The EPSOM DERBY PREVIEW
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The Epsom Derby Preview brought to you by our guest blogger – Edmund Culham.
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Epsom Derby 2019
The wait is nearly over, on Saturday, the 240th running of the world’s most prestigious race, the Epsom Derby descends on the Downs and with it the eyes of all those who follow the sport of kings.
Often called the greatest test of a racehorse, Epsom’s unique track undulates, twists and turns. Runners must negotiate as steep a decent as any on a racecourse as they free wheel round Tattenham Corner, before beginning the equally steep climb up to the line. Oh, and what about the camber? Imagine running uphill but with the slope working against you, dragging you down towards the rail. As a jockey you need a supremely well balanced and willing partner to prevail on the Downs.
The atmosphere is also unique, with crowds lining the rails from start to finish. Young horses never get a chance to switch off even on the way to the start, making it not only a true test of stamina and ability, but also a stern mental examination of these young animals.
Many fancied runners in the past have been unable to handle the idiosyncrasies of the track, while others have had their temperament examined by the crackling atmosphere that Epsom conjures, and been found wanting. Cast your mind back to 2013, when hot favourite Dawn Approach pulled Kevin Manning’s arms out from the off, as he refused to settle at the top of the hill; a 5-4 chance before the gates opened, his chances virtually over just 100 yards into the race.
No horse can be truly prepared for the rigors of Epsom. Certain tracks have elements that may help prepare a runner – the hill and bend at Lingfield and the tight turns of Chester spring to mind – but this is a race where pedigree and natural ability truly comes to the fore.
Last year, Godolphin managed to finally break their Derby duck with Masar and proved they were up to challenging the dominance of Ballydoyle in the classics again. Wresting the prize from those hands might prove all the more difficult for the others this year, as a formidable team, one that plundered most of the Derby trials, travels over from county Tipperary.
2019 Derby Trials – The Road to Epsom
6th April: Ballysax Stakes (Group 3) – Leopardstown (1 mile 2 furlongs) – Winner: Broome, 2nd placed: Sovereign
One of the key Irish trials for Epsom, offering the first clues to the Derby picture. Colts from this source have an impressive record; 7 of the last 10 winners have competed, yielding 1 win (Harzand in 2016) and 2 placed efforts.
With this being run a long time prior to the Derby, runners who win this often go on to compete again in the later Derrinstown Stud Stakes. That is exactly the path winner Broome has followed, leaving him strong second favourite in the market at around 9/2.
Broome initially didn’t look to be travelling as the pace quickened, with Moore cajoling along. However, the way in which, he rapidly made up ground, closing on the field rounding the turn and put the race to bed in a single move was nothing if not impressive.
Form wise the race looks average; he beat stable mates Sydney Opera House and Sovereign (which the market suggested he was expected to do). Both of those had placed in Group company, most notably Sydney Opera House who came 2nd in the Royal Lodge at Newmarket, when beaten by Mohawk (see: Dee Stakes) and then was only denied by a neck in Group 1 company at Saint-Cloud. The 2 year old form of both those horses, suggests that they are some way down the pecking order at Ballydoyle, with both having been beaten comprehensively by horses like Norway (see: Chester Vase) and Japan (see: Dante). Favourite that day, Dermot Weld’s ready maiden winner Tankerville failed to fire, trailing home some 24 lengths behind the winner in 5th.
Soft ground and the fact all runners were making their reappearance runs casts the form of this contest into doubt.
Trial rating: 6/10
24th April: Investec Blue Riband Trial (Listed) – Epsom (1 mile 2 furlongs) – Winner: Cape Of Good Hope
One would think that having course form would prove telling come the big day, but this trial doesn’t have the best record of throwing up Derby winners. In 1939, Blue Peter followed up in the main event, but the fact no subsequent winner has followed him since says something about the quality of this race as a trial.
There have been four winners in the last 10 years that have gone on to run in the Derby, with only Cracksman’s 2017 3rd being worthy of much consideration.
Aidan O’Brien’s Cape Of Good Hope came out on top in this year’s running, staying on gamely to run down Turgenev just before the line. It was a workman like performance, but one that he will likely have learnt a lot from.
Beating Cap Francais and Turgenev into 2nd and 3rd respectively doesn’t look to be strong form. Both those horses have subsequently gone on to contest further Derby trials at Lingfield and York, where they were beaten comprehensively. Of the field that day only the aforementioned Turgenev along with Masaam and Arthur Kitt had contested 2 year old Group races. The last mentioned held good 2 year old form, but flopped here at Epsom and was crushed by Sir Dragonet at Chester (See: Chester Vase).
Trial rating: 3/10
26th April: Bet365 Classic Trial (Group 3) – Sandown (1 mile 2 furlongs) – Winner: Bangkok
In 1997, Benny The Dip warmed up in this (finishing 2nd) before his triumph at Epsom, but in recent years it has become a lesser tried route, with only three of the last ten winners going on to stake their claim in the Derby. Of those the best finish came when Western Hymn ran 6th behind Australia in 2014.
Bangkok took this trial in nice style for Andrew Balding, Silvestre de Sousa and King Power Racing. He was comfortably the best horse in the race that day and despite pulling hard early had plenty in reserve to kick away from his rivals at the two-pole.
Effectively he beat three novice stakes winners in Alfaatik, Travel On and Technician (who was put firmly in his place by Sir Dragonet at Chester). 3rd that day was Persian Moon, who placed in a Group 3 last season when beaten only 3 ½ lengths by recent Irish 2000 Guineas winner Phoenix Of Spain. That would seem to give the form an element of substance, but what Persian Moon has achieved since tempers enthusiasm.
Trial rating: 2/10
4th May: 2000 Guineas (Group 1) – Newmarket (1 mile) – 4th placed: Madhmoon
The 2000 Guineas is itself often referred to as the best Derby trail. When winners of the Newmarket classic choose to chase the triple crown by heading to Epsom they invariably perform well. Four Guineas winners have competed in the Derby in the last ten years, yielding two victories in the form of the brilliant Camelot (2012) and irrepressible Sea The Stars (2009).
Connections of winner Magna Grecia have chosen to remain at a mile trip, so the only Guineas representative on Saturday will be Kevin Prendergast’s Madhmoon who finished a good 4th on the Rowley Mile. He showed a good willing attitude that day in staying on to finish 2nd of the main group of runners against what was likely a pace bias.
Form wise the jury is still out on the 2000 Guineas, but early indications are that this year probably wasn’t the strongest renewal. Newmarket winner Magna Grecia has since flattered to deceive in the recent Irish running of the Guineas, finishing 5th at the Curragh last Saturday. 3rd at Newmarket, Skardu also ran and probably provided a consistent exhibition of the form in finishing a 3 ½ length 4th.
Of course, with it being the Guineas the general quality of horses competing is higher and that is shown by the fact that of the fifteen horses that finished behind Mahdmoon, fourteen of those had previously won at least a Listed race. Prendergast’s colt also claimed the notable scalps of Group 1 winners Ten Sovereigns, Advertise and Royal Marine, something which entitles him to plenty of respect.
Trial rating: 7/10
8th May: Chester Vase (Group 3) – Chester (1 mile 4 furlongs) – Winner: Sir Dragonet, 2nd placed: Norway
A trial that has benefited from the weighty patronage of Ballydoyle and forms one of the key form lines for Epsom, with all ten previous winners competing in the classic. It is also the only trial to be run over the Derby trip of 1 mile 4 furlongs. Ruler Of The World took the main prize (2013) after victory in this and two other runners (both from Ballydoyle), US Army Ranger (2016) and Treasure Beach (2011) have gone on to finish a close 2nd on the Downs.
Norway began the race as the favoured O’Brien runner, but was put in his place in devastating fashion by unraced 2 year old and recent maiden winner Sir Dragonet. Settled at the rear by Donnacha O’Brien, although racing wide into the straight he picked up the leaders with consummate ease and left them in his wake, powering clear to record an 8 length victory.
In Norway, he beat a previous Listed winner who had finished 4th in Group 1 company in France at the back end of last season. Interestingly two of Sir Dragonet’s rivals had already contested trials, with Arthur Kitt having run in the Blue Riband at Epsom and Technician finishing behind Bangkok at Sandown. They were both beaten in more comprehensive fashion than they had been in their previous trials, but in general the level of opponent faced by Sir Dragonet at Chester was probably average at best.
Trial rating: 5/10
9th May: Dee Stakes (Listed) – Chester (1 mile 2 ½ furlongs) – Winner: Circus Maximus
Although perhaps lesser thought less of than the Chester Vase, the Dee stakes can still produce competitive Derby runners. Only three of the last ten winners have had a run, but of those two finished in the frame, most recently Cliffs Of Moher in 2017.
Circus Maximus had to be firmly driven out by Ryan Moore to repel the challenge of stablemate Mohawk in the closing stages here. He didn’t appear all that happy on Chester’s tight track, but still managed to grind out victory.
The form may yet prove to be better than imagined as Mohawk, a Group 2 winner as a 2 year old, has since Chester gone on to run a respectable 8th in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Others in the race brought more in terms of potential than tested ability, but Mark Johnston’s Living Legend had in his run prior to the Dee Stakes taken the scalp of Pablo Escobar, a horse that ran a good 2nd to Anthony Van Dyck in the Lingfield Derby Trial.
Trial rating: 5/10
11th May: Lingfield Derby Trial (Listed) – Lingfield (1 mile 3 ½ furlongs) – Winner: Anthony Van Dyck, 8th placed: Hiroshima
Perhaps not the trial it once was. Luca Cumani celebrated Derby success with High Rise after warming up here at Lingfield, but the last ten winners have only managed to place once from seven attempts at Epsom. That effort came in 2012, when Main Sequence finished 2nd to Camelot.
Anthony Van Dyck produced a reasonably taking performance here, settling and travelling well on the soft going. Once asked the question by Ryan Moore he took a while to respond, but steadily drew away from Pablo Escobar in 2nd to record another Derby trial victory for the all-conquering A P O’Brien.
Pablo Escobar had previously been beaten by Mark Johnston’s Living Legend (see: Dee Stakes) and that runner was comfortably brushed aside by Circus Maximus at Chester. Back in 4th at Lingfield was Cap Francais, who had contested the Blue Riband Trial, though granted Anthony Van Dyck was more impressive in beating him here than stable mate Cape Of Good Hope, but 6/1 about the former as oppose to 33/1 the later seems too much.
It might be telling that of his nine opponents, only three had previously competed in patterned company, with none of those three having a Group race run.
Trial rating 1/10
12th May: Derrinstown Stud Stakes (Group 3) – Leopardstown (1 mile 2 furlongs) – Winner: Broome, 3rd placed: Sovereign
The second of the major Irish Epsom trials. All of the last ten winners have run at Epsom, with two of those hitting the frame – Light Heavy (2013) and Fame And Glory (2009).
Broome, having already claimed the Ballysax Stakes the month earlier was sent off the 2/5 on favourite and faced six rivals, three of whom re-opposed from the Ballysax. Just as before, Broome appeared to momentarily be struggling to go the pace, but after being pushed along off the home turn his gains were relentless and he was well on top at the line. The going was quicker than his Ballysax run and he looked to need every inch of the trip.
The margin of his success was less impressive this time, beating Sovereign 3 lengths as oppose to 8. Blenheim Palace finished 2nd in the Ballydoyle third colours; largely disappointing in five runs to date, having only won a low grade handicap, for him to finish as close to the favourite, especially after doing most of the pace setting, raises serious questions about the form.
Trial rating: 4/10
16th May: Dante Stakes (Group 2) – York (1 mile 2 furlongs) – Winner: Telecaster, 3rd placed: Surfman, 4th placed: Japan, 7th placed: Line Of Duty
Consistently one of the strongest lines of Derby form. Since 2000 this race has produced four Derby winners, most recently in 2015 when Golden Horn swept to victory on the Downs. In the last 10 years, eight winners have contested the Epsom classic with, aside from Golden Horn, an impressive three runners hitting the frame.
With the stage all set for last season’s champion 2 year old Too Darn Hot to sweep to victory, celebrations were muted by Hughie Morrison’s Telecaster, who registered an assured display for a colt with so little experience. Oisin Murphy tracked the pace and used Telecaster’s high cruising speed and assured staying prowess to draw the sting out of his rivals. When pestered by Too Darn Hot trying desperately to close in the last furlong, he held on resolutely to score by a length.
To defeat Too Darn Hot would appear no mean feat, but there were slight questions about that horse’s fitness and ability to stay the trip. However, his recent Irish 2000 Guineas 2nd proves that the ability is all still there, so even if slightly inconvenienced by 10 furlongs at York, it should not take the shine off Telecaster’s win.
There was a mixture of proven ability in the race – with Group 1 winner Line of Duty – and unknown potential, with horses like Surfman only having won novice contests. Behind Surfman in 4th was Japan, who is known to have had a disrupted preparation, but is a Group 2 winner and considering his proximity to the head of the ante post Derby market for such a long time, evidently highly thought of at Ballydoyle. Turgenev who had previously contested the Blue Riband at Epsom finished 5th beaten 6 ½ lengths.
Trial rating: 8/10
8/10 winners had run no more than 4 times prior to lining up in the Derby.
8/10 winners had not raced beyond 1 mile as a 2 year old, but only 4/10 winners had not raced beyond a mile in their career before competing.
8/10 winners have been sent off at odds no bigger than 7/1. Of those 8, three – Golden Horn, Australia and Camelot were sent off favourite. The other two are Wings Of Eagles, who sprung a big surprise at 40/1 and last year’s winner Masar who returned at odds of 16/1.
8/10 winners had won a Group race in their career. Of those, 4/10 had a Group 3 to their name, 3/10 had won a Group 2 and 2/10 had won a Group 1.
7/10 winners had won last time out. 10/10 had placed last time out.
4/10 winners had won a Group race as a 2 year old.
1/10 winners were unraced as a 2 year old (Ruler Of The World – 2013).
Anthony Van Dyck
Good form to his name, in 2 year old Group 2 and 3 wins as well as most notably finishing 3rd behind Too Darn Hot in the Dewhurst. Five of his seven 2 year old runs were over 7 furlongs, before he failed to run to expectations over a mile at the Breeders’ Cup.
His pedigree sends slightly mixed signals, being out of a champion sire Galileo, but with his dam sire Exceed And Excel being more associated with sprinters. That said he did little wrong at Lingfield over just 1 furlong shy of the Derby trip and with that coming on soft going. Quite a leggy type, I actually think he looks like he should improve for the step up in trip. However, that form, as mentioned above, looks dubious at best.
I can see him staying the trip, but he may be short of the tactical speed required to win the Derby. I also think he lacks the quality, and having had eight runs already, the potential of some of the other runners in here.
6/1 looks much too short to take a chance on.
After failing to win on three attempts as a 2 year old, Andrew Balding’s colt seems to be coming into his own at the right time. First time out this season he got off the mark in maiden company beating Telecaster, with that win now looking far more impressive following Telecaster’s Dante showing. His win in the Bet365 Trial at Sandown was likeable, especially considering he was keen early and had to be reigned back to settle. That he still had enough in the tank at the end to win was a good sign. He will have to settle much better to see out the trip at Epsom though, which is a slight concern. As is his tendency to hang righthanded, which was displayed as he veered across the field to get to the rail at Sandown and had been a factor when beating Telecaster at Doncaster.
These potential problems and the suspicion that he may not be quite good enough are sufficient for me to pass him over.
Distinctive in his low head carriage when running, a feature that often marks out tough, game horses, he looks to have stamina in abundance and will relish the Derby trip.
His willingness was displayed in both his Ballysax and Derrinstown Stud Stakes wins, as he swept through the field each time to take up the running in the straight. There must be a question mark about whether this son of Australia will be outpaced at a crucial stage though, particularly if the going is good. I could see him loosing his place as they begin to quicken, before staying on again towards the finish. For me he looks a rock solid frame contender, but not my idea of the winner.
Cape of Good Hope
Has raced at Epsom, where he had to work hard to win from Cap Francais in the Blue Riband Trial. He looked slightly ill at ease near the finish that day, with Ryan Moore having to organize him up the hill. He’s sure to have learnt a lot from that experience, but I’m not convinced he relished running at Epsom.
He looks a leggy sort, who will probably benefit from the step up in trip. That said his general form doesn’t look good enough, with the two runners (Cap Francais and Turgenev) competing in subsequent trials, both well beaten. After 6 runs he doesn’t look to have what it takes to win the Derby.
Dee Stakes winner, who lacks the high profile of some of these in here. He has done little wrong in his career so far, being placed in a Newmarket Group 3 and only being beaten a length by stablemate Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity Stakes (Racing Post Trophy) at Doncaster in October.
His performance at Chester wasn’t one to get too excited about as he knuckled down to edge out stablemate Mohawk. O’Brien’s colt didn’t look the most balanced around the tight turns of Chester and hung markedly left into the rail down the straight, traits which aren’t ideal with the undulations of Epsom in mind.
Another that I can see running respectably, but without threatening to get seriously involved.
8th in the Lingfield Derby Trial behind Anthony Van Dyck, he had previously eased through a Southwell maiden.
John Best has a habit of pitching his horses highly, either for a day out or to pinch a bit of prize money. Severely outclassed here.
John Gosden’s only representative actually beat Bangkok on debut at Newmarket, ultimately finishing 2nd to Kick On, who ran a sound race in the 2000 Guineas. He stepped up in trip on reappearance to record an all the way victory in a Salisbury novice event.
He may develop in time into a nice prospect, but this is a huge jump in level and likely to be too much too soon.
For so long though of as Ballydoyle’s top candidate for the race. He took the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the back end last season, which marked him out as a strong prospect. However, his reappearance was delayed due to some minor niggles, meaning O’Brien’s hand was forced and he lined up in the Dante – not usually a route taken by fancied O’Brien runners.
Japan looked in need of the run at York, where he was badly out-paced before staying on again to claim 4th. The firm going might have been against him then also, as I suspect he may like some juice in the ground. If he comes on again from that run, with the step up in trip to suit he can be competitive.
My worry is that things haven’t gone at all to plan with this horse and that something may still not be quite right. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he were pulled from the Derby and rerouted to Royal Ascot.
Line Of Duty
Godolphin’s only chance of retaining their crown. Based on his 2 year old runs he looks a bright prospect with a Group 3 to his name and last season capped with success at the Breeder’s Cup.
His run at York was listless however and raises some questions about whether he will make a true mile and a half horse. Although I don’t see him as an Epsom horse, I would be tempted to put a line through that run and say that were he to run up to form he could be challenging for places on Saturday.
The only runner to represent the 2000 Guineas form, where he was a strong finishing 4th. Before that, Madhmoon beat Broome in comfortable fashion at Leopardstown over a mile last year, so it is perhaps a surprise to see such a disparity in the betting between them, with Kevin Prendergast’s runner having lost little in defeat in the Guineas. He is available at around 12/1, with Broome as second favourite at 9/2.
While he certainly has speed and promises to stay, I have doubts whether the son of Dawn Approach is truly a Derby horse. A small, compact type he doesn’t look to have the length and scope about him that usually characterise Derby winners. That would be enough to put me off him here.
Has a Listed win to his name over 1 mile 2 furlongs and ran respectably in the Chester Vase, staying on into 2nd, where he was just emphatically outclassed by his then lesser known stablemate Sir Dragonet.
Will stay the trip, but he is probably just lacking the class required to play a part in the finish. His price reflects that at 33/1.
As an unraced 2 year old, Sir Dragonet won a Tipperary maiden at the end of April, and then little over ten days later created a real stir when romping home to victory in the Chester Vase. That performance made him the current anti post Derby favourite at a best price of 3/1. He was recently supplemented for the race, suggesting those at Ballydoyle see him as their main candidate.
It takes a supremely well-balanced colt to win round Epsom and what was most impressive on the Roodee was the way he closed effortlessly from the rear of the field, even when forced wide around the home turn. There he seemed to draw pilot Donnacha O’Brien into all the right places. For such an inexperienced colt to be able to do that around a track as sharp as Chester was sensational. On the back of that he quickened again in the straight, stretching away on the bridle.
Sir Dragonet comes with certain unknowns attached, but what is assured is that he will stay (both his runs have been over 1 mile 4 furlongs) and that he can quicken. From seeing his sense of balance at Chester, I would suggest that he will take Epsom in his stride too.
Ground faster than good would be an unknown, with both his wins coming with some mention of soft in the going. His knee action would suggest that ground with some juice would be preferable also.
I was very taken with Sir Dragonet at Chester and think that he is the one they all have to beat.
Another from Ballydoyle. He has been comfortably beaten by Broome on both starts this season. Tends to go off quickly, so if he does line up, I could see him being given pace making duties.
Mightily impressive when winning a Newcastle novice event by 14 lengths, he then proved he was worthy of this level when following up with a good 3rd in the Dante. He was the one who did best from the back of the field that day, so it was a fine run in spite of his inexperience.
More improvement will be needed again from the son of Kingman, especially if he is to turn around form with Dante winner Telecaster.
The second of two colts unraced as 2 year olds that line up in this year’s Derby running. A fine 2nd on debut behind the vastly more experienced Bangkok marked him out as potentially useful and his next two appearances left no one in any doubt. A 9 length Windsor romp was followed by a performance, if not as visually impressive as Sir Dragonet’s Chester Vase display, more so in form terms as Telecaster swept aside Too Darn Hot in the Dante at York.
What made it all the more impressive was the fact although he was keen early and chased a strong pace, yet in the straight Telecaster maintained a relentless gallop all the way to the line. One by one his rivals behind him came off the bridle, but even 2 year old champion Too Darn Hot couldn’t get to his quarters.
He looks to have a big stride and be well balanced, which should help him take to Epsom. Hughie Morrison’s runner is the kind of horse who points his toe when running and coasts over the ground. Whether rain would inconvenience him is uncertain, but a possibility with all his wins being on going good or better. Perhaps more of a worry is his tendency to like to race prominently, as if not well drawn he may have to concede track position, a factor that is likely to make him more problematic to settle during the race.
Supplemented for the race on Monday. As a good Dante winner, he is entitled to huge respect and I think is worthy of his place near the head of the market. I am sure he will go close.
The picture is clouded somewhat at the time of writing, with Aidan O’Brien currently having eight of the fifteen entries. I would think he is highly unlikely to run over five of those, which means there are likely to be some changes in the market between now and Saturday. Those most likely to be scratched are perhaps Norway, Japan, Cape Of Good Hope and Sovereign.
Some in here I see struggling with the track and the trip, such as Madhmoon and Circus Maximus. Others may not be quite up to the standard required. Anthony Van Dyck already has 8 runs to his name and I think that others bring more potential. Bangkok is another who will have to up his game in order to triumph here, especially if any his running quirks surface on the day. Rodger Varian’s Surfman brings potential and could have been sharpened up by his Dante appearance and I can see him running on well at the death.
That leaves me with three, or two really. Broome looks to have some strong form and will probably stay better than anything else. His tendency to hit a flat spot mid race puts me off him though as by the time he is re-engaged and staying on the others may have too much of an initiative.
I see this as between the exciting unraced 2 year olds, Sir Dragonet and Telecaster, two colts that bring boundless potential to the race with only five starts between them. Both have proven themselves to have serious cruising speeds, the ability to stay and a sharp turn of foot. The Derby is a totally new challenge, but I think they both are perfectly equipped to deal with everything that Epsom brings.
So, who wins? Going and draw could play a huge part here, with firm ground likely to favour Telecaster and softer going Sir Dragonet. The last mentioned may be more versatile tactics wise and be easier for a jockey to switch off when racing. It’s mighty close, but what swings it in SIR DRAGONET’s favour for me is the balance and poise he displayed when rounding the home bend at Chester. It was a sight to behold him quickening and turning and overtaking rivals despite being wide on the track. I said then that we had seen the Derby winner and I expect to see him first up the hill on Saturday.
1 – Sir Dragonet 2 – Telecaster 3 – Broome 4 – Surfman