David Elsworth. Jockey: James Doyle.
This half-sister to Arabian Queen also put in a career best in the Musidora Stakes, but that wasn’t even good enough to finish ahead of Harlequeen that day. Arabian Queen pulled off the mother of shocks at similar odds when beating Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International, prompting a scintillating display of grumpiness from David Elsworth, but it would be an even bigger surprise if Australian Queen beats this field to the prize.