2017 Investec Derby Preview, Trends, Tips
We're still in April, and have yet to see the running of the 2000 Guineas, let alone the Dante and other Derby Trials, so for some it may be a touch too early to be looking for a bet in the Epsom Classic. But faint heart never won fair maiden and all that, and with the betting quoting 12/1 bar one there ought to be an opportunity to take a couple of big-priced fliers.
2017 Derby Trends: Sire and Juvenile campaign
Let's take a look at the juvenile campaigns of the last ten winners to see if there are any themes to emerge. The table below alerts us to the following:
All bar last year's winner, Harzand, and the unraced-as-a-juvenile Ruler Of The World won their final start as a two-year-old. And each of the last nine Derby winners to race at two competed at seven furlongs or beyond on their final juvenile run, with seven of the nine running over a mile or more.
That all makes sense: the Derby is a mile and a half, and it normally takes a horse that genuinely stays the trip to win such a prestigious race.
Looking at Derby-winning sires, we see that eight of the last ten winners were sired by Galileo (three), Montjeu (three) or Cape Cross (two). And last year's winner, Harzand, is a son of Sea The Stars, himself a son of Cape Cross. Kings Best, sire of Workforce, looks the ringer and ignoring him, all other Derby-winning sires either had a Racing Post stamina index of 10.8 furlongs-plus or were Cape Cross.
Projecting forwards, where Sea The Stars is a son of Cape Cross, we need to consider progeny of Frankel for the first time this season. The key here is that there does seem to be a fairly limited pool of potential Derby dad's.
Now I fully accept that this is a somewhat 'loose' means of whittling the 140-odd remaining Derby entries. Still more concerning is the prospect of credible contenders being supplemented for the race. But we're not dealing in the realms of 6/4 chances here so allow me some latitude in this long-range lottery.
Remarkably, looking only at entries that won last time out as a juvenile and by a sire with a stamina index of 10.8f-plus (or Cape Cross) gives us just eleven possibles, all of whom - unsurprisingly - ran over at least seven furlongs on their final two-year-old start. That shortlist is as follows:
Across Dubai, Atty Persse, Big Challenge, Call To Mind, Churchill, Cliffs Of Moher, Cracksman, Eminent, Glencadam Glory, Mirage Dancer, Sir John Lavery, and Waldgeist. To that list I'd like to add Monarchs Glen, a son of Frankel, who was impressive in despatching Big Challenge first time out this season. Though not entered at this stage, if he comes through his Sandown race well this weekend, he's likely to be supplemented.
2017 Derby: Trainer Trends
Can any trainer condition a Derby winner? The answer, patently, is no. Apart from anything else, a handler needs to have been entrusted with a fortune's worth of horse flesh, and most simply are not in that precariously priveleged position. In the last twenty years, the Derby winner has emanated from one of just twelve stables.
That stat is skewed somewhat by Aidan O'Brien's five Derby wins, but the likes of Sir Michael Stoute (three), John Oxx and John Gosden (two apiece) are also multiple winners of the Epsom Blue Riband in the past two decades.
This angle can be considered moot to some degree in any case, as only Martyn Meade, an under-rated trainer on the rise, has failed to saddle a Derby winner from the dozen horses on my list.
2017 Derby: Whittling the Shortlist
A dozen horses then from which to pull an antepost plum or two. How to whittle them from twelve to a brace?
One thing I noticed is that none of the last twenty Derby winners (and probably therefore none ever) had previously raced on an all weather track. That removes the only just added Monarchs Glen from contention, along with Across Dubai and Big Challenge. Nine left.
I don't want to back a horse at 6/1 or shorter for the Derby this far out, which means I'm against Churchill. Of course he can win: he's won his last five, of six, races, including two Group 1's. But they were all at seven furlongs and he does have stamina to prove on the dam side (by a Storm Cat mare, and a full brother to Curlylocks, who never raced beyond seven furlongs). No, not at the price with that stamina question mark. Eight remaining.
As I write, Cracksman has just won the Epsom Derby Trial. That's a race that John Gosden, Cracksman's trainer, has won now won five times in the last 11 years; but he's never bagged a Derby with a winner of this. The winner won despite the way the race panned out, but a perceived preference for softer turf may not be granted in the first week of June. 12/1 is short enough even though Cracksman knuckled down well in the circumstances. Seven.
Atty Persse is entered in a handicap, off a rating of 87, on Friday. He'd be the first horse in at least twenty years to run in a handicap en route to winning the Derby, and for that reason he is scratched from my list. Six to go.
The Queen had a nice debut winner on Saturday, called Call To Mind. The son of Galileo, trained by William Haggas, was a well-fancied 6/4 chance and needed most of the runway to get ahead. He'll obviously come on for that but, with time running out, he's short on experience. Call To Mind does have an entry in the Dante and there are probably worse 33/1 shots in the field.
Another son of Galileo, this time trained by Aidan O'Brien, is Cliffs Of Moher. Very inexperienced on his debut over seven furlongs last October, he was never closer than at the line, where he came home a ten length fifth. Two weeks later he showed his true colours when bounding five and a half lengths clear of Orderofthegarter in a field of seventeen. That one has won his two subsequent starts, by ELEVEN lengths in a maiden field of TWENTY (!), and then by almost four lengths in the Listed 2000 Guineas Trial. Assuming Cliffs Of Moher has stepped forward in similar style from two to three, he must be a player. His dam, however, was a sprinter so there is a bit of a stamina question, and his trainer thinks he may have caught Orderofthegarter on a bad day, too.
Eminent was an impressive winner of the Craven, and is bred to go further. He'll presumably have his Derby trial in the 2000 Guineas and certainly deserves to be a shorter price than the 12/1 about Cracksman. He's 14/1 in a couple of places and that's fair without sucking wallet from pocket.
At bigger prices, Glencadam Glory wouldn't be the worst Hail Mary play ever. The son of Nathaniel has something to prove stamina-wise on the dam side (mum's three other progeny to race failed to win beyond a mile) but has a progressive profile. That stamina doubt allied to the fact that he's considered some way down the Clarehaven pecking order means it's a no from me.
Sir Michael Stoute's hopes may be pinned to the mast of Mirage Dancer, another Frankel colt still engaged in the Derby. There would again be a slight stamina niggle on the dam side, but the form of his debut success looks solid if unspectacular (plenty of wins/places, but nothing in especially decent class) so far. All things considered, 40/1 might be worth a fiver.
And then there were two. Sir John Lavery also heralds from the Ballydoyle production line, and is typically a son of Coolmore super-stallion, Galileo. Out of a Group 3 winning turf mare, Sir John was beaten in a nine furlong maiden on his debut last backend before running away with a similar contest over a flat mile a fortnight later. That was on soft/heavy ground, but he doesn't necessarily have to have it. The worry would be that, from the 13 subsequent runners from that maiden win, only one has made the frame, none winning, and that's him off my list at at top offer of 16/1.
Last but probably not least is the left-field French entry, Waldgeist. Winner of a mile and a quarter Group 1 as a two-year-old, there will be no stamina issues here. Yet another son of Galileo, he's out of a Monsun mare, and is bred for the Derby job sans question. It is possible he'd prefer to get his toe in but I wouldn't be anything like categorical about that, and he had a phalanx of Ballydoylers, as well as other British/Irish raiders, in his wake that last day. He's a 20/1 chance.
Of the Derby dozen, then, my shortlist is Cliffs Of Moher, Eminent, and Waldgeist, with the wild card being Mirage Dancer.
Clliffs Of Moher has a raft of fancy entries, but a number of them are at a mile lending credence to the doubt about him seeing out twelve furlongs. Still, at this stage he deserves the chance to show he can - or cannot - get a trip. He's likely to appear at Chester the week after next, and he'll be commensurately shorter if he wins there.
The Craven has been won by some crack milers in recent years, and Eminent could be the latest to fit that bill. He's a general 12/1 for the Derby and that is unlikely to drift if he finishes in the frame on his next presumed start, the 2000 Guineas. I think he has a good chance to win the mile Classic and I like his Derby claims too. He's a smart colt in the making.
Waldgeist represents the Pour Moi angle: an Andre Fabre-trained Coolmore entry planning to plunder Epsom's crown jewels. But this time, Coolmore share ownership with Newsells Park and Ammerland Studs. I don't suppose they'll mind if he wins. As with Pour Moi, he's likely to take in the Prix Greffulhe, the race the 2011 Derby winner claimed en route to that last gasp success under a flamboyant/naive/reckless* (*delete as applicable) Mikael Barzalona. Waldgeist will be favoured to win the Greffulhe, and he'll truncate from his top price of 20/1 if he preps there with a win.
The form of Mirage Dancer's race is littered with lower grade winners; but winners are winners and he was much the best on his only racecourse visit. Keep in mind that Sir Michael Stoute's two-year-old debutants win at no better than 11.5% - just twelve successes from 104 starters in the last two years. He is bred to be very good and just might make the line up at a monster price.
2017 Derby Antepost Selection
It's obviously really tricky with so much unknown at this stage. The stamina niggle puts me off Cliffs Of Moher, who is - curiously in my opinion - not in the 2000 Guineas. He could yet go to the Irish 2000 Guineas if he fails to get home over ten or eleven furlongs at Chester. I reluctantly pass him over.
Eminent has been under-rated in my opinion, owing to his unfashionable connections, and that suggests there is value in his price. His price is 14/1, which is fair but not, probably, value given he has to show he'll be as well suited to an extra half mile as he has been to the Guineas trip. Still, as I've said, it is not difficult to see him outpaced before running on in that Classic and shortening up a touch for the Derby as a consequence.
But I'll take my chances with the French raider, WALDGEIST, the biggest price of the three and the one with most form in the book at this stage. A Group 1 winner over ten furlongs, there is little doubt about either his stamina or his class so, assuming he's trained on - something we'll be privy to in a week or so's time in the Prix Greffulhe, he looks an overlooked runner at 20/1.
Mirage Dancer is a really interesting one and, for those wanting a whopper of a price, Skybet's 40/1 about his chance is mildly tempting. But I'm sticking with Monsieur Fabre's cheval noir.
2 pts win Waldgeist 20/1 Paddy Power, Betfair Sports