Royal Ascot usually takes place after The Derby and The Oaks at Epsom Downs but not this year, so Frankly Darling advertised her Classic claims with an impressive Group 2 win in the 1m 4f Ribblesdale Stakes.
Jockey Frankie Dettori, trainer John Gosden and owner Anthony Oppenheimer teamed up with Star Catcher to win this 12 months ago. Frankly Darling raced keenly early on, but settled and tracked the leader.
Dettori shook her up and she led two out before staying on strongly for a 1 3/4 lengths victory over the staying on Ennistymon for Aidan O’Brien.
Frankly Darling justified favourite’s odds of 11/8 here and bookmakers slashed her from double figure prices for The Oaks into 4/1.
O’Brien also had Passion beaten a further 2 1/2 lengths in third on a day when his Classic hopefuls did not deliver.
Ballydoyle still have 1000 Guineas heroine Love for The Oaks, however, but Frankly Darling emerges as the main market challenger.
Pyledriver causes King Edward shock
O’Brien raider Mogul was sent off odds-on for the other Classic trial, the 1m 4f King Edward VII Stakes. He cold only finish fourth, however, as Williiam Muir’s Pylderiver landed odds of 18/1.
The outsider travelled strongly throughout, improving into midfield three out. Martin Dwyer nudged him into the lead approaching the two furlong marker and he ran on well.
Pyledriver scored by two lengths from Ballydoyle’s second string Arthur’s Kingdom. He remains at double figure prices for The Derby, however.
This Royal Ascot upset was one for the underdog. Pyledriver may not be from a fashionable stable, but has clearly made progress on his juvenile form.
At a standout 25/1 with William Hill for The Derby, that price arguably does not reflect his improvement. Mogul’s odds of Classic glory have gone out with bookmakers to 16/1 in places, but he could come on for this run.
English King from the Ed Walker stable and 2000 Guineas scorer Kameko remain at the head of the Epsom Derby betting.
Analysis: Frankly Darling caught the eye
Jamie Clark, Horsebetting.com Editor
Star Catcher did the Ribblesdale and Irish Oaks double for the same connections last year, so Frankly Darling commands respect. The Epsom Oaks has been dominated in recent years by Gosden and O’Brien.
It is hard to see that duopoly being broken up on known form right now. Ballydoyle and Gosden’s Newmarket yard are powerful.
After tipping Pyledriver each-way, meanwhile, it was gratifying to see him sock it to the Irish raiders. Lambourn trainer Muir has a modest stable and if this horse was trained by anyone else, the odds for Derby glory would be shorter.
It is strange to think of Royal Ascot having Classic trials, but such is the situation in this unique season. Both Frankly Darling and Pyledriver could go on to bigger and better things.
More is expected of the former than the latter. Gosden saddled Star Catcher to subsequent victories in the Prix Vermeille and the fillies’ Group 1 on British Champions Day.
Pyledriver has won my heart and I hope many other fans with his underdog success. Horse racing gambling is all about defying the odds, and bookies still don’t fully respect him.