Epsom Derby & Oaks

Epsom’s most cherished meeting gets underway this Friday and we look set for plenty of excitement during one of the top flat racing occasions of the season. Many attendees will be keeping an eye on the weather forecast which is looking like it could go one of many ways. At the beginning of the week the going was a little softer than good but this could easily change by the time of the opening race.

What makes this meeting so special for Epsom is that it features two of Britain’s Classic races, the Oaks and the Derby. Both races have an extremely long history dating back well over 200 years and when it comes to middle distance events, these are about as prestigious as it gets. The Oaks is restricted to three-year-old fillies while the Derby is open to both sexes but once again, will be entirely contests by colts. The pair of Classics pack quite the purse, particularly the Derby which boasts an incredible £1.5m prize fund.

Not to be forgotten among the hype of the Oaks and Derby is the high class Coronation Cup. It stands as the first major race of the meeting at Epsom and is an event famously won on three consecutive occasions by St Nicholas Abbey. Adding to a quality racecard a day later is the Princess Elizabeth Stakes. Only fillies and mares over the age of three are eligible to compete in this race which was promoted in standard back in 2004.

  • Investec Coronation Cup – Cracksman (4/9 at Betfair)
  • Investec Oaks – Forever Together (15/2 at Betfair)
  • Princess Elizabeth Stakes – Urban Fox (4/1 at BetVictor)
  • Investec Derby – Saxon Warrior (8/11 at Bet365)

Ladies’ Day – Friday 1st June, 2018

3:10pm – Investec Coronation Cup (Group 1), 1m 4f 6y

This race has seen eight favourites first past the line in the last 12 renewals and hoping to build on this trend is the much fancied Cracksman. John Gosden’s horse is trading at an odds on price following a series of fine group victories. He ended last season in style by destroying the field in the Champion Stakes at Ascot and claimed another top class win at Longchamp to get this year underway. Ever since he missed out on the Irish Derby by a neck last July, the four-year-old has gone from strength to strength and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Hawkbill poses the greatest danger to Cracksman after securing two back to back victories at Meydan in March. It was the more recent of the two triumphs that was particularly impressive, seeing off a strong field to pocket his connections the largest chunk of the Sheema Classic’s $6m purse. If able to lead from the front he’ll become a real danger in this race but it would take a brave punter to back him over former course winner Cracksman. At 6/1 with Betfair, there’s little value in backing him as an each way option either.

Cliffs of Moher could be given a run here but his record, plus his recent Tattersalls Gold Cup showing, suggests he is unlikely to claim an unexpected win. Stablemate Idaho is a little more appealing but not a great deal so. Aidan O’Brien’s five-year-old recently broke a six race winless streak thanks to a strong showing at Chester. This was a Group 3 contest though and at a higher level he’s consistently been off the required pace. The Chester win was also a furlong and a half longer and with this his best performance in some time, perhaps this trip is a little too short.

Cracksman to win – 4/9 at Betfair

4:30pm – Investec Oaks (Group 1), 1m 4f 6y

Unlike the Coronation Cup, the favourites haven’t fared too well in this race in recent times, responsible for just one of the last eight winners. No name clearly leads the field this year but Wild Illusion (4/1 with Ladbrokes) may set off as the shortest priced option. She performed credibly in the 1000 Guineas but had no answer to Billesdon Brook’s pace in the final stages of the one mile contest. This will be her first test further than eight furlongs but her pedigree suggests she will be able to handle a longer test. Charlie Appleby is confident this is the case and he was quick to book the services of William Buick to ride the filly.

Available at a similar price is Magical (5/1 with William Hill), trained by six-time winner Aidan O’Brien. Recent outings have lacked the required magic though as the bay filly has been forced to settle for three consecutive fourth placed finishes. She’s another making a big step up in trip here and just as well because she’s frequently found herself outpaced in the final stages of shorter contests.

Stablemate Forever Together has already been tested over a longer journey, finishing second in the 1m 3½f Cheshire Oaks. She was beaten only by Magic Wand (8/1 with Bet365) on the day despite not showing us all she had. If made to work harder here, the filly could well turn the tables this time.

Beating her stablemate is one thing but can Forever Together break her maiden this weekend? She certainly seems to have come a long way since the winter break and is trading at a more than fair price. Also offering appeal though is Give And Take who showed that she’s ready to face some stiffer competition after winning on her recent Class 1 debut. The Nicholas Jones owned horse is a consistent performer and distance would not appear to be an issue. At odds of 11/1 with Bet365 you wouldn’t want to ignore her as an each way option if she features this Friday.

Forever Together to win – 15/2 at Betfair

Derby Day – Saturday 2nd June 2018

2:35pm – Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Group 3), 1m 113y

Diaphora’s (9/1 with Bet365) first attempt at Group level saw her finish dead last in Dusseldorf but she’s not one you want to write off for this race. A break of nearly a year did her plenty of good as upon her return she claimed a Listed victory in Hamburg. This showing could well persuade trainer Markus Klug to hand his four-year-old her British debut. Her experience is something you have to question though as 10 of the last 12 winners of this race had eight previous runs and all 12 had at least two victories. Diaphora’s record reads just one win and three starts.

If it’s experience you are after then look no further than Lincoln Rocks (7/2 with Coral) who has 26 starts to her name. She came a long way last season, seeing her official rating climb from 89 to 106. David O’Meara’s filly has put in two decent showings to start the season too, both times quickly sent to the front of the pack. Doing the same here will do her chances no harm as a those ridden prominently at Epsom tend to fare better in races of this length. O’Meara is a trainer rather out of form at the moment however and earlier this week his win percentage for the season stood at just 9%.

William Haggas on the other hand has enjoyed a fine season so far and he’ll be hoping Urban Fox can add to his success. He only acquired his bay filly in April but immediately she showed a vast improvement, ending a 20 month stretch without a win. Had she not found herself in traffic early on, the four-year-old may have recorded a more comfortable win too despite being hit with top weight. Saturday’s race certain poses a stiffer test but she looks like she will be up to the task.

Urban Fox to win – 4/1 at BetVictor

4:30pm – Investec Derby (Group 1), 1m 4f 6y

Saxon Warrior is the horse to beat in the 2018 Derby as Aidan O’Brien looks for his fifth winner in just seven seasons. The odds-on favourite is yet to be beaten in his four starts and the idea of a famous Triple Crown is not out of the question. It’s a feat not managed since 1970 but Saxon Warrior already has the first leg out of the way following an excellent 2000 Guineas showing. A strong field was in attendance at Newmarket but the son of Deep Impact held off pressure from the favourite Masar and outsider Tip Two Win. The Derby is four furlongs longer but distance experience is very uncommon in former winners so this should be of little concern.

Aidan O’Brien must be feeling confident at Saxon Warrior’s chances in this race as the strongest challenger, Roaring Lion (11/2 with Bet365), finished over two lengths behind when they last met. A sluggish start perhaps exaggerated the gap in quality between the two a little though and a closer encounter could be on the cards this time. The three-year-old does come into the race on the back of a fine Dante Stakes win too, taking no time to find his stride during the 1m 2½ furlong contest. A solid run can be expected from him but he doesn’t look like having quite what it takes to edge out the favourite.

There’s been just one Derby winner from the last 12 who’s originated from outside the top three in the betting. Sneaking into the third favourite spot this year is Young Rascal (12/1 with William Hill). After a forgettable debut at Nottingham, he reappeared five months later to claim a comfortable Class 3 win at Newbury. William Haggas, clearly impressed by this showing, gave the colt a try out at Group 3 shortly afterwards. Once again the three-year-old delivered the goods, narrowly beating Dee Ex Bee who’s a 33/1 (Betfair) outsider for this race. He’s certainly a horse heading in the right direction but still a substantial gap stands between him and the two front runners in this race.

Saxon Warrior to win – 8/11 at Bet365

About the Derby Festival

The Derby Festival is a two day meeting at Epsom Downs containing both the Derby and the Oaks. The big races are the third and fourth Classics respectively of the flat racing season and are always highly anticipated contests. Both the Derby and the Oaks are held over a mile and a half and open to three-year-olds but only fillies are eligible for the latter.

The prize funds available for the Derby (£1.5 million in 2018) and the Oaks (£500,000 in 2018) show their importance but there are also some cracking races elsewhere on the cards of the Derby Festival. These include other Group races and other competitive races which often leave punters scratching their heads.

The Derby

The Derby is the fourth British Classic of the year. It’s a Group 1 contest which is run over a distance of one mile and four furlongs and has spurned similar races all over the world. The Derby run at Epsom is the very much the original though and its roots stretch all the way back to 1780. In that time it’s been open to the leading colts and fillies but it’s the colts who have dominated and some of the greatest horses of all time have claimed this prize including Nijinsky, Shergar, Galileo, Sea The Stars and Camelot.

Much like the Oaks, stamina is incredibly important when trying to pick the winner of the Derby. Even those colts who come into the Derby from the 2000 Guineas had a certain amount of stamina in their breeding. It’s not the be all and end all though as the 2018 favourite, Saxon Warrior, showed when he looked too one-paced to get the win and finished in fourth place almost five lengths back from the winner, Masar.

Traditionally, Derby winners have tended to come from the top three in the betting. That has changed a little recently with Wings of Eagles (40/1) and Masar (16/1) making life tougher for punters. It does make sense to focus on horses who are trained by the bigger named trainers with Aidan O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute both claiming multiple wins since the turn of the millennium as well as wins for John Gosden, Charlie Appleby and Jim Bolger.

The Oaks

The Oaks is the second Classic of the British Flat racing season that is exclusively for fillies. Like the other four Classics, the Oaks is a historic Group 1 event (it was first run in 1779) which is open only to three-year-olds. It also forms part of the Fillies’ Triple Crown alongside the 1000 Guineas and the St Leger but no horse has won all three races since the remarkable Oh So Sharp back in 1985.

Recent renewals of the Oaks don’t suggest that it’s going to change any time soon. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for leading fillies to make the step up from the one mile trip of the 1000 Guineas to the one mile, four furlongs of the Oaks. It is very rare for a filly to win the Oaks having not at least attempted a race over at least a mile and two furlongs.

Punters are wising up to the increasing importance of proven stamina over and above out and out class but the Oaks is still proving to be a tough betting puzzle to unpick. Winning favourites are a rarity whilst a lack of previous Group 1 experience is no barrier to success in the Oaks. The form out of the 1000 Guineas is becoming less important and moreover there is no single race that is particularly illuminating for punters.

Aidan O’Brien hasn’t got to the very top as a trainer without the ability to spot trends before others. He was one of the first to understand the importance of stamina which is one of the main reasons his record in the Oaks is only improving. O’Brien trained four Oaks winners between 2012 to 2018 but he has a lot of work to do to close the gap with the winning most Oaks trainer, Robert Robson who had 13 winners between 1802 and 1825.

Other Key Races

Coronation Cup

Away from the two Classics, the Coronation Cup is probably the most prestigious race of the Derby Festival. Held on Ladies’ Day, the Coronation Cup is a Group 1 for older horses run over a distance of a mile and four furlongs. It’s a historic race which has been run since 1902 so there is a huge number of statistics and trends for punters to pour through.

One of the most important things to note is that the Coronation Cup tends to be contested by small fields. That has the result of providing many winning favourites although it does have a habit of throwing up some shock winners. Aidan O’Brien is the trainer to follow whilst many big name jockeys have enjoyed success including the legendary Lester Piggott who rode the Coronation Cup winner nine times.

Surrey Stakes

The Surrey Stakes is a seven furlong race which has formed part of the Derby Festival since 1995. As a Listed race it may be well below the level of either the Derby or the Oaks but the Surrey Stakes is still an important race for three-year-olds who excel over shorter trips.

Many of the previous winners have had a busy season already before arriving at Epsom but the unpredictable nature of three-year-olds, especially over these shorter distances, makes this a tough race to predict.

Diomed Stakes

The Diomed Stakes is a Group 3 which is named after the first winner of the Derby at Epsom. It’s run over a mile and 113 yards and is one of the first chances for three-year-olds to take on their elders. It’s an important part of the second day of the Derby Festival and trends to produce intriguing betting markets.

It is very rare for one of the younger cohort to win this race. That’s because the pick of the three-year-olds tend to compete in the Classics and those who are still improving find it tough to get the better of their more experienced rivals.

Princess Elizabeth Stakes

The Princess Elizabeth Stakes is the fillies and mares equivalent of the Diomed Stakes. It’s run over the exact same distance of a mile and 113 yards and is a Group 3 open to three-year-olds and older.

Three-year-old fillies have a better record in this than the younger colts do at the Diomed Stakes but it’s still the older mares who have the stronger record. The Princess Elizabeth Stakes has been won by big name jockeys in the last 15 years including multiple wins for Frankie Dettori, Silvestre de Sousa and James Doyle.

History

The five Classics of the British Flat racing season are some of the most historic contest in all of races. The St Leger is the oldest of the lot followed by the Oaks which was first run in 1779 and then the Derby which was inaugurated just one year later. Both the Oaks and the Derby remain two of the most important races in the sport but it’s the Derby which attracts the most attention and carries the biggest prize in British racing.

The Derby (often known as the Epsom Derby so as to differentiate it from races such as the Kentucky Derby) has a worldwide audience and punters’ preparations begin at least a year in advance as many previous winners have shown glimpses of what is to come when running as two-year-olds. The race was named after the 12th Earl of Derby who was hosting a party after the first Oaks at which the idea for the Derby was conceived. In all but four renewals, the Derby has been held over a mile and a half and it’s always been at Epsom Downs save for five years during World War II when it was temporarily moved to Newmarket.

Just like the Derby, the Oaks was the brainchild of guests at a party and has also gone on to inspire multiple races around the world. It’s also been held at Epsom apart from during the two World Wars. Some of the best fillies of all time have won the Oaks including Oh So Sharp and Ouija Board.

Both the Derby and the Oaks play the role of the second leg of the British Triple Crown for both colts and fillies. It is very rare for horses to even attempt the Triple Crown given how demanding it is and the increasingly specialist nature of the different Classics.