March 2009: The Oaks at Epsom Downs, run on Friday, 5 June, day one of the Derby Festival, has attracted an entry of 77 for the Classic’s 2009 renewal.There is a distinctly international twist to this year’s entry for the 12-furlong Group One event, with 29 entries hailing from Ireland, three from France and two from the USA.
Kenny McPeek, who is based in Kentucky, is the trainer responsible for the two US-trained entries. Dream Empress was a Grade One winner last year, taking the Darley Alcibiades Stakes over an extended mile on Polytrack at Keeneland in October and also finished runner-up in the Grade One Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, while Striking Empress is already a winner this season, having landed an allowance race over a mile on turf at Gulfstream Park on 25 February.
McPeek is no stranger to high-profile races in Britain, having saddled Hard Buck to finish second in the 2005 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
McPeek revealed today: “Dream Empress found the turf a little too firm for her at Gulfstream Park (when unplaced on her seasonal reappearance) and Kent Desormeaux didn’t think that she felt too comfortable on it. We haven’t had much rain at Gulfstream Park recently and we were using the race as a starting point for the rest of the season.
“The plan is to run her in the Grade One Ashland Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland on April 4 and then send her over to Britain. The Oaks has been the plan for a long time now – we don’t feel that she acts on dirt so we were keen to run her on Polytrack and turf.
“The mile and a half trip should be right up her alley because she’s out of a Nijinsky mare. I have been to Epsom and it’s certainly an idiosyncratic track, but we’ve also got quite an idiosyncratic set-up here and it’s very much a European approach to training horses.
“Striking Dancer is an impressive filly and we are pretty confident that she is a Group performer. She’s very, very talented and she may even have more potential than Dream Empress.
“She’s going to be running in the Grade Two Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream Park on 27 March. That’s over nine furlongs but I am hopeful that she can stay a mile and a half. She’s by Smart Strike and out of a Danehill mare, so I think that she will handle it.
“We will see how both horses come out of their next races and I would anticipate sending them over in mid to late April. Ideally, they would both have a prep race before the Oaks, possibly over 10 furlongs.
“We could also nominate Theregoesjojo for the Derby at the second entry on 7 April. He’s going to run in the Grade One Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on 28 March and if he wins or places in the first three, then he will be nominated for Epsom.”
Look Here gave trainer Ralph Beckett an emotional first Classic success when winning the 2008 Oaks and the Whitsbury handler has two chances of success this time around. Beckett’s entries are Blue Nymph, who like Look Here is owned by the Jockey Club Senior Steward Julian Richmond-Watson, and Anice Stellato. Blue Nymph finished a promising fifth on her debut at Nottingham in October, while Anice Stellato won on her only start to date in a Newmarket maiden in August.
Beckett said: “At this stage, Anice Stellato is the more likely runner in the Oaks. Things didn’t really fall right for her at Newmarket and she still won. There has been mixed messages from the form – the second didn’t go on but the third did -so it will be interesting to see things pans out.
“We put her away for the season after her victory and she’s a bit more grown up now. She will be ready for one of the trials and we will take it from there.
“There could be a slight concern regarding the mile and a half trip for Blue Nymph and she has a bit to prove at the moment. That said, she’s a filly that we like and we thought that she deserved an entry in the Oaks.
“I was delighted with her run at Nottingham because she was a very green, awkward filly last year and there’s a lot of her. My main concern was about getting her a nice introduction into racing and that’s exactly what happened.
“She’ll tell us through the spring whether she’s up for the Oaks or not but I hope that we will find a maiden for her and work our way up from there.”
Currently heading the ante-post market is the John Gosden-trained Rainbow View, who was unbeaten in four starts last season culminating in the Group One Fillies’ Mile at Ascot in September, when she got the better of Fantasia. Both fillies are owned by George Strawbridge, with the American having purchased the Luca Cumani-trained Fantasia over the winter.
Another Group One winner among the entries is Serious Attitude, trained in Newmarket by Rae Guest, who prevailed by half a length from Aspen Darlin in the Group One 32Red.com Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in October.
Henry Cecil is the most successful current trainer in the Oaks with eight victories, most recently in 2007 with Light Shift. This time around there are two entries from Warren Place, the unraced Rare Virtue and Newmarket maiden winner Midday, both owned by Khalid Abdulla.
Fellow Newmarket handler Sir Michael Stoute is seeking his third Oaks success and has five to choose from in 2009. These include the highly-promising Leocorno, a half-sister to Golan and last year’s Derby runner-up Tartan Bearer, who won on her only start at Doncaster in October. The master of Freemason Lodge has also entered two horses owned by The Queen, the unbeaten Enticement, a winner in Listed company at Newmarket last season and Golden Stream, who was successful on her debut at Newmarket prior to finishing fifth to Rainbow View at Ascot. Stoute’s other two entries are the once-raced Leicester maiden winner July Jasmine and Philippina.
The 29 Irish-trained entries include seven from Aidan O’Brien, while David Wachman and Dermot Weld have half a dozen each. Among Wachman’s contingent is Again, successful in the Group One Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh last season. Jim Bolger hasfive entered, while among John Oxx’s quartet of entries is Beauty O’Gwaun, a very impressive maiden winner at the Curragh in October.
Andre Fabre supplies two of the three French-trained entries – the debut winner Heart Of Ice and Plumania, who finished fourth in the Group One Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp in October. The winner of that race was Proportional, who has also been given an Oaks entry by Criquette Head-Maarek.
Three entries hail from the Maktoum Family’s Godolphin operation – Burgundy Ice, a Leicester maiden winner but disappointing behind Enticement at Newmarket, Copperbeech, third behind Proportional in the Prix Marcel Boussac when in the care of Andre Fabre, and Moonlife, who was last seen out when finishing fifth in the Group Two Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket in October.