January 30, 2023

Enable overpowering in Oaks; Daddys Lil Darling late scratch at Epsom

Enable, pictured at Epsom, is still odds-on for the Arc with most bookmakers (Photo courtesy Andy Watts/RacingFotos.com via Epsom Facebook)

Friday’s Oaks (G1) at Epsom was a dramatic renewal even before start to finish. American shipper Daddys Lil Darling supplied the pre-race drama, with an assist from the weather, and Khalid Abdullah’s homebred Enable provided the late thrill by overpowering 8-11 favorite Rhododendron.

After her five-length romp with Frankie Dettori, trainer John Gosden hailed Enable as in the same class as his 2014 Oaks heroine Taghrooda, who went on to defeat older males in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1).

Although storms were forecast throughout the afternoon, the adverse weather didn’t arrive at the racecourse until the fillies were approaching the start. Daddys Lil Darling, coming off a second in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) for Ken McPeek, was rattled by the bolt of lightning and clap of thunder. As she ran off uncontrollably, Olivier Peslier lost an iron, and ultimately came off the saddle. Thankfully, both horse and rider were none the worse for the debacle.

When the race finally got under way without Daddys Lil Darling, the fillies had to contend with a pelting rain. As expected, Pocketfullofdreams played the pacemaking role for the Aidan O’Brien team, while her odds-on stablemate, Rhododendron, was reserved in fourth. The 6-1 Enable, parked in third, moved in tandem with Rhododendron, and the duo appeared ready to tussle as they opened up on their pursuers in the stretch.

The battle didn’t last long, for Enable’s superior stamina came into play. Rhododendron could not maintain the fierce gallop in the final furlong, while Enable continued to pour it on in the downpour. Widening her advantage, she completed about 1 1/2 miles in 2:34.13 on a course still rated good.

“That was a real Oaks,” Gosden said. “The drama before – I hope Olivier is allright, and the flash of lightning when they were loading into the stalls; it was all a bit Hollywood!

“I thought they were two magnificent fillies; they fought hard all down the straight. You could see Ryan (Moore on Rhododendron) and Frankie – they are good mates and they each knew what the other was going to do. They locked on three out, and I must say, from the three (furlong marker) to the one (furlong marker) I thought they were in trouble.”

Dettori likewise had an anxious moment.

“When I saw Ryan not moving, I thought ‘oh God, I’m in trouble!” said Dettori, who was winning his fourth Oaks after Balanchine (1994), Moonshell (1995), and Kazzia (2002).

“But once I saw the distress signals coming out, I knew my filly would stay right to end and she pulled away in the last furlong. Enable has only run three times (previously) and is very good. She stays well and is still a bit of frame. I think she will get better and better.”

Teddy Grimthorpe, the owner’s racing manager, had a similar feeling as the race unfolded.

“From two furlongs out,” Grimthorpe said, “I was very nervous as Rhododendron seemed to be traveling so well but Enable ran on, lengthened and put the race to bed.

“There was a good gallop, but classics should be run at a good pace as we are trying to find out if we were good enough and whether we can breed from them — that is the whole ethos of the owner-breeder.”

“They have gone a solid pace in driving rain which made it a proper test,” Gosden said. “It was extraordinarily tough for these fillies to get through it. It was an epic battle and I thought the other filly (Rhododendron) had us. They both have a lot of stamina, but it was just the last part that we dominated.

“The quality in the field today was so recognizable and I thought this was a top-quality Oaks. I was absolutely terrified of Rhododendron coming into the race.”

Rhododendron entered as the Fillies’ Mile (G1) winner and inconvenienced runner-up in the 1000 Guineas (G1). Enable didn’t have the opportunity to build that kind of resume yet. A debut maiden winner at Newcastle, she was subsequently third to highly-regarded stablemate Shutter Speed at Newbury, and broke through with a bravura performance in the Cheshire Oaks. In that trial, Enable outpointed an O’Brien hotpot ridden by Ryan Moore, Alluringly.

Gosden revealed that a recent comment from Moore, as they had traveled together over to Deauville, gave him reason to hope.

“I was sitting with Ryan and he said ‘I could not believe your filly quickened like that at Chester, I thought I had you any time.’ It is not often Ryan compliments someone else’s horse – he is quite tight with that sort of thing – and so I put a lot of weight on that.”

Indeed, the Cheshire Oaks proved to be the key trial for Epsom, as Alluringly checked in a further six lengths back in third in the rematch. Horseplay rounded out the superfecta.

Rhododendron is now expected to revert in trip, with Moore citing that as a factor in the loss – while praising Enable.

“She (Rhododendron) ran a very good race, the winner is a very good filly, well done to them. We just got outstayed today.”

Seamie Heffernan, who piloted Alluringly, gave credit where it was due.

“I followed the second best and the second best followed the best. They are three really good fillies.”

Enable gave her sire, past Gosden star Nathaniel, a classic winner in his first crop. Because Nathaniel is by supersire Galileo, and Enable’s dam, Concentric, is by Sadler’s Wells, Enable sports 3×2 inbreeding to Sadler’s Wells.

“She is beautifully bred by Juddmonte,” Gosden observed, “and by old Nathaniel! Good old Nathaniel.

“It’s great for Nathaniel to get a classic winner in his first crop. He was a proper Galileo winning a King George and an Eclipse (G1).

“Nathaniel was a proper mile and a quarter/mile and a half horse and Concentric is a wonderful mare from a beautiful family.”

Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farm tweeted that Enable is a fourth-generation homebred. Concentric, a Group 3-placed stakes winner, is a full sister to Group 2 victress Dance Routine, the dam of champion Flintshire. Enable’s third dam is Group 3 scorer Apogee, by Shirley Heights, and her fourth dam, the Ile de Bourbon mare Bourbon Girl, finished second in both the Oaks and Irish Oaks (G1) in 1987. Bourbon Girl is also the ancestress of Group 1 hero Spanish Moon and his Group 2-winning full sister Spanish Sun.

“She is a magnificent filly,” Gosden summed up. “Khalid has strong views as to where he likes his horses to run as he knows the race program inside out but obviously, you have races like the (July 15) Irish Oaks or go for the (July 29) King George, so these are all things to think about.

“We can dream of the future. I would not see the point of taking her back to mile and a quarter because there so many wonderful races at a mile and a half.

“I have got some lovely middle-distance fillies in the three-year-old crop and I thought all last year that the fillies were better than the colts.”