The eyes of the racing world will be firmly focused on York on Thursday when magnificent mare Enable meets her old foe Magical in a head-to-head between the stables of John Gosden and Aidan O'Brien for the Darley Yorkshire Oaks, the second of three races at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival offering a fees-paid berth at the Breeders’ Cup as part of the ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge.
A place in the Maker’s Mark Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita on November 2 is on the table for the winner of the G1 over a mile and a half – but it was in the Longines Turf last year that Enable became the first horse ever to complete the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe/Breeders’ Cup double in the same season after a thrilling battle with Ballydoyle filly Magical at Churchill Downs in November. And Enable has already ensured an automatic place in the Turf this year with victory last month in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
The superstar filly, who had Magical well behind in the Arc, beat the daughter of Galileo by three-quarters of a length in Kentucky – and she repeated the dose by the same margin on her seasonal debut in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July, when Magical had race-fitness on her side.
Now the pair are set to do battle yet again after Magical – ultra-consistent, with three wins and two seconds this term – was supplemented to the Yorkshire Oaks, in which Enable defeated John Gosden-trained stablemate Coronet by five lengths in 2017.
Khalid Abdullah’s superstar extended her winning sequence to 11 last month when she outfought Crystal Ocean under regular rider Frankie Dettori in the King George.
Newmarket-based Gosden said, “We are pointing at the Yorkshire Oaks – we were keen to stay at a mile and a half, rather than coming back in trip again – and obviously trying to use it as a springboard to the Arc. She has been to York before. The crowd were thrilled to see her last time she was there when she came after the King George.”
Enable faces just three rivals as she bids for the tenth G1 success of an outstanding career. “She’s a lovely filly, obviously, and she has done extremely well this year,” Gosden went on. “She really enjoys her training and her racing, which obviously makes the trainer’s job a lot easier. Everyone is interested in her when she is out on the Heath. So we are very lucky to have a filly like that in the stables.”
The Yorkshire Oaks features only a four-runner field, with Gosden and O'Brien doubly represented. Lah Ti Dar (William Buick) – twice a winner on the Knavesmire already – joins her illustrious stablemate Enable, while outsider South Sea Pearl (Seamie Heffernan) gives O’Brien a second string to his bow.
The £400,000 ($480,000) contest often produces a serious contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Islington won her second in 2003 before scoring at Santa Anita; she had been third 12 months previously at Arlington after her first Yorkshire Oaks triumph.
Other notable recent efforts in the BC race include Midday, beaten a neck by Shared Account as defending champ in 2010 after winning at York, and The Fugue, who two years later was an unlucky third to Zagora at Santa Anita after meeting trouble in running. She had earlier run second in the Yorkshire Oaks, which she would win a year later before returning to Santa Anita and finishing second to Magician in the BC Turf.