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Leading Irish Trainer Aidan O’Brien has already made a fantastic start to the 2017 campaign as he has claimed the opening two Classics of the season with the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas which were won by Churchill and Winter respectively.
O’Brien is now eying Epsom success as he bids to win the Oaks and Derby which take place 24 hours apart on the Downs in Surrey. The last time the Ballydoyle trainer claimed both races in the same year was in 2012 when Was came out on top in the fillies contest and then Camelot went on to claim the most prestigious Classic of the campaign.
In the latest Oaks betting, O’Brien has the +200 in the form of Rhododendron who was very unlucky in the 1000 Guineas where she had to settle for second place behind her stablemate Winter. Just as the three-year-old filly was starting to reach top speed, she found trouble in running and was forced to check her run. That cost the Ryan Moore’s mount a couple of lengths at the very least, while the winner had a clear passage on the outside of runners.
Rhododendron will have to reverse the form with Winter as the pair will meet at Epsom, giving their trainer a strong hand in the race. It is the Newmarket second which has been heavily tipped up to improve for the step up to 2400m.
In the Derby it is unclear at this stage whether connections will take their chance with Churchill. The vibes from the yard are that his optimum trip is over 1600m where he excelled in the 2000 Guineas. The other option O’Brien has is to hold the horse back for Royal Ascot and run him in the St James’s Palace Stake over the distance he has been so successful at so far in his career.
Churchill’s absence could therefore lead the way for Cliffs of Moher to be O’Brien’s leading chance in the Derby this year. The Irish horse was successful in the Dee Stakes at Chester earlier this month in one of the leading trials for Epsom. He was able to handle the undulations at the Cheshire-track which is a positive sign ahead of the Classic on the Downs.
If you enjoy backing horses in a double, as pointed out from odds at the Winners Enclosure, who provide a daily double tip and the accumulated odds, it is a great chance to turn a small stake into a big return. With Rhododendron and Cliffs of Moher, the double works out at +2100 and it would be no surprise to see both horses prevail for a trainer who has had so much success at the meeting.
In terms of the dangers to O’Brien’s dominance in the Oaks, the leading threat, according to the betting, is Enable who can be backed at +500. John Gosden’s filly scored In the Cheshire Oaks at Chester’s May Meeting where she quickened up nicely inside the final 400m. Frankie Dettori is expected to be on board again at Epsom where he is bidding for his fourth victory in the Classic.
In the colts’ race, Cracksman is currently vying for Derby favouritism with the O’Brien pair of Churchill and Cliffs of Moher. The Frankel colt has been prominent in the market for this race ever since his success in the Derby Trial at Epsom last month. He’s set to feature in the Dante Stakes before his shot at the 2400m contest.
This year’s Oaks takes place on Friday, June 2, with the Derby scheduled a day later on Saturday, June 3 along with the Coronation Stakes, which is one of the leading middle distance races of the season for the older horses.