The second day of the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival tomorrow sees the Irish and French Oaks winners take each other on in a highly anticipated Darley Yorkshire Oaks. However, the English Oaks queen Forever Together will not make it a trio of champions after she was removed at the declarations stage on Tuesday morning.
Last year the Yorkshire Oaks provided racegoers with the indelible image of the imperious Enable’s bloodless five-length win over a strong field. John Gosden’s star filly is sadly conspicuous by her absence through injury this time, but this year’s renewal still glimmers with stars from England and Ireland.
In addition to the £198,485 up for grabs, the winner will gain an automatic berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Churchill Downs on November 3.
The centrepiece should be a mouthwatering duel between Prix de Diane winner Laurens and 11/8 favourite Sea Of Class, who triumphed in the Irish Oaks, beating Forever Together under a brilliantly timed ride by the #20 jockey in the world, James Doyle.
Doyle’s daring dash at the Curragh saw the daughter of Sea The Stars effortlessly swoop from the back of the field to collar Forever Together in the final stride, all without the use of the whip.
The rider for his part always thought he “was going to get there” in Ireland, but executing the same hold-up tactics will be made all the more difficult on the quick flat ground at York, especially with renowned front-runner Laurens looking to take the race away from her.
“I’ll be amazed if she has not improved since,” said Doyle. “She’s unexposed and, if she keeps improving, could be anything.
“I don’t think we have to sit last, that was the way it panned out at the Curragh. They can get away on the front end at York, so I will speak to [trainer] William [Haggas] and we will come up with a plan.
“She’s a feisty one and got a bit of character about her, which I think a lot of these fillies have, but it’s no bad thing.”
A win would be the ideal birthday present for her Newmarket handler Haggas, who turns 58 on the day of the race. The Yorkshire-born trainer often primes his horses to peak for the four-day festival and since 2011 boasts an Ebor Festival Group-race strike rate of 25.9 percent with seven wins from 27 starts.
“Sea Of Class is very well,” confirmed Haggas. “She moved beautifully last Thursday morning in her final bit of work, so I don’t really want to run her on soft ground. But, if the ground is good or better, then I look forward to it.
“As I said after the Irish Oaks, we’ve got nothing to lose now – we’ll just enjoy her, though obviously we want to win everything we run in. I’m pleased with her condition.”
Haggas had been “sceptical” about the current crop of 3-year-olds but conceded that he was “slowly being proved wrong” by the classic winners, headed by the mighty Alpha Centauri.
One such classic winner is the aforementioned Laurens, who like her contemporaries Sea Of Class, Magic Wand, Bye Bye Baby and Flattering will be receiving seven pounds from their three older rivals (Coronet, Eziyra and Horseplay).
Karl Burke’s stable star is, of course, a triple G1 winner and a price of 4/1 looks plenty generous for a filly who has won all but one of her starts this season. This is perhaps due to her unflashy galloping style and tight margins of victory, which have all been by less than a neck.
Thankfully Thoroughbred races are not won by artistic interpretation and Laurens’ rider, PJ McDonald, is “itching to ride her” again at York. Moreover, the former jumps jockey has no qualms about the John Dance-owned bay seeing-out a slightly longer distance.
“If she improves again for stepping up in trip she could be an absolute monster,” remarked McDonald. “We always thought she would have no problem staying and I have no doubts in my mind whatsoever after the way she won the French Oaks.
“Most of [the opposition] have all run over the distance, whereas my filly is still unexposed over that trip. None of us has a crystal ball and she might not get home, but I would be shocked if that was the case. The dam’s side of her pedigree is all stamina.”
Although Aidan O’Brien’s Forever Together was hooked at the final declarations the Ballydoyle conditioner is still three-handed in the contest – Bye Bye Baby, Flattering and Magic Wand, an impressive winner of the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot this year.
Of the older horses, last year’s second, Coronet, is the highest-rated horse in the race. The 2017 Ribblesdale winner was an impressive winner over course and distance early this year in the G2 Betfred Middleton Stakes.