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All you need to know about the major players in the Oaks

Rhododendron: odds-on to triumph in Oaks
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Rhododendron out to bloom for O'Brien

Rhododendron heads the market for Friday's Investec Oaks, in which her trainer Aidan O'Brien will be attempting to strengthen his grip on the 2017 Classic scene.

Last weekend O'Brien completed the Newmarket-Curragh Guineas double with Churchill and Winter, and success for any of his three runners in the Epsom showpiece would put the Ballydoyle trainer halfway towards a clean sweep of the year's British and Irish Classics.

O'Brien first won the Oaks with Shahtoush in 1998 and Minding's dramatic escape from the wars to seize victory a year ago provided him with his sixth win in the event.

Rhododendron, a Group 1 winner last season, did not enjoy a clear run before finishing well for second behind Winter in the 1,000 Guineas last month and, with the winner boosting the form in impressive style at the Curragh on Sunday, hopes are high Ryan Moore's mount can blossom and give her rider a third win in the race.

O'Brien said on Friday: "All has gone well with Rhododendron since Newmarket. She finished out the race well there and we've always thought she'd get further than a mile and that middle distances would suit her. We're very happy with her."

Joining Rhododendron in the line-up are Cheshire Oaks runner-up Alluringly and the maiden Pocketfullofdreams, who has finished second on her last three starts, most recently in the Oaks Trial at Lingfield last month. Seamie Heffernan, who rides Alluringly, won the race on Was in 2012.

O'Brien said: "Alluringly was a bit green at Chester, but she ran very well and got the trip. She should have learned from the experience and we've been happy with her since.

"Pocketfullofdreams has been in good form since her Lingfield run and we decided to let her take her chance."


Rhododendron pros Unlucky in running when second in the 1,000 Guineas. Form handsomely endorsed when the winner impressively completed Guineas double at the Curragh last weekend. Improvement expected and longer trip likely to suit

Rhododendron cons Ability to handle the twists and turns of Epsom and to avoid trouble in running can never be taken for granted


Gosden back with two good chances 

John Gosden, without a runner last year, is double-handed again as he bids to add to his sole success in the Epsom Classic.

Gosden, who won the Oaks with Taghrooda in 2014, drew a blank two years ago with Jazzi Top (fifth) and Star Of Seville (ninth), the latter going on to win the Prix de Diane.

This year's team is headed by Enable, the Cheshire Oaks winner whose only defeat by another filly came at the hands of stablemate Shutter Speed, the Musidora Stakes winner selected to carry stable hopes in this year's French fillies' Classic at Chantilly. 

Enable, the pick of stable jockey Frankie Dettori, surged clear of Alluringly before easing to a length-and-three-quarter victory at Chester with a nine-length gap back to the third.

Coronet, who will be ridden by Andrea Atzeni, has the advantage of having already tackled Group 1 company when third to Sobetsu in the Prix Saint-Alary over 1m2f on her return to action.

Gosden said: "Enable has pleased us at home since the Cheshire Oaks, in which she ran a nice trial, and has a progressive profile.

"You'd hope she'd handle the track, having been around Chester. The good ground should be fine for her in what looks a high-class Oaks, in which we have healthy respect for the favourite.

"Coronet has a mile and a half stamped all over her and did well to finish third in the Prix Saint-Alary considering she missed the break a little from a wide draw and Frankie had play catch-up. She's pleased since and has had plenty of experience of undulations."


Enable pros Impressive winner of a trial for whom stamina is no issue

Enable cons Seven years since Cheshire Oaks winner won the Oaks

Coronet pros Sure to appreciate step up in distance

Coronet cons Missed the break last time


Natavia there 'with a chance'

Natavia, who made her debut only in April, bids to complete a rapid march to the top of her division without even having won a maiden on the way.

The filly began her career with a second at the Newmarket Craven meeting but took a significant leap forward by landing a historically significant Listed prize by three and three-quarter lengths at Newbury next time out.

The race was the stepping stone Eswarah took before winning the Oaks in 2005 and has also been won by Epsom third Volume and future Group 1 winners Winsili and Queen's Trust.

Natavia and Ryan Moore on the way victory at Newbury

Natavia will be only the second runner in the Classic for Derby-winning trainer Roger Charlton – the other, Clowance, finished fourth in 2008 – but any rain could be to her advantage if she can stay the trip.

"I was concerned before Newbury, where a lot of the horses were not coping with the ground, that it might be too soft for her and stretch her stamina," Charlton said. "As it turned out, it probably suited her better than maybe some of the others.

"I would be a bit concerned if the ground were very quick but I think it'll be good enough. We're there with a chance, although with an inexperienced filly, I guess."


Pros Comfortable winner of usually significant trial

Cons Stamina worry with little sign of staying power on dam's side of pedigree 


Will Sobetsu rethink bear fruit?

Britain's unpredictable weather has prompted Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby into a U-turn he hopes will deliver him a first Classic success with Sobetsu.

Despite making a striking return to action by winning the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary by three lengths, the filly had been ruled out Epsom because connections expected the ground to be too fast.

But with the likelihood of good ground after recent rain and more forecast she has been rerouted from the Prix de Diane with a strong chance of success.

Appleby confirmed France had been favourite "because we felt there was a much better chance of her getting softish ground in France than at Epsom".

"As it has turned out, Epsom has come up soft and we'd be crazy to pass up the opportunity to run," he said. "She's in great form and comes to the Oaks off the back of a good win at Deauville.

"I feel she'll appreciate the ground as it is at Epsom at present. The most important thing is there is no jar."

Sobetsu met favourite Rhododendron in the Fillies' Mile last year but was beaten 15 lengths in a race run on good to firm going.


Pros Strong Group 1 form puts her in the mix

Cons Ground-dependent, for whom rain is a must


Horseplay a serious hope

Taghrooda took the Pretty Polly Stakes before winning the Oaks three years ago, which offers encouragement to trainer Andrew Balding and backers of Horseplay.

The daughter of Cape Cross hosed up in a Nottingham maiden last autumn and showed she handled quicker terrain when successful in the Newmarket trial last month.

Balding, whose Casual Look won the Oaks in 2003, said: "We're very happy with her. Her preparation has been good and she seems in fine fettle.

"I imagine it'll be pretty near to good ground, which shouldn't be a problem for her. I'd hope she'd come on from Newmarket as she was a little bit fresh and free that day."

Isabel De Urbina is likely to go off a much bigger price than Horseplay but was only three-quarters of a length back on just her second start.

She is trained by Ralph Beckett, who won the Oaks with Look Here in 2008 and Talent four years ago. He said: "She's in rude health. She's got to step up, but that goes for any number of them. She'll acquit herself well."

Investec Oaks, card, form and betting

All has gone well with Rhododendron since Newmarket. We've always thought she'd get further than a mile and that middle distances would suit her
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