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Snowfall the one to beat in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks

17 Aug 2021

Seven declared for Thursday's feature, including Champions Day winner Wonderful Tonight

Aidan O'Brien's Snowfall

Dual Oaks winner Snowfall looks set to take a deal of beating in Thursday’s Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks, the latest leg of the Fillies & Mares category of this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series, but the opposition has not been frightened away and a field of seven has been declared, including two stable-mates.

Twelve months ago Aidan O’Brien’s QIPCO 1000 Guineas and Investec Oaks winner Love started a red-hot favourite and made short work of five rivals. His fifth winner of the race, Love was, and is, an exceptional talent, yet it’s not unrealistic to suggest that Snowfall might be even better, so impressive has she been this summer in the Cazoo Oaks and the Darley Irish Oaks.

O’Brien, who also runs the Irish Oaks second Divinely and sixth La Joconde (a pacemaker that day), has pointed to Snowfall’s perfect blend of speed and stamina, not to mention class. She is versatile too, as her extraordinary 16-length romp at Epsom came on rain-softened ground while another wide-margin win at The Curragh – the widest in more than 100 years – came on a scorching hot afternoon.

Snowfall will line up with an even more impressive profile than O’Brien’s first Yorkshire Oaks winner Alexandrova (2006), who won the two Classics by an aggregate of ten lengths. She looks to have it all, but there are few certainties in horse racing.

Last year’s QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes winner Wonderful Tonight is undoubtedly a worthy opponent, while the two principals from Royal Ascot’s Ribblesdale Stakes, Loving Dream and Eshaada, are both unexposed improvers.

Eshaada had to make her challenge widest of all and was arguably a shade unfortunate when meeting her first defeat in the Ribblesdale, and trainer Roger Varian is hopeful she will take another step forward.

He said: “Eshaada is still very lightly raced and looks a high calibre filly. I thought we were a touch unlucky when she was beaten at Royal Ascot. Take nothing away from the winner, who won nicely, but we were done no favours by a wide draw and we covered a lot of ground that day.

“We’d thought the Ribblesdale was the race for her and it nearly was. We hadn’t put her in the Oaks as we weren’t sure Epsom would be her sort of track and when it closed she had only won a Nottingham maiden.”

Eshaada clearly stays very well, even though her sire Muhaarar, winner of the Gimcrack at York in 2014, was a sprinter through and through, winning the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes in 2015.

Varian said: “There are no rules, and some of Muhaarar’s are staying very well. Eshaada is big and rangy, and she’s got middle-distances written all over her. She’s a scopey filly who should still have improvement in her.”

David Menuisier is aiming Wonderful Tonight at the Qatar Prix de l’Arc De Triomphe and will have surprised some by declaring here rather than waiting for an alternative Deauville Group 1 at the weekend.

He explained: “I’ve been at Deauville for the last few days and it’s been very hot, so I would much prefer to run her at York, where the ground is good, with the possibility of a shower to hopefully maintain it. William (Buick) will ride again, and Olivier (Peslier) can still get some experience on her for the Arc when we plan to run her again at Longchamp next month in the Vermeille or the Foy.

“I feel she will be better off running twice before the Arc, as she’s so generous that she needs the lid kept on her, and I’d rather race her to keep her under control than burn her out galloping her at home. If all of a sudden we end up on good to firm we may not run, but it doesn’t look like changing dramatically before Thursday.”

He added: “I don’t mind how strong the opposition is. Wonderful Tonight will run her race and if she’s good enough to beat them on good ground then she wins, and if she’s not good enough she gets beaten.”

Owner-breeder Kirsten Rausing had two options, with last year’s runner-up Alpinista, a Group 1 winner for Sir Mark Prescott at the Hoppegarten recently, and the Ralph Beckett-trained Listed winner Albaflora, most recently just a modest third behind Wonderful Tonight in a Group 2 at Goodwood. She has chosen to run Albaflora, another Muhaarar filly, for whom any Group 1 black type would be invaluable.