The Epsom Cazoo Derby is the ultimate test of the thoroughbred and the end of a four-year journey that begins in the breeding sheds. It is a contest that Aidan O’Brien has won an incredible nine times and saddles the warm favourite in Bolshoi Ballet to make it nine.
Here is my A-Z guide of the field for this year’s renewal.
ADAYAR – Runner-up in two key Derby trials at Sandown and Lingfield (behind Third Realm), galloping all the way to the line in both. Could be a major St Leger player and looks a potential Cup horse for the future. Adam Kirby is a late call up after losing ride on John Leeper.
BOLSHOI BALLET – Only representative from the Coolmore powerhouse which is a massive vote of confidence as he bids to give Aidan O’Brien a ninth Derby victory. Impressive in two starts this season at Leopardstown (latest form questionable with Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney having an excuse back in fourth). A worthy favourite but not campaigned like a Derby candidate as a juvenile with three quick runs so clearly impressed over the winter and team do not use a pacemaker as he likes to go forward.
GEAR UP – Had Bolshoi Ballet over two lengths behind when landing Group 1 honours at Saint Cloud last season but below par when weak in the market in the Dante at York behind Hurricane Lane. Could bounce back but quick ground a question mark and stable not firing at their usual strike rate.
HURRICANE LANE – Unbeaten in three starts and form of seasonal debut looks quite strong. Stayed on strongly to win the Dante at York and a further step up in trip looks sure to suit. Big chance of a second win in the great race for Charlie Appleby and William Buick after Masar in 2018 and could provide the great Frankel with a first Derby winner.
JOHN LEEPER – Named after the late great two time Derby winning trainer John Dunlop, trained by his son Ed, bred in the blue out of Oaks winner Snow Fairy and another dart for Frankel. Has Frankie on board bidding for a third Derby success. Burst onto the scene with impressive win at Newcastle and did plenty wrong but still won at listed level at Newmarket. Form ties in closely with Hurricane Lane and is a major player to bring about the fairy-tale.
MAC SWINEY – Returned poorly with nasal discharge when beaten by Bolshoi Ballet at Leopardstown but showed that form was all wrong when making all to win the Irish 2000 Guineas form stablemate and Newmarket Guineas hero Poetic Flare. Won the G1 Vertum Futurity at Doncaster but all wins have been achieved with cut in the ground, so quick conditions do raise a question.
MOHAAFETH – Shows little at home but no doubting his ability on the track as he has progressed form handicaps this season and sauntered to listed success at Newmarket five weeks ago. Not beaten. That was his best effort so far and looks to be progressing still, but form is still short of what others have achieved. Would be an emotional success for Shadwell team after loss of HH Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum this year.
MOJO STAR – Still a maiden and no maiden has won the Derby since 1887. Making up the numbers and gives emerging owner a runner in top race.
ONE RULER – Just denied by Mac Swiney in G1 at Doncaster last year, culmination of a successful juvenile season. Too keen on return in the 2000 Guineas after working well after winter break and has a stamina doubt to overcome.
SOUTHERN LIGHTS – Interesting contender from the all-conquering Joseph O’Brien team. Well behind Bolshoi Ballet and a poorly Mac Swiney in the Derrinstown Stud Trial but won his maiden well and not to be underestimated.
THIRD REALM – Compact colt who handled Lingfield well when winning his trial and held Adayar all the way to the line. Has been pleasing connections with his work and was not the only trial winner from this yard so have a form line on others. Expected to run a big race.
YOUTH SPIRIT – Represents same connections as last years runner-up Khalifa Sat and did it nicely in his trial at Chester on his first start at the trip. Will stay but others have more pressing claims and is held by Mohaafeth on a line though Secret Protector.
VERDICT – I am taking a chance with HURRICANE LANE to provide the great Frankel with a first Derby success as a sire. He has won all three races and his Dante victory, usually the best trial for the Derby, was an impressive success as he galloped all the way to the line. He is one of three for Charlie Appleby but the choice of William Buick and he looks underestimated in the market.
Bolshoi Ballet is a worthy favourite, and his last run got a timely boost on Thursday when the third was an easy winner. He was not campaigned as a Derby horse as a juvenile but is clearly a vote of confidence as the only entry from his powerful connections who always target this great race. Mac Swiney is a serious challenger but may want easier ground while John Leeper would provide a great story and is not without hope. Third Realm is the one at a double figure price who looks likely to run a solid race and can hit the frame.
2.00 EPSOM – Trainer Mark Johnston saddles a third of the nine strong field. London Gold Cup second King Frankel will be the one people latch onto as that race usually works out strongly while Chase The Dollar has claims on his recent Newcastle second. Of the trio though I would side with top weight King Zain. He had some good juvenile form and travelled well for a long way at Ascot last time. I'll pass them all over though in favour of recent course winner PATIENT DREAM. That experience of the track could be invaluable, and he kept on well to score. A 7lb rise may not stop him under Oisin Murphy.
2.35 EPSOM – An intriguing clash of the 3yo’s and the older generation in this Group 3. The youngsters get a valuable weight concession and that tips the scales in favour of STATEMENT. She went close to beating Alcohol Free in the Fred Darling before finishing eighth in the 1000 Guineas. The easier mile should suit and the 12lb she receives will aid her cause. Posted is the main danger. She made all when winning a listed contest at Sandown last year but she made all then and plenty of these like to go forward.
3.10 EPSOM – Century Dream is the top rated for this Group 3 but there is no doubt he is better when the mud is flying, and he was beaten in the Lockinge. This is a step down in class, but he looks worth taking on. The Fitri Hay owned pair of Bell Rock and Duke Of Hazzard take the eye. Bell Rock was impressive under an excellent claimer at Newmarket but steps back into pattern company for the first time since his 3yo days while Duke Of Hazzard is a regular in these events and will come on for his reappearance effort at Ascot.
Sir Michael Stoute offers a quandary though by saddling the 3yo MAXIMAL who gets 12lb from his elders. He first won this race in 1980 before adding another two victories down the years and Maximal, who had been running in Derby trials and had some good juvenile form, drops back in trip and can improve past his elders.
3.45 EPSOM – The fastest five furlongs in the world and the ‘Dash’ often produces record winning times. A high draw was always though to be an advantage but stall one (twice and stall two have provided three of the last five winners. It is wide open with 20 runners hurtling down the straight and with Caspian Prince, Ornate and Lord Riddiford all in the line-up, there will be no hanging around and it may suit a hold up horse, although they will need the gaps at the right time.
MONDAMMEJ was unlucky third behind Copper Knight two runs ago but never got competitive last time. He has a high draw and could still have some mileage in his mark. In such a competitive race I will have two darts and the second selection is RECON MISSION. He won at the April meeting here, holding course specialist Dark Shot and is drawn low in stall two. He can track Caspian Prince and Ornate to get a tow in and pounce late.
5.15 EPSOM – Lost Eden was under pressure a long way out on turf debut and is on a retrieval mission after that but was progressive on the all-weather. A market watch is advised on him but the key to this race is a course and distance contest at the April meeting. Group One Power beat SOTO SIZZLER in the Great Metropolitan but the runner-up, who was previously unbeaten in two starts at the course, is 4lb better off and will be seen to better effect here than when well held on soft ground at Newmarket. Oisin Murphy is a positive booking.
Wait For The Lord ran a cracker in Group 3 company at Haydock last Saturday and the handicapper has left her on a mark of 90. Market confidence behind her would heighten interest.
5.50 EPSOM – The final race of the Derby meeting will be fiercely run with no shortage of front runners over this six-furlong trip. Lexington Dash, Desert Safari and Atalanta’s Boy are all last time out winners (last named is a Goodwood specialist on a similarly downhill track) who will attract their supporters, while Ejtilaab used up too much petrol to make use of stall one at Chester last Saturday. However, he only found a very progressive rival too good and has claims if the track does not get too much more rain (withdrawn on bad ground previously).
DANZENO has been a model of consistency and has been placed in eight of his last nine starts off a similar mark to this. It is two years since his last win, but he is almost guaranteed to run his race. The veteran had high class form in his younger days and shows no signs of slowing yet.