Crystal to sparkle in Oaks

THE Irish Oaks has historically been a great pointer to finding the winner of the Yorkshire Oaks but, with the first four from the Curragh all taking their places in today’s feature, assessing the merit of that race relative to today’s contest might be secondary to establishing the best filly from that quartet.

The Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained Blue Bunting, winner of the Newmarket 1000 Guineas, left behind her Epsom Oaks disappointment when taking the Irish race and, in doing so, reversed form with Epsom runner-up Wonder Of Wonders.

But only three-quarters of a length separated the first four home at the Curragh and connections of each filly will be hopeful of coming out on top here.

The tough-as-teak Banimpire was just caught on the line that day but she showed her resilience and class when landing the odds in the Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes next time out. However, runner-up Dunboyne Express didn’t do a whole lot for the form when well beaten behind Galikova in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume D’Ornano at Deauville on Monday.

This will be Banimpire’s tenth start of the season and, however tough she is, she’ll have to eke out further improvement to gain her first success at Group 1 level.

Wonder Of Wonders finished third at the Curragh, having been second to Dancing Rain in the Epsom Oaks. Yesterday’s racing suggests the round course at York is quite demanding and that will not play to her strengths. She, too, will need to find something extra to make the breakthrough at this level and, after five runs this season, it’s beginning to look like it may be beyond her. Laughing Lashes’ jockey Fran Berry lost his whip in the closing stages of the Irish Oaks and yet she was beaten only three parts of a length. That was her first try at a mile and a half and she seemed to cope quite well with it. Connections seem quite certain that the trip is not a problem, though I’d like more evidence, and if they are proved right, she could run a big race.

However, the Curragh race did not exactly go to plan for Blue Bunting and yet she was able to summon the courage to launch a late and ultimately successful challenge. She’s bred for this trip and there’s every reason to expect that the long run-in at York, which demands the ability to stay, will promote improvement from her. The presence of pacemaker Rumh is a positive step from Godolphin.

I firmly believe Blue Bunting is better than she was able to show in Ireland and I am quite confident that she’ll frank the form with those who renew rivalry.

But I have real question marks about the merit of this year’s Irish Oaks.

Henry Cecil, whose Midday finished second behind stable companion Twice Over in yesterday’s Juddmonte International, has a really progressive sort in Vita Nova. Unraced as a juvenile, the now four-year-old won both starts last year and started on a winning note earlier this term. She was then foiled when trying to make all at Haydock (Meeznah and Crystal Capella behind), before her saddle slipped when victory looked assured in the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks at the same track last month.

That wasn’t a great race but it would have been a step forward for this filly and, though she’s never raced in this company before, she deserves huge respect.

Michael Stoute sends the six-year-old Crystal Capella to this race. This filly was has long been languishing on the verge of Group 1 Company, but her contemptuous disposal of Redwood in the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket last month suggested she was ready to make her mark at this level.

She tried to do so in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood but the drop back to ten furlongs and the steady pace were both against her. Back to a mile and a half on testing ground here, she will be hoping that Godolphin’s pacemaker sets a scorching gallop from the outset.

Crystal Capella has been to York twice and won both times, most notably when getting the better of multiple-Group 1-winning Dar Re Mi in the 2009 Middleton Stakes. She battled all the way up the straight to gain a narrow victory then and won’t be found wanting if today’s race turns into a battle.

She’s more experienced than most of her rivals, has been in terrific form this year, is well suited to the demands of the course and she can show this season’s Classic ladies the way home.

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