Epsom Derby and Oaks

Epsom Oaks: Tony Calvin's set to press the back Buttons on O'Brien outsider

Betfair tipster Tony Calvin
Tony takes a look at Friday's Oaks

The Epsom Oaks and Derby are the two Classics to look forward to this weekend and here with his preview and runner guide to the Fillies' contest is Tony Calvin...

  • Tony Calvin runs us through all the 15 Oaks contenders

  • Wide open contest looks ripe for a shock winner

  • Outsiders make appeal but need to be confirmed to run

Soft ground likely later in the week

Epsom had 7.6mm in the early hours of Sunday - they probably got off lightly with that amount, looking at the standing water on the roads in the surrounding area later that day - and another 1mm in the evening, which turned the ground soft, good to soft in places, and I imagine they could be soft all over on Thursday morning.

It is a varying and unsettled picture, with maybe 7mm currently due to arrive on Tuesday, before a better end to the week.

At the moment, anyway.

No sites currently predict a lot of rain though, and I'd agree with the course/BHA's assessment of "most forecasts suggesting 15mm+ maximum", as it stands.

O'Brien and Beckett mob-handed but no Gosden runner

I am going to deal solely with the Oaks in this column - by the way, wouldn't it be a good idea to have the five-day confirmations for the Derby on the same day last week? - and, to be honest with you, this is the first proper look I have had at the fillies' Classic.

I happen to think that is a positive, as you come into the race with a fresh slate.

And that is one reason why I don't agree with the Tracker mentality (and, by the way, I haven't forgotten my promised line or two on why I strongly disagree with staking plans, which are fundamentally for the tipster, and not the punter).

I knew Ylang Ylang was the favourite after her Guineas fifth on her return, but other than that I was struggling to envisage how the top of the market shaped up.

For example, I couldn't readily place Navan Group 3 winner Ezeliya, third favourite at 7/24.50 with the Sportsbook, but I guess that just goes to show how open this Classic is.

Or how disinterested I was, maybe.

Mind you, with Aidan O'Brien (five) and Ralph Beckett (four) being responsible for nine of the 15 entries, they will be feeling on good terms with themselves, from a numerical perspective at least. The downside of this mob-handed stance is that the firms tend to bet very defensively, as they don't know which are going to run.

A O'Brien 1280x720.jpg

Both trainers have a great winning pedigree in this race (relatively distant in the case of Beckett, who won this in 2013 and 2008) but the staggering aspect of this race is that the Gosdens - they have won four of the last 10 renewals, with O'Brien taking the other six - don't even have a runner.

A disappointing state of affairs for John and The Real Slim Thady.

Anyway, let's go through the 15 entries in Sportsbook betting order. And hopefully come out with a bet the other end.

Favourite a solid contender but price doesn't appeal

The aforementioned is O'Brien's Ylang Ylang is 9/43.25 and she undoubtedly the most solid contender.

A Group 1 winner at two on soft ground, the Guineas run was encouraging and run-style and pedigree gives you plenty of hope she will last home over 1m4f here, and maybe even excel at the longer trip.

But does 9/43.25 get you excited? Na.

I may as well touch on 20s chance (three times that on the exchange) Opera Singer here as she is the classier model, but it would be some feat for her to run, and win, here after finishing third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on Sunday.

She doesn't scream middle-distance horse either, but why did O'Brien leave her in the race last Friday?

A strange one, especially as the trainer likes to take this 1m Ireland to 1m4f England route.

O'Brien has won the Oaks with fillies that have previously run in the Irish Guineas, but Qualify did so in 2015 after a turnaround of 12 days, not five.

Likewise, Minding and Tuesday had 12 days between Curragh and Epsom glory in 2016 and 2022 respectively. And the same was true all the way back to Imagine doing the double in 2001.

It would add a lot of intrigue to the Classic if they rolled the big dice (well, the Gosdens don't have a runner, after all) here.

However, back in the real world, it sounds like the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot is the next port of call for her.

But, remember, Peeping Fawn was a ½-length second to Light Shift in the 2007 Oaks, just five days after her Irish 1,000 Guineas third. And there may have been others down the years that I didn't spot.

Their stablemate Rubies Are Red is the 3s second favourite - though 6.05/1 on the exchange - after coming from the clouds to finish second to You Got To Me at Lingfield.

That was a performance for the "visuals" in some respects - many are enticed in by a strong-finisher who would have won in another extra five yards - but not in another, as she only got in that position as she couldn't hold her pitch earlier on a track that may not have been ideal for her.

Now, this Galileo filly, who has maiden form in deep ground, is a guaranteed stayer and has plenty of upside after just three starts, but the fact that a 97-rated filly (let's remember the 5 ¾-length Lingfield fifth, Molten Rock, was beaten 11 lengths by Francophone at Goodwood on Saturday) is second in the betting tells you the story of this race.

It is one hell of an open Classic.

Incidentally, You Got To Me, who beat Rubies Are Red at Lingfield, lest we forget, is 16.015/1 on the exchange and 12s with the Sportsbook.

Go figure that price differential, even if the Beckett filly got an uncontested solo there. It is not as if she curled up when the opportunity presented itself in the final furlong or so.

Two outsiders may appeal if confirmed to run

Next up in the Sportsbook's betting at 7/24.50 is the aforementioned Ezeliya, who beat Purple Lily and Everlasting in the Group 3 Salsabil Stakes at Navan over 1m2f last time.

Now, that is a performance that chimed with me, as she travelled well into the race and put the race to bed snugly enough.

The form is hardly seismic, with the runner-up fifth in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the third (also in here) beating only two home in that Classic on Sunday, but 1m4f should suit on the distaff side of her pedigree and she is another with just three runs under her belt

I can see the win-only case for her at 5.39/2 on the exchange.

However, given O'Brien's MO in this race in the past, Everlasting could interest me at a huge price on the day (she is currently 140.0139/1 on the exchange, and 66s with the Sportsbook) if she is confirmed for race. Although, she is a Kingman, she is a half-sister to Adelaide River and maybe has shades of Qualify about her after that weekend Curragh run.

Emily Upjohn Epsom 1280x720.jpg

Next up in the Sportsbook betting is Forest Fairy at 6s (though 8s elsewhere and 9.89/1 on the exchange) and she clearly has a lot to recommend her in what appears an Oaks lacking a stand-out after her Cheshire Oaks win from Port Fairy (not in here) and stablemate Seaward.

But, as with Rubies Are Red, you are backing her purely in terms of potential - she is rated just 98 - and a stamina-influenced pedigree.

If you asked me what filly out of the Cheshire Oaks I'd back at the prices, then it would be Seaward at 66s each way, all day long. Beckett made a big point of saying how much she has thrived of late, though they may not run her I guess, if we get a wetter week than forecast.

The trainer has made a point of saying she wants decent ground, so perhaps, like Everlasting, she may be one to consider once it is non-runner, no-bet after Wednesday's 10am confirmations.

Buttons looks worth pressing if O'Brien rolls the dice

The Sportsbook want Secret Satire onside (there is nothing wrong with this, as being a bookmaker is about fighting the battles you want to, but as a writer you have to flag this to the reader) as they only offer 8s about the Musidora winner, when she is 14s elsewhere and 15.014/1 on the exchange.

That 14s looks big.

Her York win was franked a touch by the runner-up's success at Goodwood on Saturday and, while this Advertise filly's stamina wouldn't be assured (especially as she can be very keen), I wouldn't be in a mad rush to lay her at double figures myself.

The other fillies are all 25s and bigger with the Sportsbook, and that price brings in with Lingfield Oaks Trial fourth Treasure and Guineas disappointment Dance Sequence.

I'd favour the former of that pair, as Dance Sequence looks a bit of a guess-up at the trip.

O'Brien's 33/134.00 chance Buttons - currently 50.049/1 on the exchange - falls very much into the Everlasting wait-and-see department after her excellent fourth in the Irish 1,000 Guineas at the weekend.

In fact, she would be hugely interesting if running at Epsom as she shaped really well over 1m at the Curragh and strikes as the sort to improve dramatically when stepped up in trip.

Granted, her pedigree gives you mixed messages about whether 1m2f could be her optimum, being a Kingman out of a Kingmambo mare, but the dam Wonder Of Wonders was a close second in the 2011 Oaks.

If she is confirmed on Wednesday - or if Aidan comes out and says she is going to Epsom beforehand - I imagine she will be my first betting port of call.

I am fully aware the 33s will probably be long gone by then, but Buttons really, really interests me.

War Chimes is next up at 50s (100.0 on exchange) and I can see the ground and trip suiting her, so I certainly would not rule her out, even if her two outings this season have been a touch underwhelming.

I think we have to accept this could be a Classic that is ripe for a shock.

For that reason, the other pair we haven't mentioned, both at 66s, Caught U Looking, fourth in the Salsabil, and Making Dreams, are not dismissed either.

I appreciate some may read that as a bit of a wishy-washy cop-out but some fillies are going to improve dramatically for 1m4f and likely soft ground on Friday.

I suspect that the most likely candidates are Buttons and Everlasting, if allowed to do a Peeping Fawn, but clearly I can't play either now.

But Aidan could just be rolling a couple of sixes with those, if he is bold.

Back tomorrow with a look at the Derby.

Good luck.

Now read Daryl Carter's Epsom Derby runner-by-runner guide here.


2024 Flat season (day-of-race; Apr 26 onwards):

RETURN: 83.25
P AND L: +38.25

2023-24 NH season:

RETURN: 143.4
P/L:    +16.4

April 16-Oct 31; 2023 Flat season:

STAKED:  202
RETURNS: 168.9
P AND L:  -33.1

March 26 2022 -April 15 2023:

Staked: 436
Returns: 643.6
P/L: +207.6

April 14 2021 to March 25 2022:

P/L: + 183.1


New customers only. Bet £10 on the Betfair Sportsbook at odds of min EVS (2.0) and receive £40 in FREE Bet Builders, Accumulators or Multiples to use on any sport. T&Cs apply.

Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.