2014 Epsom Derby Preview, Trends, Tips
The three-year-old Championship race, the Epsom Derby, hereafter known simply as 'the Derby', will be run over a mile and a half of Epsom's helter-skelter pistes on Saturday 7th June.
Most of the major trial races have now been run, and a clear favourite has emerged in the shape of Australia. But is it as cut and dried as odds of 4/6 on that one suggest?
In this post, I'll look at the trends, dosage profiles, and form for the race and its main contenders, and bid to identify a likely winner and an outsider at a price.
2014 Epsom Derby Trends
The Irish trainers have claimed seven of the fourteen renewals since 2000, from just 29% of the runners
A high draw is disadvantageous, with just three of the last seventeen winners (18%) able to overcome a stall position of higher than ten, from 31% of the runners. Carlton House (5/2) and Jan Vermeer (9/4) were recent runners to fail at short prices, though Authorized (5/4, 2007) was able to demonstrate his class from the car park.
Every winner since 1992 (Dr Devious) has finished first or second on their previous start, which may be bad news for True Story and Geoffrey Chaucer fans.
All of the last seventeen Derby winners had run within the last 35 days, from 85% of the runners.
Sixteen of the last seventeen Derby winners came from the first four in the betting.
2014 Epsom Derby Dosage
Dosage is a method of projecting the likely speed and/or stamina in a racehorse, based on its lineage. Put simply, would you expect Usain Bolt's son - if he had one - to be good at running marathons or, more likely, sprint races? The full chapter and verse on dosage can be found here.
The dosage profiles of the winners of the Derby look like this, and there's a broad correlation between the majority of them, with the exception of the exceptional Sea The Stars.
Against that context, here is how the main market contenders shape up on dosage in 2014:
Those in bold conform to the broad dosage trends, and those underlined are within a 25% range of the mean average.
As we can see, very horses can be confidently ruled out on dosage, though some do look better suited than others. Australia, though a bit thin on total dosage points, scores optimally on both the index and centre of distribution pointers.
Others with at least two 'underlines' are Adelaide, Ebanoran, Fascinating Rock, Orchestra and Toast Of New York.
2014 Epsom Derby Form Preview
And so to the form book. One of the key challenges for Derby punters is the relative dearth of form in the book. Derby winners have won with as few as a single form line (e.g. Lammtara, 1995).
And a further fly in the wagering ointment is the likelihood that many Blue Riband aspirants can be expected to improve markedly for both the experience and the fitness of their prep races. So a degree of projection is required as well an eye to the form book, the dosage and the trends. And, after all that, there's a good chance the play will be an odds on shot this year!
Let's start with the aforementioned odds on shot, Australia. A winner of two of his four starts to date, he was a staying on third in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his only run this term. It is too early to consider the merit of that race, though the only subsequent runner - The Grey Gatsby - won the Dante, one of the main Derby trials, at York.
And this is the problem with Australia. The merit of his form can be questioned. Not to any significant degree, but certainly enough to find quotes of odds on unappetizing. He can win, of course, but a deeper inspection of his quartet of runs reveals that he beat a sick horse in the well-regarded Free Eagle last backend. Stablemate, Kingfisher, was back in third that day and he won the minor trial, the Dee Stakes, at Chester beating a group of horses that could not be considered Derby horses.
Nevertheless, Australia did beat The Grey Gatsby and he did beat Kingfisher; and that pair did beat a collection of erstwhile Derby wannabe's.
For those brave/foolish enough to bet against the former colony, the good news comes in double-digit prices your choice. The heavily supported in recent days, Geoffrey Chaucer, is next in the betting at 12/1. I'd backed him before his unlucky-looking defeat in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown.
He was eased off there, beaten less than three lengths having had the door slammed on him twice up the straight. It was what the jockey, Joseph O'Brien, deserved for an ambitious (read, careless) ride, and he's a jockey that has seemed to be giving his mounts plenty to do of late, Dick Whittington being another that should have won the other day.
It's not clear to me whether Geoffrey Chaucer would have won that day, but I do feel that it was a strong trial, with the first past the post, Ebanoran, improving for the step up to ten furlongs, and the official race winner, Fascinating Rock, looking a genuine contender for Epsom glory.
Geoffrey Chaucer will improve for that run, as will Australia no doubt, and he's a viable place possible, though his price is short enough now. If GC has improvement to come for that run, then so too does Fascinating Rock for the prospect of slightly better ground.
He's by Fastnet Rock, an Australian sire on the Coolmore roster who did his career winning at five and six furlongs (!), but has proven a good influence for middle distance horses. Dermot Weld is a trainer with few peers, and he seems to like Fascinating Rock a lot. If he handles Epsom's contours - Weld commented on his horse getting unbalanced in that last race - he has a fine chance of making the frame at least.
Ebanoran for his part seemed to nick the race - from a first past the post perspective, at least - and was at the end of his tether by the line. That was his second start this term, so he may not have as much progression as some to Derby day and, despite having huge respect for John Oxx's Derby record (won in 2000 and 2009), Ebanoran is unlikely to be a Sinndar or Sea The Stars.
The home defence is spearheaded by Kingston Hill and Western Hymn. The former, trained by Roger Varian, was an impressive winner of the Racing Post Trophy last autumn, but was five lengths behind Night Of Thunder in the 2000 Guineas. The ground was good to firm that day, and it was soft at Doncaster for his Group 1 win, and therein may lie the key to this fellow. If it's wet, I'd be prepared to forgive his Guineas effort. If it's not, I would not. In any case, it's hard to recommend a horse ante post with the perception that he might be ground dependant, British weather being what it is.
The form of the Racing Post Trophy is solid, mind, so turf on the soft side of good would likely make Kingston Hill a player.
Western Hymn looked a world beater on his seasonal reappearance, surging clear of a field headed by Snow Sky, a reasonable yardstick. Snow Sky was two and a quarter lengths behind Western Hymn, but had been over eleven lengths behind Kingston Hill previously. He was then a convincing winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial, effectively eliminating anything beaten that day as not good enough.
Since then, Western Hymn ran a less scintillating race, though still victorious, in the Sandown Classic Trial. The last time that race had a bearing at Epsom was 1997, when Benny The Dip touched off Silver Patriarch in a memorable finish. In his favour, Western Hymn is still unbeaten after three runs. Against him is quirky high head carriage which, while not stopping him so far, may betray an attitude issue, hitherto masked by the speed with which his legs propel him. And, of course, like Michael Johnson, that high head carriage may simply be the way he gets the job done better than the rest.
On balance, Western Hymn is not for me.
True Story was electric in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket, over nine furlongs. Much was expected of him in the Dante at York, but he was never travelling at any point in the race and did well to finish as close as he did, a one and a half length third.
The main suggestions for that defeat - and the laboured performance that led to it - are that the ground was too slow (it was good to soft), and that he may have 'bounced' after his b-i-g effort at HQ. Both are credible, and both leave a reservation about Epsom.
If it was a ground issue, are connections - and those about to wager - sure that the turf will be any quicker on Derby day? If it was the bounce, are three weeks enough to recharge the batteries? Either way, True Story looks a tenuous proposition as a Derby ticket. I'm calling 'bluff' about the True Story.
Orchestra was last seen winning the Chester Vase, the race taken by Ruler Of The World en route to Derby glory last year. Ruler Of The World was a much more striking victor, clearing away by six lengths in a short field of four. But Orchestra ran green as grass, and has bags of scope to be better than the bare form of that run. Moreover, the soft ground there may have stretched his stamina and, while he saw it out all right, a sounder surface is likely in early June. He's another with a place chance, and he has an almost perfect dosage profile, and a perfect trends fit.
The meat in the Dante sandwich, or more correctly the nag between The Grey Gatsby (won't stay, doesn't go to Epsom) and True Story, was Arod. Until I watched that race again, I hadn't realised how far out of his ground Spencer was on Arod. With around five lengths to make up in the last furlong and a half, he's been beaten three-quarters of a length at the line, passing all bar The Grey Gatsby in the process.
On just his third start, that was an impressive mid-stretch run, though breeding suggests the Derby trip might be at the very upper end of his stamina spectrum. 20/1 is fair enough if you think he'll stay, and I'd be interested in a match bet with True Story on good to soft, but he did seem to flatten out a little right at the death at York, and I want a more likely stayer in my corner.
2014 Epsom Derby Tips
So, where does that all leave us? Clearly, Australia has a standout chance and could win well. But if you're not already on at a nice-looking price, then I cannot recommend you get involved at a top priced 5/6.
I'd rather back one each way or, even more interestingly, in the 'without Australia' markets. I think the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial looked the deepest field in terms of quality, and I'd expect at least one of the podium finishers at Epsom to emerge from that race. As I've backed Geoffrey Chaucer already (at 16/1, then I watched him drift to 25/1 after that trial), I'll be cheering him on. But I think he's skinny enough now at 12/1 best.
Fascinating Rock would unquestionably have won but for being interfered with, and the stewards looked spot on in awarding him the race. He's quite likely to improve for better ground, which he should get in the Derby - it was yielding to soft at Leopardstown - and he's a typically progressive Dermot Weld horse. 6/1 win only in the 'without Australia' market, and 14/1 each way in the 'all in' market, looks pretty fair. He must surely run a big race, if he acts on the track (a comment which applies to all, in fairness).
Soft ground would make Kingston Hill interesting. He's likely to stay, and should come on a ton for that first run of the season. I don't think he needs soft; rather I feel it might inconvenience/slow some of the others down sufficiently for him to prevail. 14/1 would be enticing if it were still available after a bout of wet weather around Surrey way.
And Orchestra could step up again on what he's done so far. He should be fitter for that opening run of the year, and sharper for the experience; and he showed he stays a mile and a half there, something the rest have still to prove.
Epsom Derby 2014 1-2-3
1st Fascinating Rock
3rd Kingston Hill (soft) / Orchestra (quicker ground)
Suggested 2014 Derby bets
Fascinating Rock each way 14/1 (1/4 odds 1-2-3) Betfred, Seanie Mac, totesport, Hills
Fascinating Rock win only 'without Australia' 6/1 Paddy Power
Orchestra each way 'without Australia' 12/1 (1/4 odds 1-2-3) Ladbrokes