There was as much drama before the Oaks on Friday as there was during the race itself and 15 minutes of pure theatre amid thunder, lightning and torrential rain ended with Frankie Dettori, drenched but grinning broadly, being led arms aloft into the winner’s enclosure aboard Enable, a 6-1 starter, to celebrate his 17th success in an English Classic.
The spectacle began at 4.15, a quarter of an hour before the off-time for the Oaks, as a flash of lightning drew gasps from the grandstand and moments later the downpour began. Then, perhaps spooked by the storm, the American challenger Daddys Lil Darling bolted on the way to the start.
As she careered towards the starting stalls on the far side of the course, Olivier Peslier, her jockey, was forced to slip his right foot out of the irons and bale out on her left flank at high speed. Both the jockey, who rolled for several yards, and Daddys Lil Darling emerged unscathed but her long trip from the US proved wasted as she was immediately scratched from the race.
The storm continued as the race got underway, with Donnacha O’Brien setting a strong pace on Pocketfullofdreams as the field kicked through puddles on the run down the hill towards Tattenham Corner. Ryan Moore, on the hot favourite Rhododendron, and Dettori, on Enable, were both well positioned to strike, as was Sobetsu in Godolphin blue.
Dettori kicked into the lead approaching the two-furlong pole. Rhododendron soon emerged from the pack to challenge and Moore’s filly briefly seemed to have more left to give than Dettori’s. But when she drew alongside, Enable resisted and stayed on strongly to draw clear. Rhododendron was five lengths adrift at the line, with Alluringly, the runner-up behind Enable in last month’s Cheshire Oaks, back in third.
“Halfway through the race it started raining heavily and the vision wasn’t great,” Dettori said. “I thought I had the first two covered but Ryan came to me very quickly. I looked at his reins and they were pretty tight and I thought, ‘He’s got the better of me.’
“As we passed the two-pole I got him off the bridle. I thought, ‘I’m definitely going to get to the line and he’s not going to’ and she pulled away in the last furlong. I daren’t take my hands off the reins to celebrate until after the line. I just had to get the job done and celebrate after.
“It wasn’t nice, horses get scared and, when you get rain so quickly, visibility is very bad and the reins start slipping. You try to be extra cautious and give yourself an extra yard to manoeuvre and luckily everything went smoothly.”
This was Dettori’s fourth success in the Oaks, 23 years after the first with Balanchine in 1994, while John Gosden, Enable’s trainer, has now won the race twice in four years.
“They were two magnificent fillies and they fought all the way down the straight,” Gosden said. “I thought we were in trouble, then suddenly I saw this filly come through.”
O’Brien’s horses had an interrupted journey to Epsom after the plane that was due to fly them to England was found to be missing a fuel cap, causing fuel to spill out over its wing.
“She’s run a very good race,” O’Brien said. “Obviously the shower meant that it was a little slower but he [Moore] didn’t use that as an excuse. He just felt the last furlong was long for our filly, whether the trip was far enough for her or she’d had a very busy day.”
O’Brien’s Highland Reel is a veteran traveller and showed no ill-effects from his delayed journey to the track, taking the Coronation Cup earlier on the card to record his fifth success at the highest level across three continents.
“They obviously went through a lot today and were here just before the race,” O’Brien said. “Highland Reel is an amazing horse. Tactically he has speed and he stays. He could run in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot if he needs it and maybe then on to the King George.
“He’s never showed any softness in his life. He’s been travelling since 4am this morning and he’s only been here an hour. And he hasn’t run since Dubai [on 25 March] which was a good while ago.”
O’Brien is now the most successful trainer in the 115-year history of the Coronation Cup with eight victories, including five in the last eight years.