Some are describing the 240th Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday, the first in living memory when one trainer has saddled more than half the field, as the “Ballydoyle” Derby, but it is more open and unpredictable than that.
The man at the Ballydoyle helm, Aidan O’Brien, would be the first to admit that although he fields seven of the 13 runners, there are no guarantees that one will give him the seventh Derby winner to equal the record held by great trainers across the centuries: Robert Robson, John Porter, Fred Darling.
His team are headed by Sir Dragonet, a colt by Camelot and named after one of King Arthur’s knights of the round table, the one who portrayed himself as a courageous warrior but fled at the slightest provocation. Horse will not want to take after mythical human on Saturday.
With Ryan Moore on board he is clearly their No 1 but his is a tall order. Six weeks ago, he had not seen a racecourse and no one had heard of him. His two runs have been on flat tracks in soft ground and on Saturday he faces the Eiger on fast ground.
O’Brien has already proved that running at two is not a prerequisite for winning the Derby, having done that with Ruler of The World and while it is entirely possible Sir Dragonet will be even better on fast ground, his action suggests he may find conditions too quick for him on Saturday. Maybe we were seduced by the flattering margin of his victory at Chester and though he is a handy little horse and I loved his attitude, he lacks experience. But if he is the real deal he will overcome all these disadvantages to become a great Derby winner.
Broome, ridden by the trainer’s son Donnacha, is solid rather than spectacular, a bit workmanlike getting to his pacemaker in his trial. He will want to travel better in a Derby but he should improve markedly for a mile and a half.
Circus Maximus also races a bit lazily so it is hard to know what Frankie Dettori might extract from him. Japan looks like a rushed job but the Lingfield winner Anthony Van Dyck is another good shot.
The other Irish runner, Madhmoon fits the age old racing maxim; fourth in the Derby, first in the Derby. Though he is not guaranteed to get home on pedigree his experienced trainer, Kevin Prendergast, who has forgotten more about racing than most of us will ever know but is without a winner since October, believes he will. If that is the case he can figure very prominently in the finish.
But I have a strong feeling that the 240th Derby will be staying at home. It is usually the Grand National that produces a good story but a victory for Bangkok on Saturday looks as written in the stars as it is the form book and can provide the race with one of its most poignant winners in recent times.
The Australia colt, trained by Andrew Balding, who has his own Derby pedigree, and owned by racing’s newest superpower, King Power Racing, whose enthusiastic founder, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was killed in a helicopter crash when leaving his other great sporting love, Leicester City FC, in October.
But while everyone assesses the relative value of each of the major trials it may well be, unlikely as it sounds, that the 32Red Casino Maiden at Doncaster on the opening day of the season holds the biggest clue to this year’s race.
In it Bangkok beat Telecaster a length and a quarter with nine lengths back to the third. It could be between the same two horses on Saturday and Bangkok can win the argument again. Both have run again. Hughie Morrison had to fit in two more quick runs for Telecaster, who unquestionably had a hard race in the Dante 16 days ago when he beat Too Darn Hot to give him enough experience.
But on what little evidence there is to go on with a colt early in his Classic season, Bangkok is best fresh and goes to Epsom not having run for a month since he won the Sandown trial. On Saturday he can give Andrew Balding, King Power and Silvestre de Sousa an emotional first Derby.
Marcus Armytage's tips:
- Sir Dragonet
Best bets guide by Ross Clarke
The Derby is one of the few Flat races that non-followers of the sport have heard of thanks to its place in history. The race was traditionally run on the first Wednesday in June and hundreds of thousands of people regularly descended on Epsom Downs to watch the big race.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien is seeking his own slice of history in this year’s race as another victory would draw him level with Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling on seven wins.
O’Brien will be represented by seven runners in this year’s contest but his battalion faces plenty of worthy British and Irish challengers.
So let’s take a look at the contenders for this year’s big race.
Anthony Van Dyck 6/1
Battle hardened and is one of the more experienced in the race after running good races at the highest level as a juvenile. As a result, he has the highest official rating of any runner in the race and he made a pleasing return when landing Lingfield’s Derby Trial at the beginning of May. The first of Aidan O’Brien’s runners in the race, it could be unwise to underestimate his chances.
This horse is owned by King Power Racing, which was set up by former Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha before his death in a helicopter crash last year. The Andrew Balding-trained runner has won both his starts this season and beat Telecaster, who is now a shorter price for Derby success than Bangkok, at Doncaster in March.
Another of Aidan O’Brien’s contenders, Broome landed the Ballysax and the Derrinstown Stakes, two of Ireland’s key Derby trials, on his last two starts and has shaped as if he will improve for the step up in trip to a mile and a half and the usually reticent O’Brien was swift to point out his suitability for Epsom after his latest victory.
Circus Maximus 20/1
Yes, you’ve guessed it, O’Brien also trains this contender who won his trial in the Dee Stakes at Chester. That form is far from the best on show going into the race but his lazy style of racing suggests he will continue to improve with every run and it’s unlikely that we have seen the best of him yet.
Sole win for trainer John Ryan came in a Southwell maiden and he finished eighth behind Anthony Van Dyck in Lingfield’s Derby trial. On all known form, he has little chance of winning and it might be best to hope he doesn’t impede any of the more fancied runners as he weakens out of contention around Tattenham Corner.
Has shown plenty of ability in three starts, albeit at a much lower level, and trainer John Gosden rarely overfaces any of his horses. Interesting that he has still been left in the race at this late stage and is an intriguing runner but he has a huge amount to find with thosew towards the head of the market.
Back to the O’Brien contingent. This colt won at Group Two level on his final start as a juvenile and there were plenty of positive vibes around for him through the winter. Made a belated seasonal return when fourth behind Telecaster in the Dante at York but can be expected to improve for that run.
Line Of Duty 50/1
Trainer Charlie Appleby won the Derby last year with Masar and he could be represented this time around by one of last season’s star juveniles Line Of Duty, who signed off last year with victory in the Breeders’ Cup in America. However, this colt finished a long way behind Telecaster in the Dante on his return and has it all to prove with the Derby coming just 16 days after that run.
Beat Broome in a Group Two at Leopardstown at the end of last season and has run two fine races in defeat this season. The second of those, when fourth in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, was a good effort considering he raced in the wrong group and he shaped not for the first time as if he will improve for the step up in trip. Sir Percy (2006), New Approach (2008) Australia (2014) and Masar (2018) were all recent winners of the Derby to be beaten in the Guineas and Madhmoon could be overpriced to join that club.
I think there are still three more O’Brien horses to come. Your head is probably in an O’Brien haze. I know mine is. I’ve started thinking of other famous living O’Briens - Richard, the bald guy from the Crystal Maze; Conan the late-night chat show host; Dan the US decathlete and Edna the author all came to mind. As for Norway, he was beaten by stablemate Sir Dragonet at Chester last time and is a longshot for success.
Sir Dragonet 3/1
You-know-who trains the Derby favourite Sir Dragonet, who destroyed his rivals when winning the Chester Vase by eight lengths on his last start. Has seemingly surprised connections with his ability - they had to pay £85,000 to supplement him - and he reportedly shows far more ability on the course than at home. Will need to prove he acts on fast ground as his two wins have been in soft conditions.
We’ve made it. Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and take comfort from the fact you are one of the chosen few to make it to the last of Aiden O’Brien’s runners. This one is relatively easy to sum up as he’s been beaten in his last two runs by stablemate Broome and is likely to finish behind him again here.
Risen through the ranks at an impressive speed and is Britain’s best hope of Derby success according to the market. One of only two horses in the field not to have run as a juvenile, the other is favourite Sir Dragonet, Telecaster won the Dante in impressive fashion from Too Darn Hot. He is bred for the job as his sire New Approach won the Derby while his dam, Shirocco Star, was beaten just a neck in the Oaks. Connections forked out the £85,000 to supplement him for this and he needs to finish in the first four to recoup that fee. Solid contender, the only question mark is if this race comes too soon being just 16 days after his Dante success.