O'Brien's flower power to flourish in Oaks

O'Brien's flower power to flourish in Oaks
By Sportsbeat

02/06/2017 at 19:20Updated

Some horses are just made for headlines so expect to see plenty of blooming puns if Aidan O'Brien's Rhododendron delivers in today's Investec Oaks.

O'Brien has already scooped a 1000 and 2000 Guineas double across both sides of the Irish Sea and heads to the latest instalment of the Qipco British Champions Series holding another blossoming ace.

Rhododendron was beaten by Winter, another O'Brien charge, at Newmarket but is bred for stamina and will surely appreciate the step up in trip around Epsom's undulating track.

It's 19 years since O'Brien claimed the first of his six victories in the Oaks, also winning last year with the equally strongly-fancied Minding.

Ryan Moore piloted that filly to victory and will be looking for his third race win in the £500,000 classic.

And his cause will only be aided by two other O'Brien horses, Pocketfullofdreams and Alluringly, who are likely to set a strong pace to test the ten runner field.

"She has gone really well since the 1000 Guineas but we always thought she'd need more than a mile, so this will be spot on," said O'Brien, who has set up camp in the winners' enclosure of big races this season.

"My feeling was always middle distances would suit her and we can't have any complaints with how she has been at home, we're really happy."

O'Brien will run six in Saturday's Investec Derby with Moore on board Cliffs of Moher, who is expected to start as the narrow favourite, with odds contracting further if Rhododendron doesn't wilt.

John Gosden's Cracksman is his nearest betting rival and the trainer will also hope to spoil the O'Brien party in the Oaks.

Despite his pedigree Gosden has won the Oaks just once while Frankie Dettori, who will ride his main hope Enable, hasn't performed one of his trademark flying dismounts in the race since 2002.

The ground should certainly suit and the unique twists and turns of Epsom should cause no concerns following her win in the Cheshire Oaks at the equally tricky Chester.

"It's a high class Oaks and you've got to have a very healthy respect for the favourite," said Gosden. "She pleased us at home and she won a good trial and has a very progressive profile."

Meanwhile, Kenny McPeek is hoping to become the first US trainer of the race with Daddys Lil Darling.

If hype and fighting talk were a barometer of form then the outsider looks ready to spring a surprise but Epsom's challenge will certainly take her out of her comfort zone for a trainer never knowingly understated.

"You don't bring a water pistol to a gun fight, she's a machine gun and a really nice filly," said Kentucky-based McPeek.

"This track is the most challenging thing I've ever seen in a horse race but will she handle it? I'm sure she will. She's locked and loaded and she's got a big chance, she certainly couldn't have prepared better."

Sportsbeat 2017