Rab Havlin believes Mehdaayih, the favourite for the Investec Oaks at Epsom on Friday 31st May, can provide him with a cherished first Group One win.
The 45-year-old jockey has been an integral part of champion trainer John Gosden’s team for almost two decades and his haul of more than 900 winners in Britain includes many big races, but success at the highest level has eluded him.
Friday’s £523,750 feature, the third British Classic of the season and the second race in the Fillies & Mares category of the 2019 QIPCO British Champions Series, provides him with an opportunity to put that right with Gosden, seeking a third triumph in the race after the victories of Taghrooda (2014) and Enable (2017), saddling two leading candidates in Mehdaayih and Anapurna.
Havlin has ridden Mehdaayih, the Investec Oaks favourite, in her past four races, including when she was an emphatic winner of the Cheshire Oaks winner on her latest start. She was supplemented for £30,000 on Monday.
Frankie Dettori, who has never ridden Mehdaayih in a race, will ride Gosden’s other runner, Anapurna, who was no less impressive under him when beating Tauteke by six lengths in the Lingfield Oaks Trial a few days later.
Both are daughters of the mighty Frankel, who ended his racing career in 2012 unbeaten in 14 starts.
Havlin said: “I’m glad it wasn’t me having to choose between them. Both have live chances.
“They are two improving fillies and you never know which one is progressing the quickest. The pair of them won their trials very well.
“Mehdaayih probably beat better fillies at Chester but Anapurna won in a time which was only half a second slower than Anthony Van Dyck in the colts’ trial on the same card, so it was a good performance by her as well. She’s done nothing wrong.”
Havlin was particularly taken by the manner of Mehdaayih’s Chester triumph this month: “I wasn’t surprised to win but I was surprised by how well she quickened up,” he said. “You wouldn’t think stamina will be a problem the way she finished off her race on easy ground that day.
“She wears a hood in the paddock and can get on her toes but once she’s under way she’s very straightforward. Like Anapurna, she wants to get on with things. The pair of them are nimble, light-framed fillies and I don’t expect Epsom will give either of them any issues.
He added: “I’ve ridden Anapurna loads of times at home. She’s probably the least exposed out of the two, having had only three runs.
“She was still very green last time. I followed her on another filly off ours [Elisheba], just to the outside, and she was running in snatches, so she will have sharpened up a lot for that run. There could be any amount of improvement in her.
“It’s exciting for Frankel, as a sire, to have two fillies of that calibre running in the Oaks.”
On the prospect of riding a first Group 1 winner, he said: “It would be something I’d love to achieve but, whatever happens, I’ve had a great career and I’m not finished yet. I’m enjoying it more than ever and I’ll keep going as long as I’m fit and healthy.”
Ralph Beckett, like Gosden, is a two-time Oaks-winning trainer, having won with Look Here (2008) and Talent (2013). This year he is represented by Manuela De Vega, who won both her starts as a juvenile and finished a four-and-a-half length runner-up to Mehdaayih at Chester when carrying a 3lb penalty and thought to be short of her peak.
She has be ridden in each of her races by Harry Bentley, whose best previous placing in a Classic was when runner-up on Lightning Thunder in the 2014 QIPCO 1000 Guineas.
Bentley said: “I think she ticks a lot of boxes. She’s run three times and been beaten by only one horse, the Oaks favourite, and she has every right to run a big race.
“Mehdaayih was undeniably impressive but she got a clear run around the outside, whereas not everything went my way. They didn’t go that fast and I had to wait a couple of strides longer than I’d liked to have done on the home turn, plus we were giving a couple of pounds and it was very much a prep run.
“She ran on nicely and galloped through the line well. She should have come on for that and there’s every reason to be optimistic.”
The jockey, enjoying the best month of his career in terms of winners (he has ridden 14), added: “I’ve sat on her a couple of times since. She’s never a filly who would blow you away in her homework as she saves her best for the track. Mentally, she’s very good and she’s well balanced. Epsom can be tough for horse and jockey but nothing has thrown her out yet.”
Aidan O’Brien’s haul of 34 British Classic triumphs includes seven victories in the Investec Oaks and his team this time is spearheaded by Pink Dogwood, a half-sister to last year’s Irish Derby winner Latrobe who landed the Salsabil Stakes at Navan on her reappearance in late April.
O’Brien, seeking to make it 3–3 in this year’s year’s British Classics after the victories of Hermosa (QIPCO 1,000 Guineas) and Magna Grecia (QIPCO 2,000 Guineas), is also represented by Fleeting, winner of the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster in September, plus Delphinia and Peach Tree.
His Irish counterpart, Dermot Weld, won the 1981 Oaks with the Lester Piggott-ridden Blue Wind and has had only five subsequent runners in the race, his latest runner Tarfasha finishing second in 2014.
This time he is represented by Tarnawa, winner of the Group 3 race that named in honour of Blue Wind at Naas on her latest start. She is owned by the Aga Khan, whose Aliysa was first past the post in the 1989 Oaks only to be later disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance.
William Haggas has two candidates in Maqsad and Frankellina. The former has won twice at Newmarket this year, scooping the Pretty Polly Stakes by five lengths in taking style on her most recent start, while Frankellina, another filly sired by Frankel, caught the eye on her return when beaten a neck by Nausha in the Musidora Stakes at York after a sluggish start, when Blue Gardenia was fifth.
The Amanda Perrett-trained Lavender’s Blue, bred and owned by Benny Andersson, of ABBA fame, takes her chance after finishing runner-up in the Fillies’ Trial Stakes at Newbury. Sh Boom, sixth in that Listed race, also lines up.
The final field of 14 is the biggest since Taghrooda defeated 16 rivals in 2014.