Robin Oakley

The turf: Focus on the Flat

Robin Oakley surveys The turf

The turf: Focus on the Flat
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The debate on whether or not the extraordinary Frankel should contest the Derby seems to be concluded, at least in Henry Cecil’s mind, which is the place that matters. The common view seems to be that no mere horse could repeat over the undulations of the four furlongs longer Derby course the extraordinary physical explosion, the sustained surge of power which won him the 2,000 Guineas over a mile at Newmarket,  and so we won’t see the best horse around in the most glorious race there is.

Life is rarely that tidy. Henry Cecil felt it was too soon to test such a speedy horse even over the mile and a quarter of most Derby trials and who can blame him. The problem is that a horse of Frankel’s class would frighten off most of the potential opposition and his sheer class would probably enable him to beat off a small field without necessarily answering the question about whether he might stay the Derby distance. And there are some wonderful prizes to be picked up over a mile. 

The mild frustration I feel over Frankel missing the Derby is as nothing to the frustration I felt on Guineas Day when an M11 crash ensured that I spent four hours en route to Newmarket without ever getting to the races to see him run. My attempts to circumnavigate via Cambridge, plagued by the contrary nagging of my Sat-Nav, led me into a series of nose-to-tail jams around Hertfordshire, and in the end there was nothing for it but to turn tail while phoning Mrs Oakley and talking her through the TV recording process. Hands-free, of course, officer. 

Although Mrs Oakley is a genius in her own fields, they do not include technology and this was a feat akin to an air-traffic controller talking down a blind passenger to land an airliner after the pilot had passed out at the controls. Thank God, she made it, and I have been pressing the rewind button ever since. She, however, failed to appreciate the desperation of the occasion. When she inquired chirpily if I had enjoyed seeing so much of Hertfordshire, I could only reply with a variation on Clement Freud’s response to being asked his impressions on visiting New Zealand: ‘I really don’t have any. It seemed to be closed at the time.’

We are now fully focused on the Flat, but there is good news for the patient souls who have stuck with the Oakley selections for the jumping season now past. Our Twelve jumping selections managed just 28 racecourse appearances among them but that included in the English season seven victories, seven seconds and two thirds. Wishfull Thinking, who won two and was second twice, proved one of the classiest young jumpers around. Steps to Freedom, handled by my trainer to follow Gordon Elliott, won the Aintree bumper easily at a tasty 12–1 and Zaidpour, Third Intention, Coupe Royale and Phidippides all won, too. Then, with the English season over, Edward O’Grady’s Shot From The Hip won at 11–2 at the Punchestown Festival which concluded the Irish season and Wishfull Thinking won there, too, at 11–4. On the basis of a £10-win bet every time our selections ran that gave us a healthy return of £415 for the £280 invested, a profit of £135 and a near 50 per cent return. Who needs hedge funds? 

Here then are Twelve more selections to give us some fun through the Flat Season. First time out at Newbury, Mikael Magnusson’s Bridge of Gold impressed as a horse destined for a decent middle-distance prize this season and Luca Cumani’s Afsare will do well in the same category. William Haggas’s Green Destiny could not have won more easily on Guineas day (another one down to Mrs Oakley’s dexterity with the TV controls) and I fancy Geoff Oldroyd’s Lady of the Desert for the top sprints.

Newmarket’s David Simcock is my trainer to watch, and I like his four-year-old Shamardal Phantom and the classy filly I’m a Dreamer. Halifax is the sort of unexposed three-year-old Mark Johnston excels in placing, and Ed Dunlop should get some good runs out of Dubai Media. Richard Hannon has spoken confidently of the maiden Reflect, and of the rich pickings in Barry Hills’s yard I go for his Derby Trial winner Slumber, who could not have done it more stylishly. We must have one from Ireland so wait for John Oxx’s Kastania when the ground eases later in the summer, while Roger Varian, who has started so well on taking over from Michael Jarvis, should score on the international trail with Sri Putra. Let’s hope for a better return than the building societies and keep an eye out for the rides of the new jockey find Mickael Barzalona.