So, after some false starts and red herrings, it seems the casting for the lead roles in this year's Derby is coming closer to resolution. The Guineas may (or may not) be a decent trial, and the Lingfield and Chester trials were inconclusive at best (downright misleading at worst). But Leopardstown yesterday seemed to point spectators in the direction of a likely leading man.
Fame And Glory took his career record to four from four when annihilating the field in the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial. Although he arguably had little to beat, the time was excellent, and the manner of victory was taking.
He only had one crack with the whip and surged clear. Note though that he did show temperament - a flash of his tail - when the assistor was applied. It is likely that he'll not win the Derby without recourse to the shillelagh so that would be a minor cause for concern, but he's put the best performance on the board thus far, and looks almost certain to stay.
There is significant disparity in the bookies' opinions currently, which offers the shrewdie some value. It also gives us a chance... 😉
Fame and Glory is now available at 3/1 with Ladbrokes, and it's always a slight negative for me when 'The Magic Sign' go best priced. The reason for Lad's apparent generosity is that they were taken by Sea The Stars' win in the 2,000 Guineas.
But no Guineas winner has won the Derby this century - Golan was 2nd in 2001, everything else either didn't run or was well beaten - and Sea The Stars is bred for a mile on the sire's side, despite what the eye may have suggested at Newmarket (by Cape Cross, out of a Miswaki mare).
That said, hope for STS backers comes in the fact that his mum was the excellent racemare, Urban Sea, who did win Arc but was generally raced at around 10f. Moreover, Urban Sea has been an exceptional mare, already responsible for the 2001 Derby winner, Galileo.
Moreover, in relation to the 2000 Guineas, bear in mind that the runner-up at Newmarket went on to win the Derby in two of the last three years (New Approach and Sir Percy), so it does have merit as a trial.
It's easy enough to see why Ladbrokes make him just a 5/2 shot for the Derby, especially given he's trained by a judge in John Oxx. And if he wins, I'll wipe my mouth. But I won't be collecting at those odds.
Next in is Crowded House, clear winner of the Racing Post Trophy last backend, and favourite for the Dante Stakes at York this week. He was beaten twice from four starts as a 2yo, which doesn't inspire confidence from this quarter, even though those defeats were against beaten Guinease favourite, Delegator (on debut), and Breeders Cup Juvenile winner, Donativum.
The step up in trip looks very much in his favour and, if he's trained on from two to three, he'd be interesting. But at the price, and with the possibility that his trainer will have left something to work on between York and Epsom, I'd rather see him beaten running a nice race this week, and then back him at around 12/1 afterwards. Of course, the flip side is he might well win the Dante, and go favourite for the Epsom race. That's the chance you take!
Gan Amhras is fourth in the betting, but with just one win from four starts, I'm prepared to readily overlook this one.
Then we come to the rest of the O'Brien squad: Rip van Winkle, Age of Aquarius, Black Bear Island, Freemantle, Golden Sword, Masterofthehorse, Mastercraftsman, Rockhampton, Stately Home, and Westphalia (among, incidentally, numerous others!). I mean, really, what is a punter to make of that?!
Rip van Winkle is the shortest in the betting after a good fourth in the Guineas, but he was never going to win that race, and wasn't staying on any better than those in front. Not for me, although I had backed him last season. Age of Aquarius won the Lingfield trial, but has a reverse against Fame And Glory to overcome, so ostensibly can't win.
Black Bear Island just doesn't look good enough (though he's as low as 12/1 in places for the Derby. Freemantle beat a 89-rated handicapper last time out, which isn't Derby winning form. Golden Sword beat Masterofthehorse in the Chester Vase when supposedly the pacemaker, and it is unlikely he'd beat him again. However, it's also unlikely that Masterofthehorse can find the required improvement to be competitive in the big Epsom race.
Mastercraftsman is not bred to stay, but has strong top level form; Rockhampton will likely improve for a mile and a half, but not be nearly enough to win; Stately Home is a once raced impressive maiden winner, who has entries in both the Dante and the Glasgow Stakes this week. Should he run in either and win, he'll look very interesting for Epsom. I don't know what the Ballydoyle intentions are, but this one looks one to follow for the season whatever.
Finally, Westphalia was disappointing in the French 2000 Guineas at the weekend, and I couldn't have him for the Blue Riband.
Are we any the wiser yet?!
There are a few others that merit attention: Harbinger, Kite Wood, and Nehaam.
Harbinger, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won a Chester maiden and may just be too inexperienced for the hurly burly of a Derby. Then again, Stoute has nothing higher in the betting and he knows what it takes to win the 3yo Classic. Breeding suggests he might not quite see out the 12 furlong trip though.
Kite Wood is in the Dante this Thursday, and won the same race that Nashwan and Nayef did at Ascot last backend. He's another who should improve for the run, and can be considered for Epsom at this stage.
And, finally, Nehaam did very well to overcome the inexperience of just a single previous run when extending his unbeaten career in a valuable sales race at Newmarket over 10f last time out (Rockhampton in 3rd). He takes a deserved step up for the Dante this week, which will teach us a lot.
Ok, so what does all this mean? Well, it means we need two more pieces of the jigsaw before we can see things more clearly:
- Aidan O'Brien's running plans
- the race for the Dante Stakes
Looking at the quality of the field for the Dante, and fitness taken on trust notwithstanding, it seems to me that the Derby winner will run on Thursday. What is much harder to say is which of the beasties that is...
One further potential fly in the ointment (as if there weren't enough already!) is that Redwood, who will not be a big outsider for the Dante, would need to be supplemented for the Derby should he run well enough to merit it.
My take is that I hope that Nehaam or Kite Wood wins the Dante and, if Crowded House is unfit and runs into a place, I'll look to back him at around 10's afterwards.
Stately Home is an interesting throwaway bet. My current exposure is as follows (backed RvW last year):
Now, as promised, the much-requested and long-awaited return of system / service reviews is upon us. Already lined up for this week are both Lowlay.com (a laying service) and The Protege (a very interesting backing system), with more to follow.
The approach will be that posts will appear most days, but will be unadvertised (i.e. you will need to check here to see what the latest news is). I will still continue to post as I do now, and to send you an email to tell you that. But most or all of the daily system updates will 'just be here'.
Hope that makes sense. I've added a new page, called the Horse Racing Systems Review Wishlist, which you can access from that link. That page contains most of the systems you requested, and details of how you can request other systems be added, so check it out.
That's all for today - I never like betting on a Monday, hence the ante-post squint.