The leading contenders for the 2003 Vodafone Oaks remain in the June 6 classic after the final forfeit stage. Included among the 3-year-old fillies in contention for the group I race at Britain's Epsom Downs is William S. Farish's Casual Look.Godolphin Racing looks to have a particularly strong hand in the £375,000 race over 12 furlongs and the Maktoum family's operation will be aiming for a fourth Oaks success following on from Balanchine (1994), Moonshell (1995) and Kazzia (2002). This year the main Godolphin hope is Hi Dubai, who was second in the group I Prix Saint-Alary at Longchamp on Sunday and earlier this season won the listed R L Davison Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket. She could be joined by stable companions Mezzo Soprano, runner-up in the listed Caffreys Lupe Stakes at Goodwood, Gonfilia and Lady Catherine, second in the Italian Oaks on Sunday.
Aidan O'Brien has two Vodafone Oaks victories to his name -- Shahtoush (1998) and Imagine (2001) -- and the Irish handler has a couple of entries still engaged. His main hope is Yesterday, a full-sister to last year's runner-up Quarter Moon, who is currently disputing favoritism with Hi Dubai. Yesterday was a listed winner last season and ran a good trial for Epsom when eighth in the Sagitta 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last time out. O'Brien's other hope is L'Ancresse, runner-up in the Irish One Thousand Guineas Trial at Leopardstown before finishing 15th in the Sagitta One Thousand Guineas.
There is one further Irish filly going forward, Snippets, who came third in the listed Cheshire Oaks last time. She is trained by Jim Bolger, who sent out Jet Ski Lady to a shocking Vodafone Oaks victory at 50-1 odds in 1991.
Several other of these fillies met in the Sagitta One Thousand Guineas at Newmarket on May 4. In that mile classic, Hanami ran a fine Vodafone Oaks trial for trainer James Toller by finishing well to take fifth while Casual Look was sixth, also staying on. Other Newmarket runs still engaged in the Vodafone Oaks are Summitville (seventh), Yesterday (eighth), Gonfilia (12th), Mezzo Soprano (14th) and L'Ancresse (15th).
Sir Michael Stoute has enjoyed Vodafone Oaks success with Fair Salinia (1978) and Unite (1987) and the Newmarket trainer looks keen to add to his tally again this year with three fillies still engaged. They are the Cheshire Oaks second Halawanda, the listed Swettenham Stud Fillies' Trial Stakes runner-up Waldmark and Spanish Sun, winner of her only start to date at Kempton Park last season.
The Vodafone Oaks is one of few races to have eluded owner Robert Sangster and he could be represented this year by Ocean Silk, who impressed when taking the listed Caffreys Lupe Stakes at Goodwood. Her trainer John Gosden could also be represented by High Praise, victorious in the group III Prix des Reservois at Deauville last season.
Heading the remaining entries is Geminiani. Unbeaten on her two starts last season, including in listed company at Goodwood, where Inchberry was second, she put up a pleasing seasonal debut when second in the group III Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York on May 13.
Ed Dunlop's Moonsprite won on her seasonal reappearance in a Beverley maiden, while the potential field is completed by the outsiders Heart 'N Minds, Magnificent Bell and Thingmebob.
"The Vodafone Oaks is the richest race of its kind in Europe," said Stephen Wallis, managing director at Epsom Downs Racecourse. "It is a classic race in its own right and has the added attraction this year of being part of the new BHB Summer Triple Crown."The Vodafone Oaks' next confirmation stage is at the five-day stage on May 31 when there is also a £20,000 supplementary entry stage at which Hammiya is set to be added to the field.The Vodafone Derby, Vodafone Oaks and Vodafone Coronation Cup form part of the first leg of the British Horseracing Board's new Summer Triple Crown and Grand Slam Series which offers a bonus of £5 million.NOMINEES FOR THE 2003 VODAFONE OAKS (after the final forfeit stage; supplemental nominations close May 31)Group I, Epsom Downs, Friday, June 6, 2003, 1 1/2 miles and about ten yards, £375,000, 3-year-old fillies:
Horse, Owner, Trainer
CASUAL LOOK, William Farish III, Andrew Balding
GEMINIANI, Bunny & Nick Roberts, Barry Hills
GONFILIA, Godolphin, Saeed bin Suroor
HALAWANDA, H H Aga Khan, Sir Michael Stoute
HANAMI, G B Partnership, James Toller
HEARTS 'N MINDS, Annie Cyzer, Charles Cyzer
HI DUBAI, Godolphin, Saeed bin Suroor
HIGH PRAISE, Khalid Abdullah, John Gosden
INCHBERRY, Woodcote Stud Ltd, Gerard Butler
L'ANCRESSE, Michael Tabor & Sue Magnier, Aidan O'Brien
LADY CATHERINE, Godolphin, Saeed bin Suroor
MAGNIFICENT BELL, East Wind Racing Ltd, Mikael Magnusson
MEZZO SOPRANO, Godolphin, Saeed bin Suroor
MOONSPRITE, Maktoum Al Maktoum, Ed Dunlop
OCEAN SILK, Robert Sangster, John Gosden
SNIPPETS, Mrs Johny Weld, Jim Bolger
SPANISH SUN, Khalid Abdullah, Sir Michael Stoute
SUMMITVILLE, Mountain High Partnership, James Given
THINGMEBOB, Angie Tompkins, Mark Tompkins
WALDMARK, Newsells Park Stud, Sir Michael Stoute
YESTERDAY, Sue Magnier & Roisin Henry, Aidan O'Brien