Friday 15 December 2017

'Better' can give O'Brien clean sweep

Chris McGrath

With Camelot looming tomorrow, and six fillies in the Epsom Oaks today, Aidan O'Brien and his patrons at Coolmore have every chance of making it four wins from four British Classics this season.

That is a mortifying prospect for the sport's other superpower. Certainly, you cannot overstate the value to Godolphin of a big run today from Kailani.

Notoriously, the stable's cupboard is otherwise so bare that Frankie Dettori, its senior rider, finds himself without a mount in either Epsom Classic for the first time since 1992 (except in 2000, when injured in a plane crash).

Dettori, marooned at Haydock tomorrow, must sit in the changing room today and watch Mickael Barzalona ride Kailani.

He will be less surprised than many by this indignity, their employers having made it explicit when adding Barzalona and Silvestre de Sousa to their team this year that winning partnerships were unlikely to be broken up.

Being overlooked for the mount on the stable's top Derby hope was another matter, albeit Mandaean ran so deplorably in his trial at York that the affront had no lasting consequence.

Kailani is certainly bred for the job as a daughter of Kazzia, the 2002 winner. And none of the trials was won with greater emphasis than the Pretty Polly Stakes, in which she careered seven lengths clear.

She was still green, having won her only start at two, and the genes of her sire, Monsun, promise better again over the extra two furlongs.

It is difficult, however, to know the substance of that form. Conditions were pretty awful, and none of her legless pursuers have since run with any distinction. For now, Kailani represents too great a leap of faith.

Earlier that same afternoon, O'Brien had won the 1,000 Guineas, albeit not with the filly most expected, Homecoming Queen's startling transformation, out in front, having condemned Maybe to third. Undaunted, punters have again identified Maybe as the top Ballydoyle hope today, and the young stable jockey, Joseph O'Brien, seems to agree.

But there must be a doubt whether even Galileo can get the daughter of a sprinting mare home over the extra half-mile. The Co Tipperary yard could, nonetheless, be hard to stop. While O'Brien is intending to withdraw Kissed unless there is ease in the ground, his Classic outsiders often repay a second look.

Homecoming Queen herself bore that out, while Peeping Fawn had been beaten in three April maidens the year she set up a Group One spree with an unlucky half-length defeat in the Oaks.

Devotion is certainly capable of radical improvement at this trip, at 66/1, but perhaps the best value is Betterbetterbetter, which is exactly what we can expect, after a disappointing reverse in her trial at Chester.

A number of pleas in mitigation are available for what happened that day. It certainly remains easy to believe she was much the best filly in the race, having cruised into the lead before faltering and somehow being nailed on the line by a 50/1 shot.

Perhaps she was floundering in the difficult ground; perhaps she was green, in her first start outside maidens, or idling in front; perhaps a combination of all three.

But it is surely significant that O'Brien reckons it worth coming with a filly still early in her career, with a top-class pedigree and looks to match.

It would be wrong, clearly, to imagine that the home defence will submit meekly to the Ballydoyle cavalry.

The Fugue has an obvious chance, having belied her inexperience with a fine run in the Guineas before being turned out quickly to win her trial at York in great style.


Classy and progressive, she should have no problem with the extra distance, but hardly represents value. The York form is questionable, for one thing, but a graver concern is that an inexperienced filly is being asked to raise her game for a third start inside four weeks.

Vow has loads of raw ability, and is in the best of hands, but it was alarming to see her drift so naively off the turn at Lingfield. Though the stiffer track will suit her well, its bewildering configuration is another matter.

However, nothing represents better value than Colm O'Donoghue's mount, Betterbetterbetter.

On the basis that she will need restraining longer than at Chester, she should relish the big field and likely strong pace, and her underrated jockey rides Epsom extremely well. (© Independent News Service)

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