Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Epsom Oaks Verdict: Caught U Looking can upset the odds at 40/1

Horse racing expert Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake is taking a swing at a 40/1 shot in the 2024 Epsom Oaks

Kevin Blake previews Friday's Grade 1 Oaks at Epsom and explains why he believes Noel Meade's three-year-old Caught U Looking can make a bold claim at a huge price...

  • Kevin Blake delivers his expert verdict for Betfair

  • Favourite Ylang Ylang opposable

  • 40/1 can steel the 2024 Epsom Oaks

Ryan Moore Superboost

Ylang Ylang is a strong favourite to win the Epsom Oaks at 16:30 for Betfair Ambassador Ryan Moore, and the Betfair Sportsbook have boosted her price to finish in the top three from 1/31.33 to 1/12.00. Just click on the bet banner below to go straight to the pre-loaded bet slip.

The Epsom Classics are here! This is two days of racing that always really excites me. Epsom is an incredibly unique track, as is the test these races present for unexposed three-year-olds. The process of working out which of the runners will be able to cope with and indeed thrive in the face of such a test is a multi-faceted puzzle that never fails to engage.

The Oaks is the first of the Classics on Friday and it represents an absolutely fascinating puzzle to work out. Indeed, having worked my way through it, I believe it has all the looks of a particularly attractive betting race.

Epsom Oaks Pace Map

In terms of the pace picture, this is what the book says. Seaward (9) has made much of the running in two of her last three starts. You Got To Me (8) switched to front-running tactics when winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial last time.

Making Dreams (10) made much of the running when winning a Group 3 on her penultimate start and raced prominently last time. War Chimes (7) has been racing prominently. Secret Satire (3) helped push the pace on her penultimate start, but was keen to take a lead when racing quite freely last time and is likely to seek cover over this longer trip.

In terms of how to interpret that, it should be noted that the two main candidates to make the pace are both trained by Ralph Beckett. Not only does this make the likelihood of those two engaging in a pace duel very low, it raises the possibility that Beckett might try to choreograph a steady pace scenario that maximises the chances of his four runners and inconveniences his main rivals, many of which are likely to be ridden with patience.

Making Dreams is the potential fly in the ointment of any plans the Beckett team might have to control the race as she is more than capable of pushing the pace if needs be, though she might be content to play along with the Beckett bunch and sit handy in a steadily-run race.

If the above theory does play out and a steady pace prevails, there will be a great emphasis on the ability to relax. The Epsom Classics are like no other top three-year-old races in the world in that the track rises an eye-watering 41 meters in the first five furlongs.

There is no racecourse anywhere that has a climb to come close to that. If the pace is steady, any runner in an Epsom Classic will seriously compromise their chance if they pull hard up that climb. With that in mind and given that so many of the runners are trying a mile-and-a-half for the first time, I've delved into their stride frequencies to find some clues and the findings are fascinating.


Favourite Ylang Ylang opposable

Firstly, striding analysis reveals a significant negative for the favourite Ylang Ylang. In the last 10 years, the average Oaks winner has exhibited maximum/minimum stride frequencies of 2.35/2.14 strides per second (sps). I failed to find an example of Ylang Ylang dipping below 2.3sps in her career thus far.

There have been examples in the past where a horse has shown a career-low stride frequency in Epsom Classics in the face of such a different test than they have previously encountered, but those drops have tended to be small rather than significant.

By far the highest minimum stride frequency shown by an Oaks winner in the last decade was the 2.24 registered by Taghrooda in 2014, but the fact that she was at least 10lb better than her opposition on the day was a big help in allowing her to become such an outlier.

In short, Ylang Ylang will either need to be much better than her opposition or show a previously absent ability to relax and drop her cadence to a level that will allow her to race efficiently enough to get home over this much longer trip.

More negatives for plenty in the field

Similarly, stride analysis and indeed pedigree analysis raises concerns around the Dermot Weld-trained Ezeliya. She is by Dubawi who is one of the very best sires in the world, but his progeny are 0-15 in Epsom Classics with eight of the 15 having gone off at single-figure odds.

I suspect that there is a reason to this rhyme and it is that the poor record of his progeny is a consequence of how they stride. A huge sample of runners has revealed that progeny of Dubawi are particularly fast striders. They stride much faster than should for the distances they stay.

Ezeliya and indeed his other daughter in this race Dance Sequence very much fit that mould. Ezeliya hits a very high max of 2.5sps, which would be notably higher than the current outlier amongst the last 10 Oaks winners, the aforementioned Taghrooda who hit 2.41sps. The hope that her supporters can cling to is that she has shown the ability to drop her revs to 2.2sps which is closer to where one would like an Oaks contender to be for all that it is still faster than ideal.

In the context of the Epsom Classics, I would place much more emphasis on the importance of dropping the revs in the first half of the race, so that her minimum isn't as much of an outlier as her maximum can be weighted accordingly in assessing her chance.

Striding and pedigree analysis paint a much rosier picture of the other one at the top of the market Rubies Are Red, but more traditional race reading highlights a notable concern for her. She ran a remarkable race to come from so far back to almost catch You Got To Me in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, but it is the reason why she got so far back that is so concerning.

She got completely lost on the downhill section of the track, losing substantial ground on the leader. Epsom represents an even tougher test of balance and ability to travel on downhill sections of track, so for her to have coped so poorly with such a scenario at Lingfield raises a big red flag about her Oaks prospects.

Caught U Looking can outrun her odds

That's an awful lot of negatives, so where are the positives? Well, the one I like is near enough the outsider of the field, the Noel Meade-trained Caught U Looking. The daughter of Harzand is one that came to prominence early in her career, absolutely bolting up in a strong auction maiden at Leopardstown in July that led to her connections turning down huge offers for her.

She justified their faith in her by winning the Weld Park Stakes at the Curragh on her next start. She disappointed in the Fillies' Mile on her final start of the season, but was considered to be over the top at that time. Very much bred and built to be a better three-year-old, she returned to action with a career-best effort when two-lengths fourth to Ezeliya in the Salsabil Stakes at Navan when carrying a 3lb penalty, being right in the mix until the lack of a run told in the final 100 yards.

Caught U Looking doesn't have a picture perfect striding profile for the Oaks with max/min figures of 2.45/2.15sps, but that she can drop her revs right down to bang on the average minimum for an Oaks winner is the attribute that I am drawn too.

She is by a Derby winner in Harzand and she has a lovely relaxed way of going that ties in with her minimum stride frequency data. She is proven on softer ground and has presumably been trained for this race. She shouldn't be as big a price as she is relative to Ezeliya and with the Betfair Sportsbook paying four places, she makes plenty of appeal for a win and place at huge prices.

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