It's the first weekend in June which can only mean the Epsom Derby is upon us. Tony Keenan has previewed the big race along with the Oaks and has a selection in each..
"Hazapour might be most interesting of all though. Judging on his win in the Derrinstown, he is simply a different horse this year and there are plenty of reasons for that: he has had a winter off, he got decent ground for the first time and perhaps most importantly his yard are back in form, Dermot Weld having his worst season in decades in 2017."
The opening four classics of the UK and Irish season have been a strange collection, Saxon Warrior winning the first of them very much expected but the victories of Billesdon Brook, Romanised and Alpha Centauri - at respective Betfair SPs of [161.68], [50.0] and [13.65] - were shocks to one degree or another. This set of results has left the three-year-old pecking order somewhat jumbled with the exception of the Derby favourite so let's start with him.
It is hard to see the two horses that re-oppose Saxon Warrior from the 2,000 Guineas beating him now; both Roaring Lion and Masar had a run going into to Newmarket and neither seems as likely to relish the step up in distance as the market leader. Furthermore, Aidan O'Brien is his trainer and substantial improvement from first to second run is the norm rather than the exception. He is the standout horse of not just this race but his generation thus far, but his price means an each-way alternative is appealing and his time at Newmarket was good rather than great. Tactics will be interesting here; while he seems to have more stamina than other Guineas horses, he is not cast-iron at this trip and Team Ballydoyle may not want this to develop into a slog. Pacemakers don't always go hard after all.
Roaring Lion is next in the betting but might be too fast for this trip; his closing sectional per Timeform was faster than Harry Angel at York last time! Perhaps he is simply a superstar with both speed and stamina but defeats in his three previous starts suggest otherwise. I suspect Masar will again finish ahead of him but he has had plenty of racing at this point and the trip will need to bring out lots of improvement.
The best alternative to Saxon Warrior may therefore be something that has yet to race against him. Young Rascal is one of those and won with more in hand than the margin at Chester but wouldn't want the ground to get too quick; looking at the forecast and current going description that seems unlikely but it should be at its quickest on Saturday. Knight To Behold is similar but could face pressure up front from the Ballydoyle ranks.
Hazapour might be most interesting of all though. Judging on his win in the Derrinstown, he is simply a different horse this year and there are plenty of reasons for that: he has had a winter off, he got decent ground for the first time and perhaps most importantly his yard are back in form, Dermot Weld having his worst season in decades in 2017. It seems unlikely that both Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon ran below par at Leopardstown so the form looks solid and Platinum Warrior did it no harm by winning the Gallinule on Sunday.
Unlike most of his rivals in the Derrinstown, he was making his seasonal debut so there should be improvement for fitness and his trainer has a fine record in the early UK classics when getting his horses there; since 2003, he has run just nine horses in either of the Guineas, the Oaks or the Derby with two winning and two more in the frame, impressive numbers for anyone other than Aidan O'Brien. Hazapour's stamina isn't assured but that is often the case with Derby winners and the booking of Frankie Dettori is an obvious plus at this track.
No one is going to confuse this season's Oaks with a strong renewal and that necessitates a lowering of standards in terms of finding the winner. A big part of the race lacking depth is the absence of Aidan O'Brien's dream team of juvenile fillies from last year; at the start of the season, it seem possible that Clemmie, Happily, September and Magical could all run here and now only the last-named is entered and even she is an uncertain participant after a late setback.
Even if Magical does take part, I want to oppose her. She has not been campaigned like a top-class filly thus far in 2018, engaged to run in classic trials rather than classics themselves, first finishing in midfield in France early on and later taken out of a similar race at Leopardstown. She might need proper soft ground to show her best too.
One might think that Aidan O'Brien cannot win the Oaks with his top talent sidelined or running elsewhere but he still has a strong hand and Bye Bye Baby is my idea of the bet, and she may be a punt for Tony Calvin, too. She had lots of racing at two but that is hardly unusual for an O'Brien filly and her win in the Blue Wind was quite impressive and good on the clock; indeed she has the best last-time-out time-figure in the field. That suggests she has improved without obvious reason - again, not uncommon with an O'Brien filly - and her juvenile defeats may be held against her too much. Certainly her defeat on seasonal return can be excused as it was a farcically run race and she would have needed the outing. Furthermore, she ran well on decent ground last year, notably beating 1,000 Guineas fifth Altyn Ordo in a Newmarket maiden.
Plenty of the others have chances in an open race but Bye Bye Baby looks the bet.