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Article 31st May 2024 Epsom Downs

Friday 31st May

The Group One Betfred Oaks went to Ireland for the 16th time in 2024 with Ezeliya taking the honours. It was a second success in the mile and a half fillies’ Classic for trainer Dermot Weld – 43 years after Lester Piggott partnered Blue Wind to victory in the 1981 renewal.

The winner, a daughter of Dubawi, was handing her owner-breeder HH The Aga Khan IV his first Oaks success (Aliysa was first past the post in 1989 but subsequently disqualified) while his grandfather owned two winners of the contest in Udaipur (1932) and Masaka (1948).

It was a first UK Classic success for jockey Chris Hayes. Weld saddled Harzard to win the 2016 Derby for HH The Aga Khan IV with the late Pat Smullen in the saddle.

Ezeliya got the better the better of a sustained duel with Dance Sequence (7-1) in the final quarter mile to win decisively by three lengths with 50-1 chance War Chimes (50-1) running the race of her life to take third, a further length and a half adrift. The 11-8 Favourite Ylang Ylang was never seriously in contention and finished sixth of the 12 runners.

Dermot Weld said: "Chris gave her a beautiful ride. That was the plan, to ride her the same as he rode her at Navan, where he dropped her out last. She loves to come from off the pace.

“She's a very genuine, brave filly, and her dam was a very good racemare I trained. She was a good Group filly who went to the Breeders' Cup and Hong Kong, but this filly probably has a bit more speed and a bit more class.

“This is a progressive filly. I was pretty sure she'd stay, and she also has pace. She's from a great staying family of the Aga Khan's - the family of the Queen's Gold Cup winner Estimate, who is a close relative - so that was why I was confident she'd stay.

“She got a beautiful ride from Chris Hayes and she had the race won a long way out. She was cantering, and she got a lovely run down the hill. Chris got her balanced and into a rhythm before he let her go.

“It’s a few years since I won the Oaks before but I haven't had many runners and I had Tarfasha finish second to Taghrooda a few years ago (2014). It's been a lucky place for me as I won the Derby too with Harzand and I rode and trained an amateurs' Derby winner too.

“When Harzand won the Derby a few years ago it wasn't as enjoyable as we had a few problems with the horse, but this was very enjoyable today.

“We'll see how she comes out of the race. She's not a big filly, and Classics always take something out of a horse, wo we'll review it. She is in the Irish Oaks, but we'll decide whether we give her time off for an autumn campaign which may involve the Arc.”

Winning jockey Chris Hayes said: “She was the first horse loaded into the stalls; jumped, relaxed, I didn’t want to go lighting her up going up the hill. I was trapped out further than ideal, but it was a fresh strip and I was getting a lovely bit of cover off Hector [Crouch]. It was like a piece of work. I angled out sooner than I wanted to, but I could feel Tom coming down my inside and I wanted rhythm, which she had, and I wanted to keep that rhythm.

“She moved forward quicker than I thought she was going to. I never had a moment’s doubt, once I was approaching the furlong pole, I knew nothing was going to be able to come as quickly as she was going to finish. It took me right to the end to pull her up - it’s probably because I was celebrating as well, but I had a good bit of petrol left. It was brilliant.

“I had a nightmare here a couple of years ago on Madhmoon (the 2019 Derby second); I thought I had the race won and Seamie Heffernan came down my inside.  It’s not a Derby, but it’s as good as I’m going to get! It’s unbelievable to be getting to ride for these connections, and the faith they put in me, not only today but every day - it feels like I am finally getting on proper horses, and I hope I am able to do them justice.

“I actually said if she wins, I’ll be real cool, calm and collected like a Mick Kinane, but this is unique and it was just a surge of adrenaline in the last 50 yards - I had to do something.”

Charlie Appleby, trainer of the runner-up Dance Sequence, said: “She did find the track tricky, yes - I think William was just glad to get her across the line in the end. He said we were probably outstayed, realistically, but he had to make his move when he did - the race was coming back to him and she was going forward, and I totally agree with him on all aspects there. Very pleasing run, and we’ll have some fun with her in teh summer, and more in the autumn when we know she appreciates cut in the ground.

“I think 10 furlongs might be her trip at the moment, although a mile and a half on a more sensible track might suit her as well. They've gone a sensible gallop out and she’s been ridden to come home and she has come home, but 10 might be her ideal trip.”

David Menusier, trainer of the third War Chimes said: “It was like winning. She's an unbelievable filly. The last time she ran in France there was no pace, she was pulling too hard and she had no cover, and she couldn't relax. I just draw a line through that and I always felt that she'd be better at a mile and four.

“We always felt that she could do it. The (earlier) form in France is rock solid. I entered her in the Italian Oaks next week in case the ground was too quick here, and she's better right-handed than left-handed. She will be better right-handed, and if we hadn't had the rain we'd have gone for to Italy next week and then waited for the Irish Oaks to go right-handed. She did lose a fair few lengths by not quite handling the track.

“I've got a fantastic team of three-year-olds and I might have to retire at the end of the year as I'm not sure I'll ever have a better one.”

Ralph Beckett, trainer of You Got To Me (4th), Forest Fairy (7th), Treasure (11th) and Seaward (12th), said: “You Got To Me I think ran really well, certainly to par, and I was delighted with her effort. She just perhaps lacked the toe to finish it off. Forest Fairy just never really got to grips with it today.

“She was good in the prelims, but she didn't really grasp the nettle through the race. The race was gone by the time she got out, but she's run okay. Treasure didn't handle the track James (Doyle) felt. She was in the right place but has obviously run below par. Seaward probably found the ground too soft.”

Ryan Moore, rider of Ylang Ylang (11-8 Favourite, 6th): “I don’t think she handled the track particularly well. We were following the winner and the second, and she just didn’t ping into the straight in the way I would have expected her to.

“Maybe she had a hard race in the Guineas and maybe it’s come a bit too soon. She’ll be better than today. She didn’t finish off today, but I struggled before that.”


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