Snowfall, Rainfall And An Oaks Day To Savour

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Frankie Dettori lights up a soggy Epsom after Snowfall's record-breaking win in the Cazoo Oaks

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EPSOM, UK—It was an Oaks that delivered everything. An emphatic winner, bred in the purple, racing in the purple, representing a trio of the sport's most powerful owners for whom Epsom's famous winner's circle is almost a home from home. 

It was also a record-breaking winning margin by a filly who reminded us just what a loss Deep Impact (Jpn) was, not just to Japan but to breeders worldwide, when he died at the age of 17 in 2019. Next month, a handful of his final small crop of yearlings will be offered at the JRHA Select Sale in Hokkaido. The Coolmore team was among the select number of European breeders who had mares worthy of a trip to Japan, and their globetrotting endeavours have already been rewarded with the 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior (Jpn). Now, in Snowfall (Jpn), they have a second British Classic winner bred on that same potent cross that blends the two extraordinarily dominant sires of Japan and Europe, Deep Impact and Galileo. 

It should not be forgotten either that last year's Prix de Diane winner Fancy Blue (Ire), is also by Deep Impact and bred in a similar fashion, being out of a sister to another Epsom hero in High Chaparral (Ire) (Sadler's Wells). And from a limited number of runners in Europe, Deep Impact also sired the 2018 Prix du Jockey Club winner Study Of Man (Ire).

For an Oaks to remember, throw in racing's Mr Showbusiness, Frankie Dettori–in theory playing the unfamiliar role of understudy to Ryan Moore aboard the race favourite Santa Barbara (Ire) (Camelot {GB})–and you have all the glitz required to light up a racecourse even with a limited number of racegoers. The Queen's Stand, usually packed to this rafters for this weekend, was sparsely populated, even with most of those on track having to take refuge indoors from the ceaseless rain which turned the track into a quagmire and brought the Classic field stand-side as they reeled off Tattenham Corner.

Snowfall clearly didn't mind the rainfall as demonstrated by the menacing way she loomed alongside and swiftly overpowered the long-time leader Mystery Angel (Ire) (Kodi Bear {Ire}). But take away the 16-length winner and the terrier-like runner-up, from the determinedly ambitious stable of George Boughey, had plenty of fancy fillies beaten, including the third-placed Divinely (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), a full-sister to Snowfall's dam Best In The World (Ire) and to the brilliant Arc winner Found (Ire). While Snowfall and Divinely would have had the Oaks on their agenda even before they were weaned, it is far to say that it was probably not a race that Noelle Walsh, the breeder of Mystery Angel, had envisaged for her filly. But Boughey has already made people sit up and take notice as he has saddled winner after winner since taking out his licence only last season, and perhaps more should have taken notice of the fact that a syndicate of a very different nature to the Coolmore triumvirate had stumped up £22,500 to supplement Mystery Angel to the Oaks line-up on Monday.

As Snowfall sailed across the line in glorious isolation, Boughey, his great pal and key form ally Sam Haggas, and girlfriend Laura Toller, roared and swung each other around as their filly fought her way home. Their celebrations were every bit as wild  as they would have been for a winner, and in a way she was. For this was a massive result for the stable and for Nick Bradley's racing syndicate on a day which started with yet another impressive juvenile winner for both owner and trainer when Oscula (Ire) (Galileo Gold {Ire}) landed the Woodcote S. on her third start. 

As the Oaks presentation took place in the winner's circle, the celebratory gaggle was joined by Georg von Opel, a huge investor in some of the Coolmore syndicated horses in recent years and part-owner of the fifth-placed Santa Barbara. Just beyond them out on the track where the placed horses unsaddle, Mystery Angel was surrounded by her large, happy band of owners for a photo that will undoubtedly grace plenty of walls. Their investment would have been far smaller but their joy no less confined. 

Just over an hour earlier there had been a similarly pleasing story to the Coronation Cup when Pyledriver (GB) (Harbour Watch {Ire}), who had finished 11th in last year's Derby and third in the St Leger, enjoyed an official coming of age. 

By the admission post-race of his co-owner/breeder Roger Devlin, Pyledriver is not as regally bred as some of those he was taking on, but he has a tenacity akin to Mystery Angel's and only temporarily surrendered the advantage he had gained when bowling into the lead halfway round, before grabbing it back from the imposing favourite Al Aasy (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}).

For his jockey Martin Dwyer, who is not among the most fashionable names in the weighing-room, it brought up a hat-trick of Epsom Group 1s that few of his colleagues can match. It has been a long time in the earning, from the day he gave the then-young Andrew Balding his first Classic success with Casual Look (Red Ransom) in the Oaks of 2003, followed by the Derby victory for Sir Percy (GB) ((Mark Of Esteem {Ire}) for Marcus Tregoning and owners Anthony and Victoria Pakenham. The Coronation Cup may not be a Classic but success will have been all the sweeter for the fact that it was the first at Group 1 level for Dwyer's father-in-law William Muir, who this year added Chris Grassick to his training licence.

Devlin shared in Dwyer's joy, and as he watched the replay of the win for the colt he bred in partnership with Guy and Hugh Leach, he said, “Primarily we're delighted for William because he's been training for 30 years and this is his first Group 1 winner. We've been in it for a couple of years and we're very grateful to William for all the effort he puts in.”

He continued, “We thought [Pyledriver] would improve as a 4-year-old. He's fairly modestly bred, like the owners, and we didn't think he had huge stallion potential so it was important for us to get the Group 1 on his CV. That's job done. I'm not quite sure where we go from here. He's entered in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot, but that might come a bit soon, and he has entries in the King George and the Arc, and he proved today he acts on pretty soft ground.”

The owners have much to look forward to as Pyledriver's 10-year-old dam La Pyle (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) has a 3-year-old filly by New Approach (GB) named Country Pyle (GB) who is set to make her debut in the coming weeks, as well as a juvenile Oasis Dream (GB) colt called Stockpyle (GB). 

Devlin added, “We also have a yearling filly by Frankel (GB) and La Pyle is in foal to Kingman (GB). We took the decision to invest and we hope it pays off.”

He also remembered his late friend and advisor Kevin Mercer, the former owner of Usk Valley Stud, where Pyledriver was bred. 

“If it hadn't been for Kevin we wouldn't be here today. He had the vision and the knowledge to think that the mare had it in her,” he said. 

Martin Dwyer admitted after the race that he feared he could be replaced on Pyledriver by a bigger-name jockey. He said: “I love this place, I always have. I've had some great times riding here and I've been lucky. Half my worry was losing the ride on him. It's not easy when you are not fashionable and you are not riding. You will have owners own a good horse like him and then it doesn't pan out and he doesn't win.”

He continued, “The Derby was a write-off and then there are always people saying, 'why don't you use X, Y, Z as they are riding tons of winners and why are you using him as he is not high flying at the moment?' But that is sport and that is what happens so you have to really fight your corner.”

In Pyledriver he has found a fellow battler, and the pair ensured that the day wasn't only about a 21st Classic victory for one of the world's most recognisable jockeys and a 40th British Classic for the unstoppable Aidan O'Brien, who has now won this season's 1000 Guineas and Oaks with the fillies who earned their trainer a £4,000 fine for bearing the wrong saddle cloths in last season's G1 Fillies' Mile. 

For syndicates from one end of the scale to the other, there was plenty to cheer about on Oaks day. There's currently an advertisement on the British racing channels aimed at improving diversity and inclusivity which has the simple catchline of 'Racing is everyone's sport'. On Friday at Epsom it certainly felt so.

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