This coming weekend sees the two most famous classics of the British season take place as Epsom plays host to the Oaks and the Derby. The action kicks off on Friday as the always well attended Ladies’ Day opens the meeting.

It’s fitting that the Friday at Epsom is known as Ladies’ Day, as in addition to adding a splash of colour and elegance to the stands, it is also the female of the species who provide the day’s big highlight on the track. The headline act of course being the second fillies-only classic of the season, the world-renowned Epsom Oaks. There’s plenty of quality action in support too, including the Group 1 Coronation Cup for the older performers, and a clutch of intriguing handicap affairs. Here we pick out our best bets on the opening day.

2.00 – Investec Woodcote EBF Stakes (Class 2), 6f

Lilbourne Lad each way at 6/1 with Betfair

Mark Johnston has sent out eight runners in this race in the past seven years, three of whom have won. That’s an impressive strike rate and suggests there may well be a touch of value in the price about his sole entry this year, Marie’s Diamond. At around the 3/1 mark he has plenty going for him, but we just prefer another in the line-up.

Good as Johnston’s record is, that of Richard Hannon Jr is even better. From five runners in the race, Hannon has recorded two winners plus one subsequently disqualified winner, a second and a third. Whatever he has sent to this race so far has never been far away. Hannon relies on It’s The Only Way this time around who arrives here having won two of his three starts to date. Those previous efforts have come on quicker ground than this, but the progeny of his sire Lilbourne Lad tend to go well on soft and he looks a solid each way option.

2.35 – Investec Click & Invest Mile Handicap (Class 2), 1m½f

Medburn Dream each way at 5/1 with Bet365

The opening handicap of the meeting has cut up a little, most likely due to the soft ground at the track. The likes of the well fancied Original Choice and Almoreb will now be kept for another day, but we do still have a competitive field of nine set to go to post.

Of those who remain, the one to carry our cash will be the Peter Hedger runner, Medburn Dream. Six pounds higher than his last winning mark, he wouldn’t be the most obvious pick from a handicapping perspective, but an ability to handle both the track and soft ground counts for plenty, and this one ticks both those boxes. His only previous run over the course and distance came on soft ground back in 2016. He pulverised the field to the tune of four and a half lengths that day and a repeat of that performance should see him involved at the business end of the race.

3.10 – Investec Coronation Cup (Group 1), 1m4f

Cracksman to win at 1/3 with Coral

A small but select field go to post in the first Group 1 contest of the meeting as the high class older performers tackle the Derby course and distance. German raider Windstoss is one of the more interesting contenders, whilst Hawkbill has an excellent record on soft, and Idaho bids to carry the Group 1 baton following the retirement of his full brother Highland Reel.

In the end though this may well be all about just the one horse. The word from the John Gosden camp suggests that Cracksman is expected to be a significantly better performer as a four year old than he was at three. Considering he signed off his three year old campaign with a seven length romp in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, that’s a pretty scary thought for his rivals here. Already eight pounds clear of the field on official ratings and with the best performance of his career to date having come on soft ground we won’t be taking him on here.

3.45 – Investec Wealth & Investment Handicap (Class 2), 1m2f

Ajman King to win at 9/4 with Betfair

With eight of the past 10 winners of this race being either four or five years of age, the stats are against the likes of Not So Sleepy, Dark Red and Banditry. All three are previous course and distance winners though so perhaps they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Of the younger performers, Brorocco is also proven over track and trip but has ran disappointingly in his two previous outings on soft or heavy ground. The selection is therefore the only remaining previous course and distance winner in the field, Ajman King. Still only four and having just his seventh career start, he remains open to improvement, handles give underfoot and looks a solid favourite.

4.30 – Investec Oaks (Group 1), 1m4f

Magic Wand to win at 9/2 with Betfair

Having won this twice in the past three years, Aidan O’Brien is the most obvious first port of call when seeking the winner in the day’s main event. In terms of strength in numbers, the world record holding trainer looks to have every chance of recording yet another Group 1 success in the 2018 renewal. Only nine go to post, five of whom hail from O’Brien’s Ballydoyle operation.

Of the O’Brien trained quintet, jockey bookings would suggest that Magic Wand is the most likely winner, with stable jockey Ryan Moore opting to ride this daughter of Galileo. An impressive winner of the Cheshire Oaks last time out she is hard to dismiss, particularly as full sister Chiquita won the Irish Oaks back in 2013.

Stablemate Forever Together ran a nice trial in that Cheshire Oaks race when running on nicely into second, whilst favourite Wild Illusion from the Godolphin operation brings 1,000 Guineas form to the table. Overall though it may pay to trust the judgment of Moore here and side with Magic Wand.

5.15 – Investec Surrey Stakes (Listed), 7f

Aurum to win 

A pair of seven furlong contests round off the day’s action, the first of which is this Listed class event for the three year olds. John Gosden’s Kings Shield sets the standard on ratings but, being by Scat Daddy, doesn’t seem sure to be suited by the soft ground here. Mark Johnston’s Rufus King looks dangerous having picked up a couple of decent handicaps last season, but we just prefer the chances of another.

Having had just the two career starts to date, the Charlie Appleby runner Aurum is the least exposed of these, but has shown enough in his two starts to date to suggest he may well prove to be the best of them in time. Looking unsuited by the quick ground and stop start of the pace last time out at Newmarket, he still ran with credit in third. With this looking likely to be run at a true gallop, he is fancied to grind it out in the closing stages on ground which seems likely to suit.

5.50 – Investec Zebra Handicap (Class 2), 7f

Clubbable each way

The Richard Fahey runner Clubbable had become extremely frustrating last term. Clearly possessing his share of ability it nevertheless took until the eighth time of asking for him to get his nose in front. Having belatedly discovered the winning habit, he duly scored again on his first start of the current campaign when getting up close home in a competitive contest at York though. That suggests he may well be a more mature performer this term, and being by Mayson he seems as likely as any to cope well with the likely conditions here.