Sheikh has two chances to end his long wait

Paul Hanagan rides the Oaks hopeful Taghrooda to win The Tweenhills Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket last month. Picture: Getty
Paul Hanagan rides the Oaks hopeful Taghrooda to win The Tweenhills Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket last month. Picture: Getty
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IT IS nearly five years since Awzaan gave owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum his last Group 1 win in Britain but he has two major chances in this afternoon’s Investec Oaks, with Taghrooda and Tarfasha both carrying his familiar blue and while silks at Epsom.

The John Gosden-trained Taghrooda shot to the head of the betting for the Classic after a dominant display in the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket on just her second start. Unfortunately for the daughter of Sea The Stars that form has been repeatedly let down, but she could hardly have won any easier.

Over in Ireland Dermot Weld’s Tarfasha claimed the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas, a race in which 2012 winner Was met with defeat before springing a surprise in the Oaks, but the team are praying the weather forecast is correct and the rain that is forecast hits Epsom after the race. The owner’s racing manager Angus Gold said: “We hope the forecast is correct for Tarfasha, she needs good ground but is going the right way. She’s a nice staying filly in the making.

“As for Taghrooda, everyone has crabbed the form and of course you’d love to see it work out but it doesn’t mean she’s not progressive. Sometimes the style (of victory) is more important. Whether she is good enough we will see, but she’s potentially a very nice mile-and-a-half filly.”

Weld said of Tarfasha: “She’s a lovely filly, she’s very balanced with a good action. Hopefully she can make it all the way to the top in time. I don’t think stamina will be a problem, or the track. She won easy in Galway as a two-year-old, she handled the hill and came round the bend well. She’s progressive.”

Gosden has never won the Oaks, but Taghrooda looks to present him with his best chance of doing so to date. “She is a very nice filly. People are quite correct to question the form (of her six-length win in the Pretty Polly). I think the second (Jordan Princess) is a decent filly but she didn’t handle the testing ground next time at Goodwood and the third filly is pretty moody and did not run great in a Newbury trial. You win by six lengths and it is not your fault if the others do not go on.

“I feel the step up in trip will help her. However, I think the Oaks is a race with great depth, whereas Australia showed form way ahead of anything else in the Guineas for the Derby. Taghrooda’s form ties in very nicely with the filly (Marsh Daisy) who won the Height of Fashion Stakes (at Goodwood).”

Challenging Taghrooda at the head of the betting is Aidan O’Brien’s Marvellous, relatively unconsidered until shooting clear to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh in heavy ground.

That performance suggested she would have no trouble with an extra half a mile, although despite being by Galileo, she is out of a Cherry Hinton winner. “There’s a lot of speed in Marvellous’ pedigree, but she’s by Galileo and they stay well,” said O’Brien.

Joseph O’Brien overlooked Marvellous at the Curragh but is back on board at Epsom. He said: “She won well in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, you’d imagine she’d get a mile and a half.”

Ralph Beckett saddled a famous one-two 12 months ago when Talent led home stablemate Secret Gesture, and is double-handed again after supplementing Lingfield Trial winner Honor Bound. David Simcock also has two runners in Madame Chiang, winner of the Musidora Stakes at York, and Momentus, who was third at Lingfield.

Simcock took Madame Chiang to Epsom for the Breakfast with the Stars morning and was happy with how she handled the track under William Buick. “William said that coming down the hill she switched on to the right leg straight away and it is very pleasing. It was only a routine canter but all worked out very well,” said Simcock. “That was the first time William had sat on her. Kieren (Fallon) would have ridden her but he is on Ihtimal.”

Another supplemented filly is Hughie Morrison’s Marsh Daisy, impressive at Goodwood in the Height of Fashion. “Everything has gone well with Marsh Daisy. It’s a big decision to supplement but in reality if a horse has won a trial and is in good form, you take your chance,” said Morrison.

Fallon replaces Silvestre de Sousa on the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Ihtimal, who was a fine third behind Miss France in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Bin Suroor said: “She won the Oaks and UAE Guineas in Dubai, she’s tough. Since she came back to England she’s done really well physically and improved.”

Ed Dunlop has had a low-key start to the season with several horses under the weather but he has been happy with Amazing Maria, who showed plenty of promise last season. Dunlop excels with fillies, so the fact she is making her seasonal debut in this is noteworthy.

David O’Meara’s stable stalwart Penitent is out to go one better than last year in the Investec Diomed Stakes. The eight-year-old sprang a 33-1 surprise at Haydock last weekend and steps back up in trip for this extended mile contest.