The Derby Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race open to three-year-old colts and fillies. It is run during the Epsom Derby Festival over a distance of one mile, four furlongs and 6 yards, on the first Saturday of June each year, the day after the Epsom Oaks
It is Britain's richest horse race, and the most prestigious of the five Classics. The race serves as the middle leg of the colts Triple Crown, preceded by the 2000 Guineas and followed by the St Leger. The name "Derby" has become synonymous with great races all over the world, and as such has been borrowed many times, notably by the Kentucky Derby.
The Derby at Epsom is the original and in Great Britain is invariably referred to simply as "the Derby" rather than the Epsom Derby, for fear of reprisals from Tony Coleman and his pedantic ilk.
Since the race last went under the spotlight, Circus Maximus (20/1 with 888Sport), Anthony Van Dyck (6/1 with BetHard), Broome (9/2 with MoPlay) and Telecaster (9/2 with Bet365) have won the Dee Stakes, Lingfield Derby Trial, the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and the Dante Stakes in that order.
It’s not altogether surprising that the trio now fill three of the first four slots in the betting for the Classic, while both Telecaster and Chester Case winner Sir Dragonet (3/1 with SportNation) have been supplemented at a cost of around £85,000 on Monday, the latter favourite for the race on the back of that news having run out a most impressive winner at Chester, albeit on soft ground which his trainer says he doesn’t need, but on which he’s been successful on his only two starts to date.
For winners, there must be losers of course, and the most obvious one is the ante-post favourite Too Darn Hot, who I recommended be ignored given his chance of staying looked unlikely. In the end, he ran a big race to be second to Telecaster at York in the Dante, but the verdict of his jockey was that he didn’t stay, and he was scratched from the race and sent to the Curragh for the Irish 2000 Guineas, where he confirmed rather than boosted the York form by finishing second.
Surfman ran well to be third having been held up too far off the pace, Japan was also better than the result in fourth, but still goes down as having something to prove given his weakness in the market, and Line of Duty was bitterly disappointing in seventh, but remains in the field.
Circus Maximus didn’t need to improve to win the Dee Stakes in the mud at Chester, and it’s not easy to quantify what he did there, with runner-up Mohawk dropped back in trip next time and Fox Chairman arguably unlucky. On the other hand, the Galileo colt has clearly trained on, which is no surprise as his dam Duntle improved massively as a three-year-old, and his juvenile form looks very strong in retrospect.
Third to subsequent Classic winners Persian King and Magna Grecia on his first start out of maiden company in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket, he improved again when beaten just a length behind Classic winners Magna Grecia and Phoenix of Spain in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster despite not being seen to best effect.
That race has proven a rich source of future Pattern performers with the likes of Kick On and King Ottokar (favourite for the Chester Vase) behind. Fast ground is no concern to this unexposed colt, and he idled in front at Chester before picking up again. As a son of Galileo, he’s very likely to stay the extra distance at Epsom, and has been given a copybook preparation for the race.
For a horse who has shown top-class form as a juvenile and won his trial, he’s a surprisingly big price. I give several of O’Brien’s runners a decent chance here, and some of those will drift as the jockeys are announced, but he’s the one who has yet to fall into line.
Anthony Van Dyck beat a fair field at Lingfield, although none with any serious Derby credentials, which could be construed as counting against him. I was impressed by him, however, for two reasons. Firstly, he looked thoroughly suited by the step up to an extended 11 furlongs, and will do better again at a well-run mile and a half, which is significant as he spent most of his juvenile campaign racing at seven furlongs, and some people presume he’s fully exposed after eight runs.
Given the evidence that he stays the Derby trip well, it would be daft to think he should be defined by his performances over shorter. Secondly, he was not helped at Lingfield by having to race around the inside, and his main rivals were asked for their efforts on the stands side of the home straight, so he is worth extra credit for winning from a poor track position, while simultaneously proving he could come with downhill section before the straight at that track, which mirrors the run to Tattenham Corner. So he looks certain to stay the trip, handle the track, and with his experience he’s more likely to handle the occasion than most.
Broome was workmanlike in winning the Derrinstown from Blenheim Palace and Sovereign, and that seemed to put a few people off, but he’d already put up a smart effort to win the Ballysax, and while he’s not flashy, he seems to have the laid-back attitude which suggests that Epsom will wake him up just enough to show his best without pushing him to the edge as it does with more excitable types.
I saw nothing at Leopardstown which made me want to tear up my ante-post slip, and I’m sure he will run a solid race at Epsom. He’s reminiscent of Sinndar, who took in the Ballysax and Derrinstown before winning the Derby impressively. Sinndar was also no more than workmanlike in his prep race and was deemed too slow to win by many to triumph at Epsom, but came alive with the combination of the longer trip and a strong pace to show him to best effect, and Broome looks in similar mould. Sovereign made the running for him at Leopardstown, and looks like he will perform the same role at the weekend.
Telecaster was given a confident and well-judged ride to win at York by Oisin Murphy, and will no doubt be ridden forward again, for all he’s clearly not reliant on dominating early. The way the Dante was run makes it pretty easy to establish his merit, and on the figures he is just about the best horse in the race based on 3-y-o form.
For that reason, he deserves to be short in the betting. On the other hand, I will make the same point about him as I made about Sir Dragonet. While some of these horses have been trained specifically to peak on the first Saturday in June, Sir Dragonet and Telecaster were actually removed from the race earlier in the year, and they have both surprised their connections with their progress this spring. Having both started out running in maidens in recent weeks, the pair have ended up being trained to peak in order to prove their worthiness to re-enter the Derby picture, and that slight shift in focus is potentially crucial.
Both are undoubtedly capable of winning at the highest level, and I don’t intend to besmirch either, but given they are coming into this race in the same unusual circumstances, and I’m not sure the potential negatives of that are factored into their respective prices, although I would argue that is particularly true of Sir Dragonet.
Looking back at the Dante, I thought that while Surfman did well to get third, he looked a little awkward, and I’m not sure he will handle Epsom, while Japan looked a bit rusty before staying on well for just a couple of cracks of the whip.
He gave the impression the run would bring him on more than most, and given how much of a start he spotted the winner, it’s not fanciful to suggest he could turn the tables over another couple of furlongs. In fact, there are few in this field with the same scope for improvement at 12 furlongs and further as he has, and while I thought he’d need to win this to enhance his prospects for Epsom, I’m coming round to the idea that he was laying down a decent marker for the season ahead.
One horse who hasn’t been mentioned yet is Bangkok, a 9/1 shot with Ladbrokes, who beat Telecaster to win a maiden at Doncaster in March before taking the Bet365 Classic Trial at Sandown. It’s been suggested that he’s the forgotten horse in the race given what’s happened since his win on the Esher slopes, but I disagree. He cannot possibly be judged on his defeat of Telecaster given that was the latter’s racecourse debut, and the form of his win last time has been let down several times since.
In short, he’s the opposite of the forgotten horse, and is less than half the price he should be if people didn’t keep suggesting that he’d be half the price he is with more fashionable connections. It’s also a load of rubbish to suggest that he represents the romantic ideal of the ordinary man against the powerful and fabulously wealthy; he’s trained by a Classic-winning trainer who is the son of a Derby-winning trainer, and is owned by one of the wealthiest families in the Far East. So much for the David and Goliath anaolgies.
Both are unknowns at the time of writing, but there is a chance that the ground will be on the firm side of good, and that will place greater emphasis on handling the undulations of the track, and being able to lie up with the early gallop.
In terms of the draw, the one thing to bear in mind is that the field bears right initially on leaving the stalls before sweeping left around Tattenham Corner. As a result, horses drawn very low are disadvantaged, and last year’s beaten odds-on favourite was drawn in stall 1. Since 2000, only one horse has even managed to be placed from that draw, and it’s a decided disadvantage. Stall 2 has also produced no winners in the past couple of decades, but the disadvantage disappears quickly after that.
I want a horse who will stay but given the prospect of fast ground, I would also need one who has shown high class speed at a mile or shorter, and that counts against the current favourites. The three I’d be interested in at this stage are all trained by Aidan O’Brien, for which I make no apologies, and are Anthony Van Dyck, Japan and Circus Maximus.
How I play them on the may depend on factors unknown at this stage, such as draw and weather, but as it stands, Circus Maximus is the one who appeals as being too big based on his achievements, and his two-year-old form was franked again when Phoenix of Spain won the Irish 2000 Guineas on Saturday. He will surely shorten up, and the advice is to back him before he does.
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