France look to boast a smart classic colt in Sunday’s last-to-first Prix du Jockey-Club winner Brametot, but in Britain and Ireland, at least, the middle-distance fillies look superior to their male counterparts.
Not since Snow Knight won the Derby at 50-1 in 1974 have we walked off the Epsom stand so bemused and the 40-1 success of Coolmore’s fifth choice Wings Of Eagles left us with more questions than answers.
In contrast, Khalid Abdullah’s impressive Oaks heroine Enable had scampered clear of Coolmore’s 1000 Guineas runner-up Rhododendron in a monsoon 24 hours earlier, remarkably the only winner of the six British and Irish classics run this season not to be trained by Aidan O’Brien – John Gosden being the party-pooper.
However, Wings Of Eagles, a first-ever Epsom ride for Paddy Beggy, who rode 30 winners in Australia before being banned for a year for drug abuse, won the Derby fair and square. The colt will get the chance to show it was no fluke when he tries for the double in the Irish equivalent at The Curragh, where he will renew rivalry with Cracksman, who finished third.
Doubtless, Ryan Moore, who rode runner-up Cliffs Of Moher and did not look best pleased when his stablemate swept by on the ascent, will be on Wings Of Eagles come the Irish Derby.
Beggy, who only started in January as a work-rider at Ballydoyle, was having just his eighth ride this season, but you wouldn’t have guessed it as he left his nerves in the fridge. Stablemate Douglas Macarthur blazed off at a suicidal pace which ultimately proved too much for Cliffs Of Moher, whose stamina ebbed away like sand from an egg-timer in the final 200m.
Wings Of Eagles, having stayed out of the pressure-cooker early on, was still almost last rounding Tattenham Corner, but on meeting the rising ground he sprouted wings to cut down Cliffs Of Moher and Cracksman in the dying strides, leaving even O’Brien scratching his head.
Coolmore boss John Magnier was absent, which was probably just as well as Wings Of Eagles, a son of 2011 winner Pour Moi who has been downgraded to a jumping stallion, was the only one of the Ballydoyle six who was not sired by Galileo, the jewel in the crown at their Tipperary stud.
Not that O’Brien, whose first Derby celebration was with Galileo (2001), had any cause for complaint. This was his sixth triumph in the Investec Derby, equaling the feat of his predecessor, the legendary Vincent O’Brien (no relation).
Aidan, who had reservations whether Cliffs Of Moher would stay even 2000m before he won the Dee Stakes at Chester, still believes 2400m stretches the colt, so he will drop him back in distance for the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on 8 July. He could renew rivalry with Eminent (fourth), whose jockey lost the whip in the final 200m.
Gosden felt inexperience caught out Cracksman, who never flinched under a prolonged duel with Cliffs Of Moher up the straight and only just lost second.
He said: “It was a shame that we had to pull him out of the planned prep at York (Dante) because of the soft ground, but The Curragh will suit him better than Epsom, so we’ll roll the dice again in Ireland.
“The Derby colts look a solid bunch, but I suspected beforehand that the fillies were better and Enable did nothing to alter that opinion when winning the Oaks in spectacular fashion.”
Rhododendron brought the best form into the Oaks and she looked to be going better than Enable early in the straight. The gloves soon came off and the pair scrapped like two prizefighters, with neither Ryan Moore nor Frankie Dettori holding back with the whip as thunder and lightning lit up the Epsom skies.
But this was Dettori at his best – “I thought we were cooked when Ryan came alongside cruising, but he then came off the bridle and I knew that Enable would gallop all the way to the line,” he said – and, having mastered the odds-on favourite in the last 150m, his brave mount pulled away up the hill to win by five lengths.
“Ultimately, Enable has outstayed Rhododendron and ours is a big, powerful filly who went to Epsom with only three races under her belt, so she can only get better,” declared Gosden.
Taghrooda, Gosden’s only previous Oaks winner, slammed the colts in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and the Newmarket trainer confirmed taking on the older horses on the Royal Heath on 29 July was a possibility, though he stressed the Irish Oaks at The Curragh was a tempting alternative.
As with Cliffs Of Moher, O’Brien is also contemplating dropping Rhododendron down in distance, but the French Oaks at Chantilly on Sunday week could come too soon, so the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Irish Derby meeting would seem the more likely.
How ironic that Enable should provide Nathaniel with his first classic winner, thereby beating Frankel, sire of both Cracksman and Eminent, to the punch. The pair made their racecourse debuts in the same Newmarket maiden in 2010, Frankel coming out on top by 0.50 lengths.
There was a lot to like about the French Derby success of Brametot. Cristian Demuro courted disaster when sitting out back in a slow-run race, but Qatar-owned Brametot, winner of the French 2000 Guineas, produced a blistering run up the outside to get up on the line and short-head Waldgeist, who is another now being earmarked for the Irish Derby.
Jean-Claude Rouget plans to give Brametot a French midsummer rest, with either the Champion Stakes at Ascot or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe being the colt’s autumn objective.
Last week’s other big race at Epsom was the Group 1 Coronation Cup in which globetrotting Highland Reel, despite only arriving at the track an hour before the race after his flight from Ireland was delayed, produced a game display of front-running to give O’Brien his eighth success in the race. He will now attempt to repeat last year’s win in the King George at Ascot.
Two for punters to tango with at Haydock on Saturday are Richard Hannon’s TABARRAK in the Group 3 John O’Gaunt Stakes and Roger Varian’s AJMAN PRINCESS in the other Group 3 there, the Pinnacle Stakes.