Rhododendron tops 10 runners in Investec Oaks, with same number contesting Investec Coronation Cup

Rhododendron takes on nine rivals in the £500,000 Group One Investec Oaks (4.30pm) at Epsom Downs on the first day of the Investec Derby Festival, Ladies’ Day, Friday, June 2.
The mile and a half Classic is the highlight of a seven-race card on Investec Ladies’ Day which also features the £420,000 G1 Investec Coronation Cup (3.10pm) for older horses.
Rhododendron (Aidan O’Brien IRE/Ryan Moore) is the 10/11 favourite with Unibet, official betting partner of the Investec Derby Festival, having finished strongly to take second behind stablemate Winter in the mile G1 QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier this month.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien, chasing a seventh Investec Oaks victory, also saddles Listed Cheshire Oaks runner-up Alluringly (Seamie Heffernan, 12/1 with Unibet) and maidenPocketfullofdreams (Donnacha O’Brien, 100/1), who has finished second in two Listed races so far this season.
John Gosden has the shortest-priced British-trained contender in Enable (Frankie Dettori, 5/1). The Nathaniel filly, one of two runners for owner/breeder Khalid Abdullah, had a length and three quarters in hand over Alluringly in the Cheshire Oaks.
Gosden also runs Newmarket Listed scorer Coronet (Andrea Atzeni, 10/1), a fast-finishing third behind Sobetsu (Charlie Appleby/William Buick, 8/1) on her comeback in the G1 Prix Saint-Alary at Deauville on May 14.
The famous colours of yellow and black colours of the late Louis Freedman were carried to success in the 1974 Oaks when the Peter Walwyn-trained Polygamy came home in front under Pat Eddery. On Friday, the same silks, now registered under the Cliveden Stud banner, will be carried by Horseplay (Andrew Balding/Oisin Murphy, 12/1).
Horseplay, a daughter of Cape Cross out of Listed winner Mischief Making, entered the picture for the Investec Oaks when a game winner of the 10-furlong Listed Tweenhills Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket on May 7, when she battled well to defeat Isabel De Urbina (Ralph Beckett/Fran Berry, 25/1), who re-opposes on Friday, by three quarters of a length.
Cliveden Stud’s Philip Freedman said today: “I am obviously delighted that Horseplay has got to the Investec Oaks.
“It has been what we hoped would happen since she won her maiden at Nottingham (by 13 lengths in October last year).
“There is an awful long way between October and June and on form you would have to say that the favourite (Rhododendron) looks as if she is going to be incredibly hard to beat.
“I think we might be suited by slightly softer ground but it should be perfect ground on Friday.
“She has won on good to firm and it is not that I think she needs soft ground – it is more that I think softer ground might have made it a bit harder for the class horse in the race.
“I am not convinced her dam stayed two miles, although she was second in a Sagaro Stakes, but she was certainly at her best from a mile to a mile and six. Her full-brother (Devilment) only won over a mile two and a mile three, he was second over a mile and six. Stamina isn’t an issue.”
When asked about his memories of Polygamy’s success in 1974, Freedman continued: “I think the thing that the race is most remembered for is Dibadale’s saddle slipping (Dibadale was third past the post but subsequently disqualified as Willie Carson couldn’t weigh in).
“I was actually playing second 11 cricket at my prep school that day – I don’t think I made double figures!”
An exciting line-up is completed by US challenger Daddys Little Darling (Kenny McPeek/Olivier Peslier, 33/1), runner-up in the G1 Kentucky Oaks on her latest start, and impressive soft ground Newbury scorer Natavia (Roger Charlton/Pat Smullen, 10/1).
Investec Oaks – Unibet prices: 10/11 Rhododendron; 5/1 Enable; 8/1 Sobetsu; 10/1 Coronet, Natavia; 12/1 Alluringly, Horseplay; 25/1 Isabel De Urbina; 33/1 Daddys Lil Darling; 100/1 Pocketfullofdreams
Aidan O’Brien saddles three runners, led by Highland Reel, in the G1 Investec Coronation Cup (3.10pm, 10 runners) as he seeks an eighth win in the race since 2005.
Highland Reel (Ryan Moore, 6/4 Fav with Unibet) established himself as one of the leading 12-furlong horses in the world last year with victories in the Ascot’s G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The five-year-old is joined by US Army Ranger (Donnacha O’Brien, 14/1) and full-brother Idaho (Seamie Heffernan, 5/1), who were second and third respectively in last year’s Investec Derby.
Godolphin is also well represented, with Charlie Appleby saddling last year’s G1 Coral-Eclipse hero Hawkbill (William Buick, 10/1) if the ground is suitable and recent Newmarket handicap scorer Frontiersman (James Doyle, 8/1). Saeed bin Suroor relies on Prize Money (Olivier Peslier, 14/1) who claimed the scalp of Postponed in Dubai earlier this year.
Journey (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori, 4/1) is one of two mares in the field and has not raced since an impressive four-length success in the G1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot in October.
Air Pilot (Ralph Beckett/Fran Berry, 33/1), Red Verdon (Ed Dunlop/Pat Smullen, 25/1) and Elbereth (Andrew Balding/Oisin Murphy, 33/1) complete the 10 runners, the biggest Investec Coronation Cup field since 11 lined up in 2008.
Investec Coronation Cup – Unibet prices: 6/4 Highland Reel; 4/1 Journey; 5/1 Idaho; 8/1 Frontiersman; 10/1 Hawkbill; 14/1 Prize Money, US Army Ranger; 25/1 Red Verdon; 33/1 Air Pilot, Elbereth
The Investec Oaks and the Investec Coronation Cup are part of the QIPCO British Champion Series.
The going at Epsom Downs is now Good (from Good, Good to Soft in places).
GoingStick reading at 7.00am today: 7.1 (Home Straight – Far side 6.7, Stands’ side 7.3)
There was 15 millimetres of rain from 4.00pm on Sunday (May 28) to 2.00am on Monday (May 29).
The remainder of the week is now looking dry, with low to mid 20s temperatures.
There is a possibility of rain late on Friday.
There has been selective watering of parts of back straight, bottom of the hill and first furlong of the five-furlong course today, with 2.5mm of irrigation applied.
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