The Ralph Beckett-trained Talent followed in the footsteps of the great Ouija Board when leading home her stable-mate Secret Gesture to land the Investec Oaks following victory in the Pretty Polly Stakes. Her three and three-quarter length victory at Epsom saw her become the first Classic winner for owner-breeders Mark Dixon and James Rowsell of Ashbrittle Stud.
Born and raised at Rowsell’s Somerset farm, Talent also became the second Classic winner from the first crop of New Approach, himself the winner of the Derby in 2008 and sire of this year’s Derby favourite, Dawn Approach. The Epsom connection continues further as Talent’s dam Prowess, grandam Yawl and great grandam Bireme have all run in the Oaks, with the Dick Hollingsworth homebred Bireme winning the race in 1980.
Hollingsworth’s nephew Mark Dixon inherited Arches Hall Stud in Hertfordshire on the death of the owner/breeder in 2001 and he subsequently sold a part-share in Prowess to Rowsell.
“This is very poignant for me,” said Dixon, who described Talent’s Oaks win as “the best day of my racing life”.
He added: “Bireme was a lovely filly but she didn’t do much as a broodmare. I did have a feeling about this today. I don’t know anything about horses really, I’m only in it to try to keep this family going and this won’t harm it one bit.”
Prowess is certainly playing her part in this aim. Her first foal Skilful earned black type with a second-place finish in the Listed Royal Windsor Stakes, while her second foal Talent is now the winner of one of the world’s most famous races. Waiting in the wings is a two-year-old filly by Invincible Spirit, named Much Promise, in training with John Gosden, while Talent’s full-sister is being prepared for Tattersalls’ October Yearling Sale. Prowess currently has a colt foal by Fastnet Rock at foot.
Rowsell, who set up Ashbrittle Stud in 2003, said: “I noticed she was pulling for her head early and it seemed quite a rough race, but then Hughesie [Richard Hughes] got her balanced and she just went. For a moment I thought we might get third and then suddenly she was winning. It’s quite amazing, unreal.”
For trainer Ralph Beckett, who was celebrating training the first two home in the fillies’ Classic, it was a second Oaks victory following the success of Julian Richmond-Watson’s Look Here in 2008.
He said: “I looked at her when they were at the top of the hill and thought she couldn’t win from there. I stopped watching her, and was just willing Jim [Crowley, rider of runner-up Secret Gesture] to get out from his position on the rail because he was going to have horses coming back on top of him.
“One thing I would say is I genuinely feel sorry for Jim. He had the choice of rides, but how could he have picked the winner? He couldn’t pick her on homework. Richard came and sat on [Talent] on Friday when she worked on the grass and I knew from his face when he pulled up that he was thinking, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t going to happen’.
“But Richard got the breaks today and that might have made the difference. Jim had to spend a lot of time trying to manoeuvre his filly out rather than getting her into a rhythm – he was forced to do that from his draw in box one.
“I couldn’t say what this means. To do it for the second time in five years is very special.”