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UPI Horse Racing Preview: Derby week on Epsom Downs starts with an upset in Investec Oaks

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
UPI Horse Racing Preview: Derby week on Epsom Downs starts with an upset in Investec Oaks
Hong Kong raider Beauty Only tests the Tokyo Racecourse turf before his run in Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen. Photo courtesy of HKJC

It's Derby week at Epsom.

The rest of the world has some nice races, too. There's the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in Japan, a clutch of big turf races from Pennsylvania to California in the United States, Group 1 events in Durban, South Africa, and more.

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Two weekend mile races are gateways to the Breeders' Cup Mile in November at Del Mar.

But Saturday's Investec Derby -- the 238th running, dating back to just four years after those North American colonists got uppity -- is, without question, the big deal, with Friday's Investec Oaks and Group 1 Coronation Cup right along for the ride.

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A closer look? Righto.

The Derby

The long history of the Derby has produced more than its share of thrills, disappointments and surprises and crowned many a champion 3-year-old. It also, of course, has spawned "Derby" races in most racing jurisdictions around the world -- even those which don't pronounce the word correctly.

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Diomed won the first Derby in 1780. In 2016, the fourth Aga Khan equaled his grandfather's mark of five winners when Harzand won.

Saturday, Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien will have six in the field of 19 as he pursues a sixth Derby winner. Of those, Cliffs of Moher seems the most likely and is the general co-favorite with the John Gosden-trained Cracksman. Each is listed at about 4-1 with most shops.

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Ryan Moore sticks with Cliffs of Moher after riding the Galileo colt to victory in the Dee Stakes at Chester. Frankie Dettori stays with Cracksman, a Frankel colt who has won both his starts, most lately the Epsom Derby Trial.

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Nearby in the oddsmakers' estimate is Eminent, another Frankel colt, who won the Group 3 Craven Stakes at Newmarket going 1 mile but finished sixth in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.

Godolphin fields three, all trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Best Solution is best regarded off a win in the Lingfield Derby Trial but Dubai Thunder may have the most potential. The Dubawi colt has run but once previously, winning by 10 lengths at Newbury on May 19.

In a big field, anything is possible. Least likely, at odds between 500-1 and 1,000-1 is Diore Lia, who has made no impression in two starts and was entered as a charity fund-raiser. The Yeats colt got into the race only after the originally named apprentice rider was ruled unqualified by the Jockey Club and replaced by Paddy Pilley, another apprentice but one with more experience.

Friday at Epsom Downs

Enable hooked up with the heavy favorite, Rhododendron, in the final furlongs of Friday's Group 1 Investec Oaks and, through a driving rain, quickly drew away to win easily. Rhododendron kept on willingly to finish second with Enable third and Horseplay fourth.

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Enable, a daughter of Nathanial, is a Juddmonte Farms homebred, trained by John Gosden. She came to Friday's race off a victory in the Cheshire Oaks at Chester, where she defeated Alluringly by 1 3/4 lengths.

As expected, Pocketfullofdreams made the early going at Epsom, setting a decent clip for Rhododendron, both being from trainer Aidan O'Brien's yard. But the pace turned out to be of more benefit to Enable than to Rhododendron. As Pocketfullofdreams called it a day, Rhododendron took the lead but Frankie Dettori ranged Enable up inside his rival and quickly put the issue to rest.

Daddys Lil Darling, second in the Kentucky Oaks, ran off with jockey Olivier Peslier before the start, eventually dumping the rider, and was withdrawn from the race. It was her first start outside North America and, thus, her first without a lead pony on the way to the gate.

Rain came to Epsom Downs just before the Oaks. Earlier, race goers had plenty of chance to enjoy their jellied eels and another Group 1 race, the Coronation Cup, to keep them entertained.

Highland Reel, a proven international campaigner, led from the start in the Coronation Cup and kept going in the final furlong under Ryan Moore to win rather handily from a late-running Frontiersman. Hawkbill shadowed Highland Reel through most of the 1 1/2 miles over good turf. But in the final yards, he drifted sharply toward the stands side, allowing Frontiersman to edge into second.

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Highland Reel, a 5-year-old son of Galileo, has won Group 1 or Grade I events at Santa Anita, Ascot, Hong Kong and Arlington Park. The Aidan O'Brien trainee was second behind Satono Crown in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase to wind up his 4-year-old campaign and started 2017 fading out of contention over yielding turf in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan on World Cup night in March.

Also on the international scene:

France

The French Derby -- properly, the QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club -- is Sunday at Chantilly. Brametot, Recoletos, Rivet, Waldgeist and Bay of Poets top the bookmakers' lists. Brametot, a son of Rajasman trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, has won three straight and five of six, most recently capturing the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains, or French 2,000 Guineas. Rivet was last year's Racing Post Trophy winner but has not been able to repeat in two races this season. Bay of Poets, trained by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin, has been third behind Cracksman and second behind Cliffs of Moher in his last two starts and the Lope De Vega colt will be happy not to see them in the stalls on Sunday. O'Brien has not saddled a winner in this Classic and will not have a strong hand this go-round as his two are long shots despite a wide-open field of 12.

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Japan

Two of Hong Kong's top milers -- Beauty Only and Contentment -- are on hand for Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen, a one-mile turf race offering guaranteed entry into the Breeders' Cup Mile in November at Del Mar and one of France's top mid-summer mile races at Deauville. Beauty Only and Contentment finished 1-2 in last month's Group 1 Champions Mile at Sha Tin and Beauty Only also is the reigning champion from last December's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile. Contentment finished 12th in last year's Yasuda Kinen but trainer John Size said he benefitted from the experience and is a good chance this time around. The local contingent includes last year's winner, Logotype; Stephanos, who cuts back from longer distances; and Red Falx, who stretches out from his preferred sprint distances. The race is run left-handed on the Tokyo Racecourse turf course.

South Africa

Saturday's card at Greyville in Durban includes a pair of 2,000-meters, Grade I events -- the Daily News 2000 for 3-year-old colts and the Woolavington 2,000 for 3-year-old fillies. In the former, Al Sahem is the favorite for trainer Sean Tarry. The Silvano colt has three wins and two seconds from five starts. Justin Saith will saddle Gimme Six, a narrow early favorite among the fillies. The daughter of Gimmethegreenlight has missed a top three finish only once in nine career starts.

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Meanwhile, back in North America:

Turf Mile

Heart to Heart, after suffering a hearbreaking loss by just a neck in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland, goes to the post as favorite in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita, a Breeder's Cup "Win and You're In" event. The 6-year-old son of English Channel was fourth in this race last year but has won half his six starts in the interim. Heart to Heart drew No. 1 and directly to his right finds What a View, winner just two weeks ago in the restricted Crystal Water over the same course. Both are front-running types so the pace should be honest and could set things up for the likes of Bal a Bali, who edged What a View with a late run in the Grade I Kilroe Mile in March. Farhaan, winner of the Grade III Thunder Road over the course April 29, and Bolo also could benefit from a hot early clip. If it looks like a jockeys' race, factor in Mike Smith climbing aboard Bal a Bali.

It's time to shine for the 10 3-year-olds entered in Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Penn Mile at Penn National. Each has shown ability without consistency. Big Score, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, is the exception, hitting the board in four of his five starts with the only miss coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, where he was a credible fifth. He comes off a closing third-place finish in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs.

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Turf

Good Samaritan is the 8-5 pick on the morning line for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Pennine Ridge for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park at 9 furlongs on the grass. The Harlan's Holiday colt won his first two starts as a juvenile before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He started 2017 with a late-running second in the Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend. Bowie's Hero, Oscar Performance and Ticonderoga also could feature here.

Filly & Mare Turf

Six of the eight fillies entered for Saturday's $200,000 Penn Oaks at Penn National either won their last start or finished second. One of them, Spanish Harlem, won her last outing by 29 1/2 lengths. Granted, the race was an off-the-turf affair with only two others facing the starter. More likely here are last-time stakes winners Party Boat and Adorable Miss, as well as runners-up Noble Ready and Romantic Music. Dynatail was very good in Florida.

Fourteen fillies and mares, plus two "main track only" also-eligibles are entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Eatontown for fillies and mares at Monmouth Park. The 1 1/16-miles battle appears well and truly wide open with Time and Motion the morning-line favorite -- at odds of 9-2. And, the 4-year-old Tapit filly drew gate No. 13 to boot.

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Sunday's $75,000 Possibly Perfect at Santa Anita is run at 1 1/4 miles on the grass.

Turf Sprint

Richard's Boy leaps off past performances for Saturday's $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National at 5 furlongs. The 5-year-old Idiot Proof gelding was a close fifth in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan on World Cup night, then scored a hard-fought victory in the Turf Sprint at Pimlico two weeks ago. If he's not fully recovered from that, Rainbow Heir has been running well.

Take the Stand and Calgary Cat are the morning-line choices in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Connaught Cup at Woodbine at 7 furlongs. Calgary Cat, a 7-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Cowtown Cat, finished fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, spoiling a lot of superfecta tickets at 41-1 odds (a winning $1 ticket paid $9,686.30). Take The Stand, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred by Not For Sale, was second in the Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs in his last start.

Distaff

Stellar Wind appears for the first time since winning the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old Curlin mare has battled with honor against the likes of Beholder herself, Stopchargingmaria and Songbird. With Songbird headed to Belmont Park for next weekend's Grade I Ogden Phipps and Beholder and Stopchargingmaria retired, the main opposition Saturday is Vale Dori, winner of six straight races for trainer Bob Baffert. Five of those were graded stakes but the fields did not include the division heavyweights. Only five are entered for this and Finest City looks most likely to crash the party if either of the top two has an off day.

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Sprint

Limousine Liberal is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Aristides at Churchill Downs going 6 furlongs on the main track. The 5-year-old Successful Appeal gelding comes fresh from a victory in the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby weekend. The eight-horse field also includes Union Jackson, The Truth Or Else, Wilbo and Recount.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Ten are entered for Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Hendrie Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course. River Maid will attempt to reverse a setback in the Ballade Stakes a month ago after a run of success.

Classic

Madefromlucky, Matt King Cole and Page McKenney all have strong claims in Saturday's $200,000 Mountainview at Penn National. The 9-furlongs test drew just six but those three are all proven graded stakes performers. Page McKenney has put together a rather remarkable string of 27 straight in-the-money finishes. During that skein, the 7-year-old Eavesdropper gelding has won 15 times, including the Grade III General George at Laurel Park in February. Matt King Cole has missed the board only once in nine career starts, that a fourth in last year's Grade I Wood Memorial. Madefromlucky hasn't won much recently but was third behind Imperative and Stanford in the Poseidon Stakes on the Pegasus World Cup undercard.

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