Epsom Derby Festival 2024: Ezeliya storms to victory in the Betfred Oaks

Ezeliya, ridden by Chris Hayes, on the way to winning the Betfred Oaks on day one of the Betfred Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse on Friday, May 31 2024
-Credit: (Image: Mike Egerton/PA)


Ezeliya (13-2 stormed to victory to give trainer Dermot Weld a second win in the Betfred Oaks – but a first in 43 years – at Epsom on Friday afternoon.

The daughter of Dubawi, under Chris Hayes, ran out a fine winner of the Fillies' Classic, scoring by three lengths from Dance Sequence (7-1) with War Chimes (50-1) a further length-and-a-quarter back in third. Warm favourite Ylang Ylang, sent off at a well-backed 11-8, was never a factor after being in rear for much of the race under Ryan Moore. Aidan O'Brien's filly tried to come into contention but she couldn't get near the principals. The race was all about the very smart winner Ezaliya, who was scoring for a third time in four starts having hinted at her ability when taking the Group Three Salsabil Stakes last month.

The Aga Khan-owned filly was in the middle of the pack for much of the 1m4f contest, sat off the pace set by 40-1 outsider Making Dreams. But coming to the final two furlongs, Ezeliya made her move down the outside as the eventual runner-up, the Charlie Appleby-trained Dance Sequence – under Liverpool FC fan and jockey William Buick, made her's on the inside. But on her first crack at Group One company it was Ezeliya who put master trainer Weld, who has had so many victories at the top level all around the world, back in the winner's enclosure at Epsom with a superb three-length success. Weld won his first Oaks with Blue Wind, ridden by Lester Piggott, in 1981 but the Irish handler brought up a 25th British and Irish Classic success with Ezeliya in the famous green colours of the Aga Khan.

Weld said: "It's a very special day. Competition is very keen nowadays and we're very fortunate to have a filly for His Highness that is as good as this. She's a beautifully-mannered animal and a beautiful filly to train. Patience has paid dividend with her; we took our time with her as a two-year-old, and just gave her one run this year when she won nicely at Navan. She loves to come from off the pace, this is a progressive filly. She's very relaxed and got a beautiful ride from Chris Hayes. She was cantering down the hill then he gave her a couple of strides and let her go. We will look at the Irish Oaks or wait for an autumn campaign."

He added: "She's a good filly, her dam was a very good filly, Frankie Dettori rode her at the Breeders' Cup and then she ran in Hong Kong where she was third in the Vase. I was always pretty sure she'd stay, she's from a great staying Aga Khan family that goes back to the Gold Cup horses Enzeli and Estimate, so that's why I was confident about the trip. She's also a very relaxed filly and it was a beautiful ride by Chris, I was pretty confident from a long way out, she was cantering, he got her into a beautiful rhythm which is important before you let them go, and he sat for those couple of strides. It's a few years since I first won the Oaks, but I haven't had many runners. It's hard to get fillies like this. Harzand won the Derby here and I rode the winner of the amateur Derby here, and trained it! She looks like an Irish Oaks filly, but we'll see how she is."

Chris Hayes celebrates after riding Ezeliya to victory in the Betfred Oaks on day one of the Betfred Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse on Friday, May 31 2024
Chris Hayes celebrates after riding Ezeliya to victory in the Betfred Oaks on day one of the Betfred Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse on Friday, May 31 2024 -Credit:Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Winning jockey Chris Hayes said: “She was the first horse loaded into the stalls; jumped, relaxed, I didn’t want to go lighting her up going up the hill. I was trapped out further than ideal, but it was a fresh strip and I was getting a lovely bit of cover off Hector (Crouch). It was like a piece of work. I angled out sooner than I wanted to, but I could feel Tom coming down my inside and I wanted rhythm, which she had, and I wanted to keep that rhythm. She moved forward quicker than I thought she was going to. I never had a moment’s doubt, once I was approaching the furlong pole, I knew nothing was going to be able to come as quickly as she was going to finish. It took me right to the end to pull her up – it’s probably because I was celebrating as well, but I had a good bit of petrol left. It was brilliant. I had a nightmare here a couple of years ago on Madhmoon (the 2019 Derby second); I thought I had the race won and Seamie Heffernan came down my inside. It’s not a Derby, but it’s as good as I’m going to get! It’s unbelievable to be getting to ride for these connections, and the faith they put in me, not only today but every day – it feels like I am finally getting on proper horses, and I hope I am able to do them justice. I actually said if she wins, I’ll be real cool, calm and collected like a Mick Kinane, but this is unique and it was just a surge of adrenaline in the last 50 yards – I had to do something.”

On runner-up Dance Sequence, trainer Appleby said: “She did find the track tricky, yes – I think William (Buick) was just glad to get her across the line in the end. He said we were probably outstayed, realistically, but he had to make his move when he did – the race was coming back to him and she was going forward, and I totally agree with him on all aspects there. Very pleasing run, and we’ll have some fun with her in the summer, and more in the autumn when we know she appreciates cut in the ground. I think 10 furlongs might be her trip at the moment, although a mile and a half on a more sensible track might suit her as well. They've gone a sensible gallop out and she’s been ridden to come home and she has come home, but 10 might be her ideal trip.”

David Menusier, trainer of the third War Chimes, added: “It was like winning. She's an unbelievable filly. The last time she ran in France there was no pace, she was pulling too hard and she had no cover, and she couldn't relax. I just draw a line through that and I always felt that she'd be better at a mile and four. We always felt that she could do it. The (earlier) form in France is rock solid. I entered her in the Italian Oaks next week in case the ground was too quick here, and she's better right-handed than left-handed. She will be better right-handed, and if we hadn't had the rain we'd have gone for to Italy next week and then waited for the Irish Oaks to go right-handed. She did lose a fair few lengths by not quite handling the track. I've got a fantastic team of three-year-olds and I might have to retire at the end of the year as I'm not sure I'll ever have a better one.”

Trainer Ralph Beckett has four horses in the race with You Got To Me finishing fourth, Forest Fairy seventh, Treasure – who is owned by King Charles III and Queen Camilla – 11th and Seaward 12th. He said: “You Got To Me I think ran really well, certainly to par, and I was delighted with her effort. She just perhaps lacked the toe to finish it off. Forest Fairy just never really got to grips with it today. She was good in the prelims, but she didn't really grasp the nettle through the race. The race was gone by the time she got out, but she's run okay. Treasure didn't handle the track James (Doyle) felt. She was in the right place but has obviously run below par. Seaward probably found the ground too soft.”

Ryan Moore, who rode favourite Ylang Ylang, said: “I don’t think she handled the track particularly well. We were following the winner and the second, and she just didn’t ping into the straight in the way I would have expected her to. “Maybe she had a hard race in the Guineas and maybe it’s come a bit too soon. She’ll be better than today. She didn’t finish off today, but I struggled before that.”