Aidan O’Brien has won the Oaks seven times but hasn’t had things all his own way in the race in recent seasons. John Gosden has been just as successful of late, and when Anapurna held off Ballydoyle’s Pink Dogwood by a neck in last year’s Oaks, it evened the score between the two stables to three wins apiece in the last six runnings. With leading contenders in both camps, there’s every chance that the finish on Saturday will again be fought out by fillies representing the same two stables.
Gosden’s fillies have dominated the Oaks trials run in Britain this month and none of them has made a better impression than Frankly Darling. She was an emphatic five-length winner of a maiden at Newcastle on the day racing resumed and then followed up in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, which has turned into the main Oaks trial in the topsy-turvy calendar this year. Frankly Darling won with more in hand than the length and three-quarter margin would suggest over the O’Brien-trained Ennistymon as she quickly went three lengths clear when Frankie Dettori first asked her to quicken. By Anapurna’s sire Frankel, Frankly Darling has proved herself at the Oaks trip and is very much the type to improve further.
As for O’Brien, he had both the placed horses in the Ribblesdale, with Passion, a sister to the St Leger winner Capri, shaping as though she’ll be suited by more of a test when keeping on for third behind runner-up Ennistymon. Both daughters of Galileo are improving, notably Ennistymon who had only won her maiden a week beforehand, but they clearly have work to do to turn the tables on Frankly Darling.
Leading Ballydoyle’s raiding party, though, will be Love, who will bid to emulate the same stable’s Minding who was the last filly, four years ago, to complete the 1000 Guineas and Oaks double. Like Minding, Love won the Moyglare Stud Stakes at two but unlike that filly she couldn’t follow up in the Fillies’ Mile in which she seemed beaten fair and square into third behind Quadrilateral.
Love had a busy two-year-old campaign but, typically for a daughter of Galileo, that didn’t stop her showing plenty of improvement on her reappearance when she ran away with the 1000 Guineas by over four lengths with Quadrilateral back in third. Very much in keeping with her pedigree, Love looked better the further she went and she’s bred to be well suited by another four furlongs. Neither of Love’s two useful full sisters cut much ice in their Oaks attempts, but they were both found wanting for ability rather than stamina as they’ve both been successful over at least a mile and a half.
O’Brien also won the Irish 1000 Guineas with yet another daughter of Galileo, though Peaceful didn’t have to run to the same level as Love did at Newmarket to land a substandard renewal at the Curragh. Even so, Peaceful has improved with every run and will stay further, though it is worth noting that she has the option of Sunday’s Prix de Diane over slightly shorter instead.
The remaining entries are probably looking to pick up place money at best. Gold Wand has shown plenty of promise in a couple of maidens for Roger Varian but this will be a very different test. She landed the odds in a slowly-run race at Newbury on her reappearance without needing to improve on the form of her debut last year when she went down narrowly to one-time ante-post Oaks hope Domino Darling. The same stable’s Queen Daenerys has been more highly tried, having finished sixth in the Fillies’ Mile on her last start last year. She’d had a breathing operation before chasing home Run Wild in the Pretty Polly when still looking a little inexperienced and is open to further improvement.
Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor-trained entry Dubai Love can boast better form than plenty of these but the main worry where she’s concerned is lack of stamina. She won the UAE 1000 Guineas early in the year and more recently ran well to finish third under top weight in the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot after making the running, but whether she wants another half-mile is another matter.
Stamina won’t be a problem for the Sea The Stars filly Bharani Star who apparently excelled herself at odds of 100/1 when beaten five lengths into fourth in the Ribblesdale. That leaves her with more improvement to find against some of these but Peter Chapple-Hyam clearly has an improving filly on his hands as she had dead-heated in a class 5 handicap at Haydock just eight days earlier.
The David Simcock-trained Oriental Mystique is another filly who’s bred to be useful over middle distances this season. She had Dubai Love back in third when winning a minor event at Kempton on her final start last year but didn’t meet expectations when only fifth of seven in a listed race at Newbury on her return. She showed signs of still being inexperienced that day, when her stable was still to register its first winner since the restart, but she faces a very stiff task even if improving on that effort.
The entries are completed by Frankly Darling’s stablemate Tiempo Vuela who started favourite for the listed Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket after winning her only previous start at Newcastle last year in good style, but she raced too freely and beat only one home.
The domination of the Oaks by Gosden and O’Brien looks all set to continue, and while Frankly Darling has leading claims on her Ribblesdale victory, it could be O’Brien’s turn to be back in the winner’s enclosure this year with Love whose greater experience, along with the step up in trip, can give her the upper hand.
Back Love in the Oaks at Epsom on Saturday