Desert crowns Jubilee weekend with imperious success
The 2022 Epsom Classics provided plenty of thrills and spills with a photo finish in the Oaks followed twenty-four hours later by the emergence of a potential star in the Derby. Mark Olley assesses the races from a form perspective…
The Group 1 Cazoo Oaks was run at Epsom on Friday and what a difference a year makes! In the 2021 Oaks we witnessed a scintillating sixteen-length demolition of the race by Snowfall. This year we got arguably the ultimate horserace, with drama, incident and an utterly thrilling finish between Tuesday and Emily Upjohn. I won’t profess to know the thoughts of world class jockeys, but it is easy to imagine that Frankie Dettori is wondering what might have been, while Ryan Moore is proud of a job very well done.
Emily Upjohn came into the race with the highest official rating (110), but she put herself straight onto the back foot by stumbling out of the stalls. Fortunately for her the Oaks field didn’t go that quickly early on (ran the first mile of the race around three seconds slower than Hukum in the Coronation Cup) and she was soon upsides Tuesday in the rear of the field. Their paths diverged as they came into the straight with Tuesday coming up the centre, whilst Emily Upjohn gave up ground and came across to the stands rail. The final furlong gave us a thrilling battle – Emily Upjohn looked to be in front both a stride before the line and the stride after, but where it mattered most Tuesday had her head in front.
It is general handicapping policy to distinguish between horses no matter how small the winning margin and rate the winner a pound higher than the second, but I have decided I cannot separate these two and they both have a new BHA rating of 117. As Tuesday is trained in Ireland her official rating is published there, but it matches our 117.
Snowfall was rated 120 after winning last year but it was downgraded to 118 as the season progressed, whilst Enable sets the bar this century with her majestic 122 in 2017. Tuesday and Emily Upjohn didn’t quite reach those heights but we still have two top-class fillies who are both rated above the average Oaks winner.
The Grade 1 Dahlbury Coronation Cup was run on the same afternoon and was won in emphatic style by Hukum. He readily came clear of last year’s winner Pyledriver, reversing form from the Dubai Sheema Classic in the process.
Hukum has a terrific strike rate with nine wins from fifteen career starts and this was a deserved first Group 1 success. In beating Pyledriver (119) and High Definition (119) he gets an official rating of 122, a clear personal best, but the latest news is that he will now miss the remainder of the season through injury – a bitter blow for connections.
Last, but by no means least, of the three Epsom Group 1 events was the Cazoo Derby, a race which also had its share of drama and potentially a superstar winner.
Desert Crown came into the race with the highest official rating (117) courtesy of his decisive success in the Group 2 Dante at York. The Derby was just his third career outing but he belied his inexperience with a very polished display and looks to have all the natural ability that you wish to see in a Derby winner. Richard Kingscote had Desert Crown positioned just behind the leaders, and he was still travelling so strongly over two furlongs out that when he sent him into the lead the race was over as a contest in a matter of strides.
From a ratings point of view, it isn’t an easy race to assess as you have a top-class winner, but the pre-race ratings of the placed horses hint that a degree of caution is needed.
I have called the winning margin of two and half lengths 7 lb, factoring in the ease of victory, and raised Desert Crown’s rating to 123, which matches what last year’s winner Adayar achieved on the day (initially 121 after the race but upgraded later in the season to 123). This sits just below Golden Horn (125 in 2015) and Camelot (124 in 2012), but firmly establishes him as an above-average Derby winner. Considering the way he travelled through the race and the ease of victory, it is hard not to think that the best is still to come.
Hoo Ya Mal took a big step forward in finishing second and his rating moves from 105 to 116. That rating puts him alongside Nations Pride who beat him by 7 lengths in a listed race at Newmarket last time but struggled to get into the race from off the pace here.
The drama in the race centred around Westover who had the gaps shut firmly on him two furlongs out. He wasn’t travelling as well as the winner at that point, but the way that he finished to recover the ground he lost meant he was certainly unlucky not to finish second, and in all likelihood he would have given Desert Crown more to think about. He looks a real St Leger type and his new rating of 116 already suggests he has the ability to go very close there.