It was a representative field for Saturday’s Derby, with the winners of most of the major trials in the line-up, though it was the Guineas form that came to the fore, not, as anticipated, in the shape of the Guineas winner himself Saxon Warrior (fourth, loses ‘p’ on 126), but that of the beaten favourite at Newmarket Masar (up 2 lb to 125), who bounced back from that reverse to give Godolphin its first Derby winner in the royal blue.
Masar hadn't had the rub of the green when favourite for the Guineas and showed himself to much better advantage up markedly in trip, proving well suited to the demands of the race and ultimately well on top at the finish. He's an intended runner in the Irish Derby and will clearly take plenty of beating at the Curragh in this form, though Saxon Warrior might well be a formidable opponent on a more conventional track, were they to meet again, such a clash fascinating in anticipation.
ICYMI: Masar won the Investec Derby!— ITV Racing (@itvracing) June 2, 2018
Catch up with all of the racing from the 2018 Investec Derby festival from @EpsomRacecourse on the ITV Racing site:https://t.co/NieNTMPUi4 pic.twitter.com/0nQmMwhIPt
Saxon Warrior simply wasn’t in the same form as at Newmarket – he was very much on his toes beforehand (unlike before the Guineas) and perhaps found the experience getting to him – with the presence of Roaring Lion (up 2 lb to 122) in third also lending credence to that theory.
Indeed, Roaring Lion had come off second-best in two previous meetings with the favourite, but reversed the form to the tune of two and a half lengths here. To his credit, Roaring Lion looked more straightforward than he sometimes does and will likely be seen to even better effect back at 1¼m, a route to the Champion Stakes (sponsored by his owner) likely to be on the cards.
Of the remainder, Dee Ex Bee (122 from 113p) is credited with marked improvement in second, though there is no reason to doubt that given how much of a stayer he looks; he may well take his chance in the Irish Derby, but he's got St Leger written all over him. Hazapour (loses ‘p’ on 114), on the other hand, left the firm impression that he found this too much a test of stamina and remains open to improvement when returned to shorter.
The Oaks had been widely written off as substandard even before it took place, with long-range fancies Happily and Lah Ti Dar amongst several notable absentees, but it ultimately delivered in just the sort of way it's supposed to, one emerging from a representative field of those that had run encouragingly in the trials to defeat the one with the best form.
The first maiden to win the race since Sun Princess in 1983, Forever Together (118p from 98p), produced a performance well up to standard for the race, a view supported by the time, with the increased emphasis on stamina surely the main source of her improvement. She remains with the potential to build from here, with the Irish Oaks and, hopefully, the St Leger on the agenda, both races likely to show her to good effect; she shouldn’t be underestimated wherever she goes.
Runner-up Wild Illusion (remains on 111) was the clear form pick and ran up to her best over this much longer trip; she reportedly has the Ribblesdale and French Oaks as options for her next start, with a drop in grade for the former likely to offer her best chance of getting back to winning ways.
Bye Bye Baby (110) and Magic Wand (103), along with Flattering (loses ‘+’ on 99), completed a 1-3-4-5 for Aidan O’Brien, but can no longer boast a ‘p’ having essentially been exposed as not being good enough on the day. The winner reversed Chester form emphatically with Magic Wand, the latter well ridden that on that occasion and struggling without the same advantage here, not all that far below the level she achieved on the Roodee.
Best of the rest at Epsom
Cracksman (remains on 136) had form good enough to have won any running of the Coronation Cup this century, at short odds even against bona fide high-class rivals, but it turned out nothing like the procession the market or formbook envisaged, even with his two main rivals on paper out of sorts.
On ratings, John Gosden’s charge was all of a stone below his best in only narrowly denying the enterprisingly ridden Salouen (up 6 lb to 122), but there were valid excuses on the day, again not looking ideally suited by the track and later revealed to have banged his head when on the stalls when anticipating the start; he'll remain the one to beat wherever he goes, the Prince of Wales's Stakes the next port of call. The runner-up clearly deserves credit for a much-improved effort, too, though he had a lot in his favour and it remains to be seen whether he can back this up.
Also on Friday, Cosmic Law (105p from 77p) produced one of the best juvenile performances seen so far this year when winning the Woodcote Stakes and heads to Royal Ascot with leading claims as a result, though whether he needs soft ground to be seen to best advantage remains to be seen, a comment that also applies to Saturday’s Diomed Stakes winner Century Dream (up 3 lb to 118).
Simon Crisford’s charge is clearly considered best on softer going (has been withdrawn when it was good to firm), which rather limits his options, but he looks well worth another try in better company judged on his defeat of the smart yardstick Gabrial (112).
Elsewhere at the meeting, Wilamina (up 3 lb to 111) produced a career best to win the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, while Ajman King (up 5 lb to 116p), Connect (up 8 lb to 110) and Dash of Spice (up 8 lb to 106p) posted three of the more eye-catching efforts in handicaps; that trio all look capable of holding their own in pattern company before the year is out.
Finally, a tight finish with plenty of outsiders close up suggests it wasn't a good-quality renewal of the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly on Sunday, but the well-bred winner, Study of Man (up 4 lb to 118p), had made a good impression beforehand and showed further improvement to take his record to three wins from four starts. He should go on improving, though he's from a top miling family (dam a half-sister to the high-class Kingmambo and out of the outstanding Miesque) so it remains to be seen if he'll stay any further.