The shuffling and scrambling that has had to take place in the world of horse racing due to the Covid-19 crisis has largely been a pain. However, there have been some notably exciting consequences of it and this weekend is one of them.
The Derby and the Oaks taking place on the same card at Epsom and a seriously good renewal of the Eclipse at Sandown the following day makes this weekend one of the most exciting in recent times. I'd quite happily focus on any one of those feature races, but it is the Oaks that will be the subject of this week's column.
What's Love got to do with it?
For many, this race will boil down to a two-horse war between the Aidan O'Brien-trained Love and the John Gosden-trained Frankly Darling and it is worth dealing with those two first.
Love represents another example of Aidan O'Brien taking what looked a well-exposed juvenile filly and finding improvement from somewhere as a three-year-old. Love had shown herself to be a high-class juvenile, but her third-place finish behind Quadrilateral in the Fillies' Mile seemed to establish her ceiling at the end of what was quite a busy campaign.
Yet, O'Brien produced her on her seasonal reappearance in the 1000 Guineas to power home in front by 4¼ lengths, registering what was very much a career-best effort. It was a performance of straightforward superiority. She sat on the wing of the field, always seeming to be just on the edge of her comfort zone in pace terms, gradually moving into the race until powering away in the final furlong.
While the form of the 1000 Guineas took some knocks at Royal Ascot, the market very much believes that Love is the one for the Oaks. While it is always dangerous to be bullish about a horse's prospects of proving fully effective at a trip that is 50% longer than they have tackled before, she looks sure to stay a mile-and-a-quarter and her stride frequency suggests she has a very good chance of being fully effective at a mile-and-a-half.
If you fancy her, I'm not going to try and put you off, but selecting even-money shots just isn't my cup of tea.
Frankly, pulling too hard could be Darling's undoing
Love's main market rival is Frankly Darling. She doesn't have any stamina doubts having won the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, but there are other doubts next to her name.
She was significantly less tractable at Royal Ascot than she had been on her seasonal return at Newcastle, pulling notably hard and not looking the easiest ride. While the infamous test of horse's temperament that Epsom presents on Derby day won't be as applicable in this year's behind-closed-doors setting, pulling hard on the long journey to the start or up the mercilessly steep first five furlongs of the Oaks could potentially be her undoing.
John Gosden will no doubt have been focusing on getting her to relax since Royal Ascot, but it represents a notable concern.
O'Brien second string can reverse Ascot form
The one I like in the race is the O'Brien second string Ennistymon.
She finished 1¾ lengths behind Frankly Darling in the Ribblesdale, but there are reasons to suggest she might be able to reverse that form. She was poorly positioned in rear relative to the prominently placed Frankly Darling given the race was run at a below-average pace (104.5% finishing speed), yet finished off notably strongly, particularly impressing with how well she saw out the final furlong.
She looked far more tractable than Frankly Darling there and she can be expected to sit a bit closer to the pace at Epsom given her stamina for the trip is now proven.
She took a huge step forward from her first start of the season to her second, so there is a distinct possibility that there will be more to come from her on Saturday. She looks a very appealing each-way alternative to the front two in the market.