Tending The Garden


Rhododendron | Racing Post

Jim Joel once described Sir Henry Cecil as having “green fingers with horses” and with Aidan O'Brien sitting just two short of that late trainer's tally of eight successes in Epsom's G1 Investec Oaks it is fair to say that he also has a flair for this particular type of horticulture. In Rhododendron (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), the master of Ballydoyle has a hot favourite for Friday's race with sound credentials for extending his record and providing a third straight success. So impressive when powering to an emphatic win in the G1 Fillies' Mile at Newmarket in October, Susan Magnier's colourbearer was unlucky not to finish much closer to her rapidly-progressive stablemate Winter (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the G1 1000 Guineas back over that course and distance last time on May 7. Despite descending from the fast Cassandra Go (Ire) (Indian Ridge {Ire}), Rhododendron's dam Halfway To Heaven (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}) stayed well enough to win the G1 Nassau S. over a mile-and-a-quarter and her progeny have so far all seen out a mile-and-a-half. “We were very happy with Rhododendron in the Guineas,” Aidan O'Brien commented. “She was coming home really well that day. Everything has been fine with her since. She is a filly we always thought would stay much further than a mile. Obviously she's up to a mile-and-a-half. She seemed to get a mile well as a 2-year-old in the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket.” Of another of his three charges, Alluringly (Ire) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}), O'Brien added, “Alluringly ran a great race at Chester. We were delighted with her run. She was a little bit raw and a little bit green, but she finished out the race very well.”

Khalid Abdullah enjoyed glory here 20 years ago courtesy of Reams of Verse (Nureyev) and has two live contenders in the Listed Cheshire Oaks winner Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) and Listed Haras de Bouquetot Fillies' Trial S. scorer Natavia (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}). The former beat Rhododendron's stablemate Alluringly (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) in that May 10 trial at Chester, while Natavia was impressive when scoring by 3 3/4 lengths on rain-deadened ground at Newbury 10 days later. Both are unexposed fillies bred to be something potentially special and Enable's jockey Frankie Dettori is full of enthusiasm. “She surprised me at Chester,” he said. “What she showed me at Chester was very good–she whizzed round that turn like a greyhound. For a staying filly, she showed a good turn of foot. I'm very excited about her and I think she's going to run a decent race. The favourite comes with all the best credentials, but I think Enable will do well.”

Along with Enable, 'TDN Rising Star' Coronet (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) represents the John Gosden stable and Denford Stud's homebred has increasingly strong claims on the formbook. Having beaten subsequent Derby trial winners Cunco (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and Permian (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) and also Ballydoyle's smart Wings of Eagles (Fr) (Pour Moi {Ire}) in Newmarket's Listed Zetland S. over 10 furlongs in October, she returned to be third to 'TDN Rising Star' Sobetsu (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the G1 Prix Saint-Alary over that trip at Deauville on May 14. A half-sister to the G1 St Leger runner-up Midas Touch (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) out of a mare that stayed this trip and further, the trip will pose no problem for Coronet. “She came from a long way back in the Prix Saint-Alary to snatch third and has come on a lot for that race,” trainer John Gosden said. “She's been looking to run over a mile-and-a-half. She's very much that type of filly and the trip will suit her very well. It's a quality Oaks.”

Cliveden Stud's colours were seen in triumph around here with Reference Point (GB) in the Derby 30 years ago and they are sported in this race by Horseplay (GB) (Cape Cross {Ire}). Like another daughter of that sire to excel, Ouija Board (GB), the Andrew Balding trainee won the Listed Pretty Polly S. at Newmarket last time on May 7 and holds the re-opposing Isabel de Urbina (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) on that form. “Horseplay is going to need to step up, but her homework has always been good and she's improved again since her win at Newmarket,” Balding commented. “The dam's side of her pedigree is all stamina and Cape Cross, her sire, has a good record with his Epsom Classic runners so on breeding she has plenty going for her.”

Normandy Farm's Daddys Lil Darling (Scat Daddy) is into unknown territory after seconds in Keeneland's GI Ashland S. on Apr. 8 and the GI Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5, but trainer Kenny McPeek is bullish about her condition. “She's knocked on the door in these races and everything seems to be coming together,” he said. “She had a real good gallop on Friday, looks as strong as I've ever seen her and she's locked and loaded. This seed was planted a long time ago when I walked the track in 2003 and this filly is prepared for it. She's going to get the trip and handle the surface fine and I'm confident she'll run well.”

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