Now, we all know we have Derbies around the world – for the best staying three-year-olds of both genders – thanks to the 12th Earl of Derby, who came up with the idea for the race in at a booze-up in 1780 (because no good ideas were ever hatched over a salad).
But how do we get the fillies-only equivalent, a race called The Oaks?
The 12th Earl of Derby of course.
This guy! Did he have an influence on global horse racing or what?
In fact, The Oaks came first. The aforementioned Derby-spawning soiree was held to celebrate the running of the first Oaks, in 1779. That was another idea by the Earl, to start a new race for which he’d put up the money. Why name a classic after a bunch of trees, rather than say, after a drinking vessel? The Earl lived on an estate, just to the east of Epsom Racecourse where the race would end up being run, called The Oaks.
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And thus, the feature race for three-year-old staying fillies on racing calendars throughout the world are so named. And Australia is having its main one tomorrow at Flemington, on VRC Oaks Day, fittingly enough.
The day has also become a highlight of the annual social calendar. It’s dubbed Ladies Day, because on the biggest day of the season for well turned-out fillies, it attracts a lot of well-dressed women. And where there are lots of women, what else do you find? Yes, it’s also become known as Blokes Day.
In any event, none of that sort of thing will be happening this year, in the year of Covid, with about 100,000 fewer people at Flemington than normal. But the races will still be on, and it’s a full nine-race card to be had.
There are a handful of Black Type events, the classy sort that go into yearling sales catalogues in, err, black type, to highlight what the parents and relatives of a yearling achieved on the track. There’s also a touch of novelty, in the annual race restricted to grey horses, which looks ghostly indeed, and which is now named after one of Australia’s most famous greys, Subzero, the 1992 Melbourne Cup winner who died this year aged 32.
But the highlight, of course, will be The Oaks, over 2500m, and worth $1 million. As Derbies can achieve for colts in their stud career, Oaks victories let fillies show their stuff and will set them up for a lucrative life in the breeding barn. For an example, Samantha Miss won The Oaks in 2008, pocketed the $605,000 prizemoney, and was later sold to become a breeding mare for an Australasian record broodmare price of $3.85 million. (She did win a few other races as well mind you). Rose Of Kingston won in 1981 went on to have a son called Kingston Rule, who still holds the record for the fastest Melbourne Cup, which he won in 1990.
But it’s not just about breeding. The race has launched the racing career of a thousand staying mares. Miami Bound, for example, won it last year and contested Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup. Jameka won in 2015 and took out the following year’s Caulfield Cup. Verry Elleegant ran seventh in 2018 and has kicked on, winning this year’s Caulfield Cup among several G1s.
There’s a quality 14-field assembled for the main event, which is a Group 1, restricted to fillies. This is a quirk of racing strictures to which some object: why are fillies allowed into derbies, but colts cant enter oaks-es? It just is, and it’s not all that relevant, as fillies don’t win derbies that often.
The VRC Oaks is also ancient. It’s as old as the Melbourne Cup in fact, having been first run in 1861, but a few years younger than the VRC Derby, Australia’s oldest big race. And it’s been won by some of the all-time greats. Let’s take a look.
WHAT IS IT?
The VRC Oaks, now known by a sponsors’ name in the Kennedy Oaks, a set weights event for three-year-old fillies, in which everyone carries 56kg.
Though Oaks races and Derbies throughout the world are generally run over 2400m, Flemington’s was changed to 2500m in 1973 because the 2400m start was a tad too close to the turn out of the home straight, inciting mayhem as horses tried to settle into a running position.
WHAT’S IT WORTH?
As Dr Evil might say – one million dollars!
OK, that’s not much when compared to some of the filthy lucre being spewed out in Sydney on Mr V’Landys’ watch these days, but it’s not always about money, Peter. There’s prestige and history involved, and breeding value.
WHEN’S IT ON?
Race 8 on the card at 5.10pm (AEDT).
WHERE CAN YOU WATCH IT?
It’s on Channel 10, Racing.com or Sky Racing. Foxsports.com.au will have live news and updates, including video soon after the race. You can’t get into the racecourse, but you can stand along the banks of the Maribyrnong River to see them run past for a bit, like quite a few people did on Cup day, like sad, forlorn children staring into a locked-down Disneyland.
In a race all about future breeding, most eyes will be on Montefilia. She’s emerged as the most exciting three-year-old filly in the land, having won two Group 1s in Sydney at her past two starts, over 1600m and up to 2000m. Will she able to handle the extra 500m? Well, breeding suggests she will.
There’s a juicy little pedigree angle here. Montefilia’s dad is the former very good Chris Waller-trained galloper Kermadec, who’s now two crops of horses into his breeding career, and an Oaks win would put a large feather in his cap. Kermadec’s dad is the very good Irish stallion Teofilo, the sire of Tuesday’s Cup winner, Twilight Payment.
Montefilia is an odds-on favourite, but several of these have come unstuck attempting the 2500m test at this stage of their lives, having only turned three on August 1.
Second-favourite is Personal, to be ridden by Damien Oliver, who was second in Saturday’s Wakeful Stakes, the race which was the lead-up for several Oaks runners.
Palestine, in 1861.
Jameka (2015), Samantha Miss (2008), Miss Finland (2006), Research (1988), Rose Of Kingston (1981), Surround (1976), Light Fingers 1964 (Melbourne Cup winner the next year), Furious (1921), Briseis (1876).
OTHER RACES ON THE UNDERCARD
Race 2: Ottawa Stakes (1000m), a Group 3 race for 2yo fillies, 1.15pm.
Race 3: Century Stakes (1000m), a Listed race for everyone three years old and up, 1:55pm.
Race 5: The Subzero Handicap (1400m), it’s not black type but it’s only open to greys and is quite the sight, 3:15pm.
Race 9: Red Roses Stakes (1100m), a Group 3 sprint for 3yo fillies, 5:50pm.
1. MONTEFILIA (Barrier 5). Approx odds: $1.80 win / $1.16 place.
FOR: Shapes up as the classiest 3yo filly in the country at present. Trained in Sydney by David Payne, this filly is bred to do well. Her dad is Kermadec, who won two big Group 1s in Sydney in the Doncaster and George Main Stakes, and who was by Teofilo, as mentioned. On Montefilia’s maternal side, she’s out of a British mare, which is always good for staying (long distance) blood, and that mare’s dad was Shirocco, sire of Melbourne Cup folk hero Prince Of Arran. Anyway, bloodlines can count for nothing if a horse can’t gallop, but Montefilia has shown she can, winning two Group 1s in the Flight Stakes (1600m) and Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) in back-to-back Saturdays last month. Also has Hugh Bowman on her back, who knows how to win a big one.
AGAINST: This has been a dodgy race for favourites lately, especially odds-on faves, and better for second or third-favourites. Miami Bound was second-favourite in winning last year while the $3.80 favourite Gamay came fifth. Amphitrite ran last at odds-on in 2018 while third-fave Aristia won. Aloisia was $1.80 in 2017 and ran sixth while second-fave Pinot won. And in 2016, Yankee Rose was a certainty at $1.95 and came second-last, while Lasqueti Spirit won, and won easily, at $101. So a certain amount of faith is needed to be convinced Montefilia, or any of these, can run out 2500m in decent style. But exposed form is all we have, and that points strongly to her being the last filly standing.
2. PERSONAL (10) $6 / $1.75.
FOR: Strong stable in Tom Dabernig and Ben Hayes. Great jockey in Damien Oliver, who’s won two of the past five. Has been building up to this, working home well to come second at her past three starts – at 1400m, 1600m, and the 2000m of the main Melbourne lead-up (last Saturday’s Wakeful Stakes). She kept coming when beaten only a neck in that race, suggesting she can run 2500m. Her mum was by the great European sire Galileo, which also augurs well for her chances of running out the trip. Ranks as second-favourite, and they have a good recent record in this.
AGAINST: Has a bit of tricky barrier in 10 of 14, and it could be hard for Oliver to get near the rail making the first bend.
3. CAFÉ RIZU (14) ($31 / $5.50).
FOR: Has won at the track, hinting at staying potential in taking an 1800m event in August and beating male horses to boot. Good, experienced jockey in Craig Newitt. Top stable in Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr, and was doing her best work at the finish when seventh at Caulfield last start over 2000m in a key lead-up race, the Ethereal Stakes, coming from 16th with only 400m to go to be beaten by 4.8len.
AGAINST: Has the widest barrier, but that might not be so bad, since she’s been settling at the back of the field lately, to help her relax and run like a stayer. Could be a decent longshot.
4. SUCCEED INDEED (13) $35 / $6.
FOR: Is from the Team Corstens stable, which has been going alright lately, and has the experienced Mark Zahra on board, who won the Caulfield Cup last month on Verry Elleegant. Gets the blinkers on for the first time, which should help her settle nicely and hopefully run out the distance, after she didn’t settle well last start in the Wakeful. Has run at 2000m at her past two starts, and has had five runs this preparation, so has plenty of miles in her legs.
AGAINST: Didn’t really hit the line at the finish of the Wakeful, and while she should settle better with the blinkers on, you wonder about her capacity to run an extra 500m here. Also has a tricky barrier.
5. SALTO ANGEL (9) $27 / $4.80.
FOR: From the formidable Danny O’Brien stable and with big race jockey Damian Lane aboard. Went OK for fifth in the Wakeful, and had excuses, when forced to race three and four wide for the trip, and carted very wide on the home bend. Before that was a good second (1.75len), also over 2000m in the Ethereal, so is another who has miles in her legs.
AGAINST: Slightly awkward barrier, but should be able to get near the rail in a race this long. Place hope.
6. MIRAVALLE (6) $7 / $1.95.
FOR: Ran close to the run of the race when fourth in the Wakeful, flashing home at the end from 12th at the 400m. That suggests strong she’ll run out the 2500m. She also finished over the top of rivals here like Salto Angel and Succeed Indeed. Is a Sydney horse and they have had an edge over their southern rivals in recent spring carnivals. (One theory is they get a less harsh winter). Craig Williams in the saddle and Mark Newnham is a decent trainer.
AGAINST: Lining her up against the favourite, this filly was only sixth to Montefilia, beaten almost six lengths, in the Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick last month, on a good track, as it should be at Flemington on Thursday. She did at least make ground from 11th on the turn in that race. But can she make up that gap here over the extra 500m?
7. TYCHE GODDESS (3) $17 / $3.80.
FOR: Great jockey in Kerrin McEvoy and an in-form stable in Busuttin-Young, and a soft inside barrier. Tuned up OK with a third in the Wakeful, in her only start at Flemington to date. Sire is Teofilo, who’s son Twilight Payment stayed the trip to win Tuesday’s Big Cup.
AGAINST: Was weakening at the finish of the Wakeful, raising doubts about the extra distance. That was her first step up to 2000m, and while she’ll take a fitness benefit because of that that, others have more miles in their legs, in what is traditionally a race laced with doubt about who can go the furthest.
8. BIARCHI (1) $61 / $11.
FOR: Barrier one is handy, and she’s won her past two starts, both at 1800m and on good tracks. John Allen’s a solid jockey.
AGAINST: Those past two starts were at Murray Bridge – a maiden – and Morphettville, Adelaide, in a low-quality race. Starting her in this Group 1 is what in racing parlance is known as “a shot at the stumps”. Well, cricket-turned-racing parlance.
9. STAR OF EDEN (2) $26 / $4.80.
FOR: Has been placed in all three starts and tuned up well with a third over 2000m at Caulfield last start in the Ethereal, when she stuck on from third at the turn. Nice barrier and a gun jockey in Billy Egan, about the only jock in the land who rides with his sleeves pushed up, like he means business. Trainer Mike Moroney has a good record with stayers.
AGAINST: Has only had those three career starts leading into this so could be a bit raw to run out this trip in strong style.
10. ART GLASS (12) $126 / $21
FOR: Hmmm… Has William Pike in the saddle, and trainer Grahame Begg is the son of Neville Begg, who was a master of training fillies. A 100-1 pop won this race in Lasqueti Spirit four years ago, so there’s hope for the battler.
AGAINST: Just the way she’s been running really. Has had four runs this prep including a 13th, and two 11ths, one of them last start in the Ethereal. Before that she won a maiden at Geelong over 2265m, but that was on a heavy track. Needs it to bucket down, but it probably won’t.
11. VILANCULOS (7) $34 / $6.
FOR: Jamie Kah is the main thing. She could win on a lot of things these days. And trainer Danny O’Brien won this last year with Miami Bound. The filly’s been placed in the last three of her four starts, and tuned up well when third in the Geelong Classic, a lead-up to this, over 2200m. That’s further than most in this race have been. Winkers go on, which should ensure she settles nicely.
AGAINST: Has yet to show she can stick her nose out on the line, and hasn’t raced in town yet. A step up up in class, but not the worst. Each way.
12. HARD SQUEEZE (8) $81 / $15.
FOR: Is a last-start winner, and bolted in there by five lengths in fact, over 2124m. Is raced in the Sangster colours – started by the famous Robert Sangster, now carried on by his Australia-based son Adam – which have been carried to victory in some of the world’s biggest races.
AGAINST: That five length win was on the unhallowed turf of Echuca, and came in a highweight maiden, races generally put on for ordinary gallopers.
13. YATTON (4) $46 / $8.
FOR: Has Jye McNeil in the saddle, a very promising young jockey who is on the crest of a wave after expertly winning the Big Cup on Tuesday. Came fourth at only start at Flemington.
AGAINST: Was a poor 10th last start in the Ethereal. Would need to improve.
14. SWINDON LASS (11) $201 / $34.
FOR: Is in the field, and the oldest of sayings goes that you can’t win if you’re not in the field. If you’re keen, look to her fifth of 13, beaten 2len, two runs back over 1800m at Flemington.
AGAINST: Finished 12th last start in the Ethereal. Would need to lift a lot.
2. CAFÉ RIZU