Desert Crown justified the hype, crashing into favouritism for the Cazoo Derby with an authoritative three-and-a-quarter-length success under Richard Kingscote in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.
With ante-post favourite Luxembourg injured and few others making a deep impression in other trials, Desert Crown’s odds tumbled from 33-1 before the 2000 Guineas to 6-1 second-favourite behind Stone Age for the premier Classic on June 4 on the strength of his home reputation.
Winner of a Nottingham maiden in November, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained son of Nathaniel had suffered a setback which had hampered his progress over the winter, yet on only his second start he clearly laid down a marker with a smooth success on the Knavesmire.
Sent off the 7-2 joint-favourite, Desert Crown was allowed to lob along near the back of the eight-runner field as White Wolf set a good tempo, but once produced three furlongs out he quickened up well and lengthened clear to score with ease from market rival Royal Patronage.
Despite showing his inexperience, drifting towards the stands rail, he had plenty to spare at the end of the extended 10-furlong contest.
Bookmaker reaction for Epsom was immediate, with Betfair and Paddy Power making Desert Crown the 2-1 Derby favourite. Coral kept Stone Age as their 2-1 market leader ahead of Desert Crown at 3-1.
Victory gave Stoute a seventh Dante success and he will now look to land the Derby for the sixth time – and the second with the colours of Desert Crown’s owner Saeed Suhail, who was victorious with Kris Kin in 2003.
“He had that hold up and he was only really ready for a race now so I’m very pleased, he was very smooth,” said the Newmarket handler.
“His temperament isn’t a problem, he’s a very relaxed horse.
“I like the Dante, it’s a good trial, a good test. He’s got further to go at Epsom, but I’d be very hopeful it wouldn’t be a problem.
“I’ve no idea what’s left to come from him, others in the race are bound to improve, too, but you’d have to expect improvement from him as it is only his second start, just his second visit to a racecourse.
“That was a big leap up. He was impressive in his maiden, but as he got behind with the hold up and behind schedule we had to do what we did and he didn’t let me down, he surprised me actually.
“What he showed me there was very encouraging. Other than Workforce all my Dante horses had had a previous race early in the season so that was very encouraging.
“I was excited watching the race, but now I’m calm.”
Mark Johnston was pleased with Royal Patronage, whose seasonal reappearance was in the Guineas, where he was eighth.
The Middleham trainer said: “You’re never delighted with second, bit it’s nice to be back in the game.
“It was a really good run. Two (furlongs) down I thought we were travelling as well as anybody, but I possibly wasn’t watching the winner at that point.
“I’d like to watch it back as just as we started to make our move it got a little bit tight in front of him. He wasn’t exactly checked, but maybe the winner got a run on us, I’m not sure.
“We ran in a mile in the Guineas, having previously planned to come here and go to Epsom. We talked ourselves into a mile for the Guineas and the one thing we know now is that’s wrong.
“We’ve got lots to think about regarding where he goes next. It could be France (for the French Derby), but it could still be Epsom.
“He’s finished second to the Derby favourite and we’re not ruling anything out.”