What are the best bets in the Derby?
There is no outstanding candidate for this year’s Derby and the fact bookmakers are going 5/1 the field tells you that finding the winner won’t be easy.
In most years the trials do their work and provide us with a manageable band of runners from which to select from or at least base an opinion on. Think of the likes of Motivator, Authorised and Golden Horn (last year) smashing up the opposition at York, or Camelot towering over his rivals in the Guineas and then doing it again at Epsom. Not this year, though, and we are faced with 18 colts in arguably the most open Derby field ever – and you don’t have to try too hard to make a case of sorts for 17 of them.
A good starting point is anything trained by Aidan O’Brien as he wins more Derbys than most (five at the last count). His team has been whittled down to five and one one of those, Shogun, is a 40/1 shot. Stablemate Idaho is shorter at around 16/1 but has been found wanting in a couple of trials this spring, though the step up to 1m4f might be just what he needs. He should stay far better than Deauville, who is considered to be more of a miler, but the forecast juice in the ground tempers enthusiasm and that is also a worry for US Army Ranger, who has plenty to find on bare form besides, after just scrambling home from another stablemate Port Douglas (tenderly ridden) at Chester last time out. O’Brien might have to wait at least another year for his sixth Derby.
John Gosden is playing catch-up with a couple of wins under his belt so far, most recently with Golden Horn, and his Dante winner Wings Of Desire seems sure to go off favourite. However, while he was keeping on over 1m2f at York, he is by no means certain to get this far being a son of Pivotal and I’m not sure he has enough to tactical speed to cope with a big field on this more undulating track, given that he was being chased hard into the bridle rounding the turn on the Knavesmire. I make him a lay at the odds.
Sir Michael Stoute has won five Derbys (most recently with Workforce in 2010) and, having seen his winter favourite Midterm fall by the wayside, he looks to have discovered a suitable replacement in the gorgeously bred Ulysses – both his parents Galileo and Light Shift were Epsom Classic winners. However, he’d be the first horse since Shaamit 20 years ago to emerge from maiden company – since that blip every winner has run in a recognised trial previously – and that is also a black mark against Ed Dunlop’s Red Verdon, a winner of a Haydock handicap last time.
We’re getting down them now (not fast enough – I hear you say!) and it’s about time to get off the fence and give you my idea of the winner. I’ve narrowed it down to a couple. The French challenger Cloth Of Stars, as are all Andre Fabre’s cross-channel raiders, has to be worthy of considerable respect. The trainer is treading the same path as he did with Pour Moi, the 2011 Derby hero, with the duo both winning the same Group 2 at Saint-Cloud before having a racecourse gallop at Breakfast with the Stars. He appeared to handle the track well enough on that occasion and it’s significant that Fabre has encouraged owners Godolphin to stump up the £75,000 supplementary fee.
That said, he has been far cooler on the colt’s chance than he was five years ago (very bullish then, I seem to remember), and I just prefer the chances of another Godolphin runner in MOONLIGHT MAGIC – and not just because he is twice the odds. He lost his unbeaten record at Leopardstown in April, when heavy ground was the likely culprit, but bounced back with a smooth win at the same venue on his next start. Being out of a half-sister to Galileo and Sea The Stars, he looks fairly certain to be perfectly at home over this trip and represents a proven Classic trainer and jockey, Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning respectively, who teamed up to land the 2008 renewal with New Approach.
Godolphin have never won this race but that is an anomaly that, surely, must soon be corrected and in the selection they may have the horse to do so at last.