While I’m an advocate for imposing a limit to how many horses a trainer can run in a Classic, it is still admirable that Aidan O’Brien is able to field seven of the 13 strong field for Britain’s greatest flat race.
His dreams of possessing a triple crown winner in Saxon Warrior were dashed by the mighty Godolphin operation last year and though his Guineas hero, Magna Grecia, stays away, he still fields favourite and potential superstar Sir Dragonet. But the equine with the noble nomenclature will need to display firepower similar to that which he showed at Chester to repel his rivals.
As with every Classic, here are my thoughts on the runners and riders.
- Anthony Van Dyck: If you’re simply scrolling through to find out who wins tomorrow’s Epsom Derby, stop here. You need read no further. Anthony Van Dyck’s human namesake was a Flemish artist from the 17th Century and I’m expecting a dazzling performance from Seamie Heffernan’s mount. Along with Madhmoon, he was the best of these at two, finishing placed in two Group Ones over seven furlongs, In hindsight, those form lines are distinctly promising regards him possessing a turn of foot and he ground out the job in honest fashion to win the Lingfield Derby trial earlier in May. The Lingfield form was given a boost when Oaks trial winner Anapurna took the Oaks and the soft ground that day arguably played against him. Back on a sounder surface, he may be even better and his classy performances to date, as well as a bulldozing pedigree, give him a brilliant chance of regaining the Derby trophy for Aidan O’Brien. 5/5
- Bangkok: It is one of racing, and indeed sport’s greatest tragedies that Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was killed in a helicopter accident last October. His budding racing operation runs its first Derby entry with Bangkok and there are reasons to suggest an emotional triumph could be on the cards. He is unbeaten so far at three, beating Dante winner Telecaster in a maiden at the start of this term, before he won Sandown’s Classic Trial in authoritative fashion. Conditions would appear to suit, though a mile-and-a-half may ultimately play to others’ strengths before him. Furthermore, its likely Telecaster has now developed beyond him and so, while a respectable performance is likely, he has enough to find with some of the principles. 3/5
- Broome: There was nothing desperately wrong with Broome’s success in the Derrinstown Derby trial at Leopardstwon. However, given how he forged clear in the Ballysax over the same course and distance a month prior, his more workmanlike showing in beating Blenheim Palace and Sovereign was somewhat underwhelming. He was still an easy enough winner in a respected trial, though and has progressed from two to three (and he was placed at Group One level at two anyway). He will be peaking as he passes the line and he should love his first dig at 1m4f, but he takes a while to get going which may spell trouble as far as Tattenham Corner is concerned. It might not be the easiest watch, but he is guaranteed to pick up once off the bridle and his relentless galloping should ensure he’s firmly in the picture. 4/5
- Circus Maximus: Since Frankie Dettori was confirmed as his rider, punters have laid into Circus Maximus, particularly since his effervescent jockey took the Oaks earlier today. However, on form, I simply cannot understand this move. While he eventually won decisively enough in the Dee Stakes at Chester, he likely appreciated the ground softening before the off. Even then, he travelled with less fluency than most and the two in behind him could count themselves unlucky. Runner-up from that race, Mohawk, let the form down in the Irish Guineas next time out and Circus Maximus does not look in dire need of the extra quarter-mile. His jockey is a genius and it has paid to be on the inside so far at Epsom and I imagine he’d be handy. Tactics and personnel are the only reasons he scores higher than 1. 2/5
- Hiroshima: There probably haven’t been as many more strangely named horses than Hiroshima to contest a Derby, but fortunately it is almost certain the Epsom engravers can sleep easy before having to write his name onto their winners’ boards. He won a Southwell maiden at the beginning of the month in taking fashion, but that was a Class 5 affair and he was readily disposed of by my selection in the Lingfield trial. No chance. 1/5
- Humanitarian: This 66/1 outsider is, remarkably, John Gosden’s only representative. As such, there may well be a few who have a nibble at the price, though he is firmly up against it. His two wins from three starts have been achieved in the lower echelons of flat racing’s calendar. He’ll likely appreciate this trip, but there’s a chance he’ll still be at the top of the stretch once the winners are passing the post. Rab Havlin didn’t get his day aboard Mehdaayih in the Oaks, but this is beyond the realms of the ridiculous to hope Humanitarian will win. 1/5
- Japan: There’s always one isn’t there? The one you couldn’t possibly place even if you spent days sifting through statistics. On bare form, Japan has to make gigantic strides to feature having been cut adrift by Telecaster in the Dante and with just two wins to date, both won by under a length. Yet, before the trials, he was the O’Brien yard’s main hope for glory in this Classic. Given his inmates scooped prize after prize in the build-up, that suggests the regard Japan was held in prior to his York effort and so expect him to come on bundles for that run. Much like Broome, this trip should bring out his best as he displayed a depth of stamina even as a juvenile. What his best is, though, is anyone’s guess and he isn’t reliable enough to take a punt on. 3/5
- Line Of Duty: Given I’m backing Anthony Van Dyck, it would seem absurd to discount the horse that had him nearly six lengths behind when he won at the Breeders Cup. That was a significant victory for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin and, of course, they won this last year with Masar. However, his re-appearance in the Dante was as flat as a pancake and he showed none of the zest he’d showcased on his forays to America. He may well be a horse who cleans up prizes in Dubai and further afield in the future, but his form in this country leaves him as a genuine 33/1 shot. This trip may end up suiting, but he may have require some extra building blocks at a lesser level prior to this. Alas, he hasn’t had them. 2/5
- Madhmoon: Last year I backed Masar in the 2000 Guineas but not the Derby and will likely never forgive myself. This year I backed Madhmoon in the Guineas and once again, I have to forgo him for another at Epsom. That said, I’m much keener on his chances than I was Masar’s as a result and unfortunately, I think he’ll go very close. He may not be bred to stay this trip, but the manner of his fourth at Newmarket suggested that a mile was simply too short for him at the highest level. He flashed home and though an extra half mile is some leap upwards, he possesses enough potential to cope. His stride is powerful which bodes well for his stamina in time and his form over a mile, including when beating Broome at Leopardstown, at two is hugely taking. The 16/1 about him initially is long gone and punters may be wary of making a similar oversight to last year. If I’m to back more than one, he’s certainly going to be the second. 4/5
- Norway: I’ve been a secret admirer of this horse ever since he ran on powerfully to finish fifth on his debut last July. He latterly won the Zetland Stakes over the maximum trip for two-year-olds (1m2f) before finishing fourth when too keen in the Grand Criterium de Saint-Cloud. He finished almost out of sight of Sir Dragonet’s rear-view mirrors in the Chester Vase, but his temperament got the better of him that day and he would not have appreciated the constantly falling rain. Back on faster ground and with a test of stamina likely, I actually believe he’ll close the gap on Sir Dragonet unless utilised purely for pacemaking duties. The one guarantee is that he’ll stay better than any of the 13 runners in the field and he could prove a Kew Gardens type who goes onto better things in the St Leger. Not without a chance and certainly worth a second look at the current prices. 3/5
- Sir Dragonet: Coolmore’s utter domination of the sport in our country should preclude any fairytales emerging from their midst. However, Sir Dragonet was not originally entered in the Derby, extraordinary for an O’Brien horse, and had been virtually forgotten about before they decided to chance their arm in a Tipperary maiden. He won that bloodlessly and so a chance was taken to enter him in the Chester Vase, where he devoured the ground to demolish the field by eight lengths. It was difficult to believe at first, but far more so in hindsight. The soft ground looked to have benefitted him far more than the rest of the field (and certainly the runner-up). Similarly, while I have no doubt Donnacha O’Brien intended to play a waiting game in that contest, I cannot believe it was his intention to be five lengths behind the pack so early, as he was that day. While he eventually pulled clear, it would be a slight concern if they went a blitzing gallop early, as it may unsettle him, particularly if he doesn’t take to firmer ground. Overall, he’s distinctly beatable and easy enough to take on. 3/5
- Sovereign: Padraig Beggy’s name will forever be synonymous with Derby day, especially if he continues to get the odd ride on an O’Brien seventh string in the big race. Omen grabbers will look to Sovereign as his mount. If the rain somehow pours a flood’s worth of water onto Epsom, this horse’s odds will tumble as he won on a Galway bog by 14 lengths at two. However, having set the pace for Broome in the two Leopardstwon trials and been beaten with disdain in both, he looks set to do only the donkey work before the race unfolds in front of him up the stretch. Other O’Brien pacemakers have fared well in this (look up At First Sight, Golden Sword and Treasure Beach), but Sovereign looks unlikely to emulate those. 1/5
- Telecaster: Britain bit back to claim their first home-soil Classic this afternoon, and if they’re to level the score at 2-2 in a field dominated by the Irish contingent, Telecaster may be one to rely on. His defeat by Bangkok at Doncaster in March was perfectly acceptable given that was his racecourse debut and subsequent victories at Windsor and in the Dante at York have seen him rise above his conqueror from that day in the Derby market. He beat star juvenile Too Darn Hot at York and tracked the Gosden pacemaker that day. The fact that he was able to store enough in reserve to outgun the subsequent Irish Guineas runner-up was impressive and it will be a dream come true for Hughie Morrison if he were to challenge tomorrow. I do not at all doubt his ability, but I can’t trust that he wants the added two furlongs. 4/5
Anapurna was the first Classic winner this season who had no claims to any form at two. However, I still believe the juvenile formbook may be worth following and both ANTHONY VAN DYCK and Madhmoon were classy even before their good efforts this season. The fact that the former has displayed his aptitude for this trip on ground softer than ideal gives him the vote to stave off the 2000 Guineas fourth although I suspect Kevin Prendergast’s horse will stay strongly enough. Broome and Telecaster have each won trials over 1m2f and their contrasting abilities should see them involved too.
- Anthony Van Dyck