You could be forgiven for thinking that the Cazoo Derby is now an open and shut case after Bolshoi Ballet’s demolition job in the Derrinstown Stud Stakes.
On the face of it, the steadily progressive son of Galileo looks the standout Derby contender after making mincemeat of his Leopardstown rivals and it’s hard to quibble with his 7/4 price given all that has happened in the last couple of weeks.
However, I’m still far from convinced. His main rival on form, Mac Swiney, looked extremely laboured on his first run back and quite clearly didn’t run to anything like the pick of his juvenile form.
Bolshoi Ballet could do no more than win as he did but it doesn’t look strong form by any stretch and the Derrinstown has hardly been a rich source of Derby winners in recent times (no horse since High Chaparral in 2002 has won this race and followed up at Epsom).
And then there is Aidan O’Brien’s recent record in the Derby. His last three winners of the famous race have returned 25/1, 13/2 and 40/1, and even the 13/2 shot Anthony Van Dyck was only third of the team’s runners in the betting (behind Sir Dragonet and Broome).
There are a few contributory factors at play here, one of which is that it is very difficult for anyone to know for sure how well a horse is going to handle Epsom, however well balanced he has looked in previous runs.
It is also a time of the year when 3-year-olds can progress at varying rates. It’s basically a bit of a minefield and extremely difficult for connections to ascertain exactly where they are with each horse.
With that in mind, taking a short price about a horse like Bolshoi Ballet looks risky given a stablemate like Van Gogh looks a sure-fire improver for the step up to a mile-and-a-half.
And then there is High Definition, who was favourite for the Derby before Bolshoi Ballet’s Leopardstown romp.
He didn’t show anything like the sparkling turn of foot he did as a juvenile but he surely showed enough in the Dante to make him a player in the Derby, although connections might be tempted to save him for the Irish Derby where the galloping nature of the Curragh could really help this horse.
It’s interesting that he remains shorter in Epsom lists than the winner of the York race, Hurricane Lane, and I suspect the reason for that is that High Definition looks likely to take a bigger step forward from the run that the winner, who had the advantage of a previous spin this spring.
Aidan O’Brien is likely to train the Cazoo Derby winner next month but don’t bank on him doing it with Bolshoi Ballet.
The Cazoo Oaks picture also looks as clear as mud after a shambolic Musidora Stakes was stolen on the front end by Ryan Moore and Snowfall.
The Musidora has always been regarded as one of the key Oaks trials but the race hasn’t thrown up an Oaks winner since Sariska in 2009 and you wouldn’t be rushing to open their betting apps to back Snowfall at single figure odds given she was beaten on six of her seven starts as a 2-year-old.
To my eye, Teona has the most ability of those that ran in the Musidora but she won’t realise her potential until she learns to settle better. She could be the sort of filly that flourishes in the second half of the season.
The Lingfield Oaks trial was run at a crawl and won by a filly rated 84 so it’s probably safe to discard that as a serious Oaks pointer but there looks a good deal more substance to the Cheshire Oaks form and I could see runner-up Zeyaadah reversing that form with Dubai Fountain.
Zeyaadah, who didn’t have the smoothest run round at Chester, now looks to be Roger Varian’s best chance of winning the fillies’ classic at Epsom.
There can be now doubt now though that the best Oaks trial was the 1,000 Guineas and to my eye Santa Barbara looks by some way the most striking Oaks candidate to run in that race.
Santa Barbara will head to Epsom with just two runs under her belt but she goes there with arguably the strongest piece of form to her name and there could be a stack more to come from this daughter of Camelot over the Oaks trip.
The negatives are her price, the fact that she looked unbalanced at Newmarket (which doesn’t bode well for ability to handle the camber at Epsom) and the fact that her sire has still to produce a Classic winner, although he has produced some smart middle distances horses like Latrobe, Sir Dragonet and English King.
However, there is still potential for the Oaks picture to change dramatically before we get to Epsom and the filly that could yet still have a big say in the race is trained in Newmarket by William Haggas who, incidentally, is having quite a time of things.
Sea Empress hasn’t been seen since beating Teona on her sole start as a juvenile but, as the old saying goes, she could, quite literally, be anything.
The daughter of Sea The Stars is entered up in a couple of Listed races this coming weekend but she is going to have to seriously impress if she is going to challenge Santa Barbara towards the top of the market.
In conclusion, the Oaks is lacking some star quality at this stage, we certainly don’t have a filly comparable to Love who was a warm order to follow up her Guineas win at Epsom 12 months ago.
That doesn’t mean to say that one or more of them can’t step up to the plate on the day but at this stage the most likely filly to do so is Santa Barbara – if she handles the track. It is entirely possible that Epsom finds her out but she shows her true colours at the Curragh.