Derby Day. The biggest and most historic prize in the racing calendar perhaps lacks in a little quality this year, but where it lacks in quality will surely make for an open and exciting renewal, with one of the biggest fields going to post for some time.
Those who criticise The Derby, questioning the quality and relevance it has might have a point this year but their argument generally ignores some of the top class winners we’ve had in recent years and would also be helpfully forgetting some of the dross that won it in the 90s. It’s still the greatest test of the classic generation and still generally throws up the best middle distance colt of its generation.
The Derby this year though does clearly lack that bit of star quality. That’s not to stay a star couldn’t emerge as there are still some unexposed types in there, it’s just that there isn’t a standout contender or anything with a great deal of excitement around it going into the race.
Even though it is open and without a real standout, I do hope something puts in performance that can keep the naysayers quiet for a bit.
The one benefit of it being so open is that most of the bookies go 4/1 the field, so there is plenty of value to be had if you can find the right one, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.
The Derby (4:30 Epsom):
Let’s start by getting the elephant out of the room. Diore Lia shouldn’t be running. However, the BHA do not have any rulings in place so connections are fully entitled to take their place and the BHA have made a farce of this in throwing Gina Mangan under a bus. If they want a minimum standard for entries than they should add that to conditions, not use a loophole a few days before the race. The worst part of the situation, for me, was that the bookies PR even managed to turn this into a “we’ve seen plenty of money for it and have been forced to slash the odds” story. No you haven’t and no you didn’t.
Anyway, rant over. As well as Diore Lia I think we can safely rule out Pealer, Crowned Eagle and Glencadam Glory, although I could see the latter staying on into about seventh or eighth. Salouen probably won’t be good enough either, though it would be great to see a lower profile trainer win.
Dubai Thunder is also surely too lowly rated to have a chance but as he’s only had the one start he could be anything and in such an open year he might not need to step up that much, but I couldn’t back something after just the single run in The Derby, even if Lammtarra did just that for connections.
Aiden O’Brien has just the six contenders lining up. The Anvil and Wings Of Eagle look like being down the pecking order and might be there for pacemaking duties, Capri has supposedly had a bit of money come in for him and will surely appreciate the rain that arrived today and Venice Beach might be a little overpriced given the way he won the trial at Chester and I could easily see him liking the test and going close. Douglas Macarthur also lines-up and could be worth an each way punt at 25/1; he was quite well thought of and has shown improvement this year, with O’Brien saying he has mentally matured. The number one for Ballydoyle on betting and jockey bookings is Cliffs Of Moher and he looks like one of those in the line-up who could still potentially improve and go onto be a lot better than we’ve seen. He won the trial in a manner that suggests he is still learning and if he has grown up enough, he could be the one to be with here.
Two other potential improvers are both sons of Frankel. Cracksman is currently vying for favouritism and like Cliffs Of Moher we’ve really not seen enough of him to know how good he can be. He won the Epsom trial looking like he’ll come on masses for the experience and he could be very good, but the vibes haven’t exactly been glowing and I wonder if it’s worth taking him on.
The second son of Frankel is Eminent and like his sibling he has looked like he will improve from run to run. His win in the Craven is probably the standout piece of form in the field and he wasn’t disgraced in the Guineas, it was more a fact of being beaten by out and out milers and him surely wanting further. He’s not guaranteed to get the trip here but I think he’s a little overpriced and if trained by Gosden or O’Brien he’d surely be favourite.
John Gosden also runs Khalidi and I get the impression they are only running because it is such an open year. I’d be surprised if he could win.
As well as Gosden and O’Brien, Godolphin are also chucking a number of darts at this. We’ve already mentioned Dubai Thunder and they also run Benbatl, Best Solution and Permian. Benbatl was second in the Dante but it’s hard to see him being suited or good enough for this, Best Solution was very impressive in the Lingfield trial and in an open year must be respected given he won so convincingly that day, whilst Permian won the Dante. Permian is a strange one given the route he has taken; he clearly has a bit of class given his recent form but I struggle to see something that was beaten in a handicap at Bath going on to win a Derby just six weeks later. I’m also not convinced he’ll stay the mile and half so i’m happy to take him on.
The last horse lining-up is Rekindling for Joseph O’Brien who bids to follow up his impressive record as a jockey with his first runner as a trainer. There has been some positive talk around for Rekindling and plenty fancied him for the Dante but he really didn’t perform that day. However, the form of his Ballysax win looks pretty solid in the grand scheme of things and as he’s likely to enjoy the step up in trip the 25/1 avaialble might not be the worst each way bet.
VERDICT: It is such an open race that it makes it difficult to have any real confidence around anything, however, at the current prices I think it is worth taking a chance on EMINENT. The two ahead of him in the market are potential improvers and I could easily see them winning but if we are going on form in the book and potential to improve he should be at least level with those. If he was with a higher profile trainer he would surely be favourite or at least joint favourite.
There is also some definite scope for value in each way betting, with Venice Beach looking like one who will enjoy the unique test of The Derby, but at bigger prices I think it might be worth taking a chance on Rekindling and Douglas Macarthur. Some of their previous runs makes it hard to have any real confidence but they do have bits and pieces of form to suggest they could have a chance and they could both appreciate the step-up in trip, so are worth a chance at 25/1 and over.
- Cliffs Of Moher
- Douglas Macarthur