John Gosden is under no illusions about the task facing Enable in the Investec Oaks at Epsom on Friday.
The daughter of Nathaniel emerged as a leading contender for the mile-and-a-half Classic after she won the Cheshire Oaks just over three weeks ago, but faces a formidable opponent in Aidan O’Brien’s 1000 Guineas runner-up Rhododendron.
“The last thing Aidan wants is a walkover – he likes his horses competing at the top level. We’ve got to take him on and make it as competitive as we can,” said the Clarehaven handler.
“I know the favourite is a fabulous filly. She is a legitimate favourite and was unlucky in the Guineas. Enable is in good form and breezed on Monday morning. We were very happy with her run at Chester and she handled the track very well.”
Frankie Dettori partners the Khalid Abdullah-owned filly for the second time in public. She was third behind her Dettori-ridden stablemate Shutter Speed on her penultimate start at Newbury and the popular Italian admitted to being taken aback by her performance at Chester.
Dettori said: “She surprised me at Chester. I rode her in the spring and she was nice, but I watched the video of the Newbury race and she looked a nice stayer, but a bit one-paced.
“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.”
Gosden, who won the Oaks for the first time with Taghrooda three years ago, has an interesting second string to his bow in Coronet, in a race that again forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
The Dubawi filly was doing her best work at the finish when third behind the reopposing Sobetsu in last month’s Prix Saint-Alary at Deauville.
The trainer said: “We’re very happy with both of them and the other filly [Coronet] has done nothing wrong in her life.
“She came from a long way back in the Prix Saint-Alary to snatch third and has come on a lot for that race. 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.”
Rhododendron found only stablemate Winter too strong in the 1000 Guineas after meeting traffic problems.
O’Brien, who also saddles Cheshire Oaks runner-up Alluringly and rank outsider Pocketfullofdreams, does not expect the step up in distance to prove a problem for the odds-on favourite.
“We were very happy with Rhododendron in the Guineas. Ryan [Moore] was very happy, too. She was coming home really well that day. Everything has been fine with her since,” he said.
“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 two-year-old in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket.
“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.”
Andrew Balding won the Oaks in his first season with a licence when Casual Look claimed victory in 2003. This year the Kingsclere handler is represented by Pretty Polly Stakes winner Horseplay.
“We live in hope of the same outcome. It was a fantastic day when Casual Look won as we had a treble that afternoon,” he said. “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.
“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.”
Charlie Appleby will keep an eye on ground conditions before he commits Prix Saint-Alary heroine Sobetsu to a run.
Roger Charlton’s impressive Newbury scorer Natavia, Ralph Beckett’s Isabel De Urbina and Kenny McPeek’s American challenger Daddys Lil Darling complete the line-up.
McPeek said of Olivier Peslier’s mount: “We will be stepping into a different territory and are excited to find out how she handles it.
“I am extremely excited by the challenge, I don’t think any American trainer has ever attempted this challenge. Hopefully, we can start a trend.”