Stamina to the fore in Epsom Classics
There were three Group 1 races run over 12f at Epsom at the weekend, the Coral Coronation Cup, the Cazoo Oaks and the Cazoo Derby. Throughout the year many 12f races are relatively slowly run and develop into sprints over the final three to four furlongs. However, the three Epsom races were notably strongly run, and that combined with the rain-softened ground provided a different test for many of the horses involved, with the emphasis firmly on stamina, writes Mark Olley…
Despite the relatively small field the Coronation Cup was well up to standard with four of the six runners rated between 117 and 120 beforehand, and if I’m honest, it was the race out of the three Group 1s that I was particularly looking forward to. For once the Aidan O’Brien horses didn’t really fire and it was left to the GB runners to provide a truly memorable finish.
Pyledriver and Al Aasy have different profiles, but despite their different routes getting here they are both now high-class middle-distance performers. Last year Pyledriver won the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York (both Group 2’s). He also finished a close third in the St Leger as well as contesting the Derby and Champion Stakes – a pretty full season. Al Aasy, on the other hand, missed the remainder of the season after disappointing at Glorious Goodwood but bounced back to demolish lesser rivals in a couple of Group 3’s at Newbury this spring, cruising through both races and giving the impression that he had developed into something special.
Friday’s race was truly run from the start and just as Highland Chief wanted to take a breather around halfway, Martin Dwyer took over on Pyledriver and made sure the race was a real test. It was a bold move from a jockey who clearly knows his horse (he has ridden him in all but one of his twelve races) and had confidence in his stamina to see the race out. Al Aasy travelled well into the race from off the pace and his sustained run down the outside looked a winning one as he went into the lead entering the final furlong. Pyledriver, however, seemed to look across as his rival came by and just refused to be beaten. A memorable finish and the delight on William Muir’s face at winning his first Group 1 was lovely to see.
As a result Pyledriver moves to a new rating of 121 (+4) with Al Aasy on 120. That is some way short Ghaiyyath’s 127 last year when the race was run at Newmarket, but compares favourably with Highland Reel (121) in 2017 and is higher than both Defoe (118) in 2019 and Cracksman (115) in 2018.
The Oaks took place just over an hour later and was run in a very similar overall time (0.44 seconds slower), however, the races unfolded in differing ways. Mystery Angel set a strong early pace, but slowed noticeably around halfway before kicking again around Tattenham Corner and coming over to the stands rail. This is emphasised by Snowfall running the final two furlongs of the race around 2.3 seconds faster than Pyledriver did in the Coronation Cup.
Snowfall eventually won by a record sixteen-length winning margin, and such was her dominance that it makes a rating to the exact pound hard to be definitive about. Having consulted with Irish handicapper Garry O’Gorman, who will publish Snowfall’s official figure, we agreed on 120 which has only Love last year and Enable in 2017 (both ran to 122) higher amongst Oaks winners this century.
The poundage used for a race run at that pace on softish ground is scaled back slightly and means that Mystery Angel retains her pre-rating rating of 100. Considering the pace she set she did remarkably well to hold on for second and there is a chance that rating slightly undervalues her – time will tell!
The Derby was run in a similar style to the Oaks, but on drying ground and the runners stayed to the far rail up the straight. Several of the more fancied horses failed to really fire through stamina limitations, inability to handle the track or injury, but we were still left with an impressive winner in Adayar.
Adayar sat just behind the strong pace, got a dream run up the rail at a crucial time and powered clear for a decisive victory. He came into the race rated 107 after finishing just over a length second to Third Realm in the Novibet Lingfield Derby Trial, but left that form well behind with a strong staying performance. Connections had reportedly been considering the Queens Vase and St Leger, but he deserves his chance in the top 12f races now with his new rating of 121.
Historically that makes him a better than average Derby winner. 121 puts him below the likes of Golden Horn (125 in 2015) and Camelot (124 in 2012) at this stage, but compares favourably with recent winners Serpentine (120), Anthony Van Dyck (118) and Wings Of Eagles (119).
Mojo Star has now finished second on all three career starts and with an opening mark of 114 is the highest rated maiden in training!