The second of two days at Epsom features two Group 1 contests over a mile and a half, the highlight unquestionably being the 2016 Investec Derby.
2.00 1m2f Handicap (Class 2, 3yo)
A big field where low drawn prominent racers may have an advantage. Medburn Dream has stall seven, which is not ideal, but he comes here on the back of a facile hat-trick in search of a fourth win since mid-April. His unfashionable connections - trained by Paul Henderson - mean he's probably a bigger price than his form deserves, and he's looked like he'll stay further than the 8.5 furlong max that he's faced thus far. That was at Epsom, so the course holds no fears, and it was on soft ground which also seems to show him to best effect.
There is a lot of pace in the race - the likes of Soldier In Action, Champagne City and Finelcity habitually push on - but two of those are drawn outside Medburn Dream.
With the known front runners coming from traps 6, 7, 8 and 10, there is also scope for some scrimmaging on the inside in what might be a messy race.
Richard Kingscote is a very good jockey and steps in to replace Franny Norton on 12/1 Medburn Dream, who rates the bet.
The below "new customer" offer from Betbright will give you £40 worth of bets for a tenner, which isn't terrible if you're betting at Epsom today...!!
2.35 Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Group 3, 1m 1/2f, 3yo+ fillies/mares)
Not one but two French raiders for this girls' Group 3 over the extended mile. Just seven go to post, and Sayana is likely to be favoured. Alain de Royer-Dupre's regally home-bred filly is a half sister to both Siyouma (dual Group 1 winner) and Siyouni (Group 1-winning colt) as well as to the Listed winner and Group-placed Siyenica.
Beaten on her debut in October 2014, Sayana has had just three runs since, all wins, either side of a year out between April 2015 and April 2016. She has made all in two of that trio of victories, including in Listed grade last time, and may attempt a similar tactic in this small field.
She has plenty in hand on what looks a largely disappointing supporting cast. Merry Me wasn't beaten far on her seasonal bow at a time when Andrew Balding's horses were not firing on all cylinders, and she might revert to type by filling the runner up spot, something she's done in three of her last five outings.
SAYANA to make all.
Merry Me at 9/2 without the favourite (bETvICTOR) is a reasonable alternative.
3.10 Coronation Cup (Group 1, 1m4f, 4yo+)
A fantastic renewal of the Coronation Cup with five of the eight contenders having won a Group or Grade 1 contest within their last four races. Whoosh!
In that context, perhaps the odds-on quotes for Postponed are a touch on the skinny side. Luca Cumani's loss has been Roger Varian's gain as this chap has continued his winning progression in a sequence of four unbeaten. The first brace was for 'Filthy' Luca, who won the King George at Ascot and the Prix Foy at Longchamp; after which Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum promptly removed all of his horses from Bedford House Stables.
Since then, Varian opted to miss the Arc last October and instead saddled Postponed to win both the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold Stakes and the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, collectively worth over two and a half million pounds!
Varian's five year old acts on all going and is fully effective at this trip, as he's shown with all of the above quartet of victories coming over twelve furlongs. He comes here nicely rested after 70 days away from the track, providing time to recover from both the early season exertions and the round-the-world travel. Perhaps, then, those odds are not so skinny after all.
In Found, however, he has a worthy opponent. The Coolmore filly may not be the easiest to second guess - she's been beaten five times as a short-priced favourite - but on her day she is top class, as she showed when overhauling Golden Horn in the Breeders' Cup Turf last backend. She's also tough and relishes a scrap.
A three pound sex allowance may not be enough to facilitate her passing Postponed, but it gives her a shot at him.
Indeed, Varian's horse faces three filly foes. Supporting Found are both Simple Verse and Arabian Queen. The former was highly progressive last season for trainer Ralph 'Don't Call Me Ralf' Beckett, developing from an opening mark of 77 to 115 by year end.
Her last two runs were in the St Leger and the British Champions' Fillies' and Mares' Stakes, both Group 1's, and she won both. It is very likely she needed her first run of the season in a Newmarket Group 2, with that effort expected to have brought her to concert pitch for this first G1 tilt of 2016. She looks sure to face easier tasks - probably against her own sex - later in the season, but this will show connections what they have to work with.
Arabian Queen didn't quite get the credit she deserved for beating Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International Stakes last summer. That was a fearless front-running performance, a tactic she looks likely to adopt once more at a track where she won the preceding Princess Elizabeth Stakes last season; but she looks susceptible to a closer in a field so deep on quality.
It really is a tremendous race and Second Step, for the usurped Cumani, may play a hand. How Luca, as gallant a gentleman as he is, would love to land a glove on his former charge, metaphorically and in terms of the result, of course! In a quirky coincidence, Merry Fox Stud, owners of Second Step, spread most of their horses between Cumani and Varian.
This five year old son of Dalakhani won the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten last summer, and has run with credit since. Two of his last three races have been at the mile-and-three-quarter distance, and all three were on good or faster.
Breeding suggests that the easier ground should be within his compass, as does his Newbury maiden win (good to soft) and a Listed Curragh triumph (yielding). Those were the last two of three career runs on softer than good - the other being a debut neck second on soft - and he could step forward a pound or three for this different challenge. At 20/1 he makes some each way appeal in that context.
The remaining trio probably won't count.
In a very high class renewal of the Coronation Stakes, POSTPONED looks likely to take all the beating. But he's hard to back at 4/6 or thereabouts, for me at any rate. I'd rather have a little interest in Second Step, both each way and especially in the 'without' market when that is priced up. I think he'll beat Arabian Queen and, if either or both of Found and Simple Verse mis-step a touch he may have their measure, too. 20/1 at a quarter the odds 1-2-3 with bet365 looks very fair.
3.45 Investec "Dash" Handicap (Class 2, 5f, 3yo+)
Famously the fastest five furlongs in the game, Epsom's largely downhill charge will be a bit slower than is often the case as a result of the sodden lawn.
Twenty are declared, with history suggesting the track might slightly help those drawn high. Those racing on the speed have normally held sway, especially when the ground has been quicker. I'm not certain that trailblazers will see it out this time, but I'm not certain they won't either!
The real early burners look to be Normal Equilibrium and Red Baron, with a hatful of others who can - and often do - bid to make all.
Roger Varian's Maljaa is expected to sit just off the speed, something he's done to sterling effect in finishing in the first two in nine of his ten races, and the top three in all ten. That sequence includes big field handicaps four times and two wins on softer than good. His draw in six is less than perfect but far from terminal and he looks an obvious contender.
Kevin Ryan's Mukaynis has much to like. He won a seventeen-runner sprint handicap (six furlongs) on good to soft last autumn, and in two outings this season has hinted at being ready to blossom. After a second on the all weather, he endured a luckless passage over this trip at Chester last time.
Lady Luck will again be in play as Shane Gray bids to weave a passage from the centre of a packing field: if the splits come he's a big price at 20/1.
2014 Dash winner, Caspian Prince, is having his first British start since September last year after a fruitless spell in France and Dubai. Although he only made the first three in one of those five runs, he was within five lengths of the winner in all of the four five furlong races.
After three months off, he'll be primed and ready to go, and has a live chance of bagging the near side rail from stall 17 - all three drawn higher are slower starters as a rule. Racing off a seven pound higher mark than when prevailing in 2014, he's only two pounds higher than a big field York sprint handicap success last summer. He looks likely to run well again.
Oodles more with prospects, including last year's winner (and 2012 runner up), Desert Law, and the very fast-starting Roudee.
Maljaa is an obvious placepot pick, but at the prices, 20/1 Mukaynis makes most appeal.
4.30 Investec Derby (Group 1, 1m4f, 3yo)
It looks the most open Derby in years, with literally no outstanding performers so far. Indeed, for much of the last few weeks, a pair of fillies - Minding and So Mi Dar - headed the market. In the end, neither lines up, and the colts have largely yet to shine. 5/1 the field confirms as much.
Much has been made of the draw in recent days. As the below data shows, there is actually little to no basis to the perception that inside draws are somehow unfavoured. Indeed, it looks a very level playing field, something which cannot often be said about Epsom's wonky runway!
Default favourite, just about, is Aidan O'Brien's US Army Ranger, a horse whose reputation is a lot taller than his track exploits up to this point. Although unbeaten in two, that hitherto invincibility owes plenty to the team tactics of Seamie Heffernan who, when riding stablemate, Port Douglas, at Chester, first allowed US Army Ranger up his inside and then failed to exert maximum pressure in the final furlong.
Port Douglas was beaten a head, conceding four pounds to the winner, but there is greater scope for the Ranger to improve.
The key to the former might be the ground: Port Douglas' form on good or quicker reads 1212, with both defeats coming when the word 'soft' entered the going description. That looks odds-on to be the case on Saturday.
US Army Ranger can step forward, as mentioned, and he'll need to. Even though the seven length third that day, Ormito, was beaten just a length behind another Derby contender, Algometer, at Goodwood subsequently, that level of form looks a way below the Dante Stakes.
There, Wings Of Desire justified his trainer's faith in pitching him from a Wolverhampton maiden into the pre-eminent Derby trial with a smooth victory over Deauville et al.
With none of the dozen Dante runners having stepped out since, it is difficult to know what to make of the form. Wings Of Desire has been easy to back, presumably because of soft ground fears; but his connections - trainer, John Gosden, and jockey, Frankie Dettori - won last year's Derby with a 'now' horse in Golden Horn, so they know the drill.
Interestingly, Wings Of Desire is by Pivotal out of an In The Wings mare: both sire and dam's sire have been solid influences for soft ground performers historically, and In The Wings is a good stamina influence too.
With both Wings and the Ranger at 5/1, I'd take Johnny G's lad in a match bet every time.
Deauville has been beaten on each of his last three starts and that surely is not Derby-winning form. Moreover, though bred to have a decent chance of staying a mile and a half, he seemed as though he was at the end of his rope over York's ten and a half furlong Dante distance.
Godolphin's French raider, Cloth Of Stars, represents Andre Fabre and Mikael Barzalona, a team who claimed the 2011 Derby spoils for Coolmore with Pour Moi. There can be few trainers who would ever have had horses owned by Coolmore and Godolphin in their yard simultaneously, which reflects on the peerless brilliance of M. Fabre.
Of his colt, the fact that he's here speaks of his ability. Moreover, he had a gentle jaunt around Epsom's slopes and cambers at Breakfast With The Stars last week; and he handled them well enough in that pressure-less situation. The robustly-bred son of Sea The Stars (out of a Kingmambo mare) has, like many STS progeny, stepped forward from two to three. His reversal of form with Robin Of Navan looks high class and he has already shown he acts on soft, having won a ten furlong Group 3 on heavy ground, and a mile maiden on soft on his juvenile debut. With six runs to his name, he has less progression than some, but more experience.
Ulysses is coming to hand at the right time, if recent market moves are any indication. A 50/1 chance four weeks ago, Sir Michael Stoute's Galileo colt is now 7/1 after winning a Newbury maiden by eight lengths (good to soft). Again, no runner has come out of that race since, so pegging the form is tricky. But his prior second to Imperial Aviator in a Leicester maiden looks very good, with the winner there hacking up in a deeply competitive handicap, a performance which earned him a supplementary entry for the French Derby.
Ulysses is well-bred - by Galileo out of a Kingmambo mare - and will act on the ground. He could also be good enough, making his price reasonable at worst. Especially if you were on at anywhere close to 50's!
Moonlight Magic won the Derrinstown Derby Trial by a length and a quarter from Shogun, who also lines up. Neither is a shoo in to get the trip on breeding, though the former was going on at the finish at Leopardstown that day. His one defeat from four starts came on heavy, when whacked by Harzand in the Ballysax Stakes.
Harzand has won both his three-year-old starts, both over ten furlongs and both on heavy ground. The wetter the better, then, for Dermot Weld's Aga Khan-bred and owned colt. By Sea The Stars out of Hazariya, herself a Listed winner and Pattern performer at up to ten furlongs, Harzand should get the trip no problem. He is a very interesting contender at the prices - around 14/1.
Owen Burrows runs the colt with arguably the best form in the race, and yet he is 16/1. Massaat was second in the 2000 Guineas, closing at the finish, and comes here a fresh horse. The trip is a big question mark: he's by Teofilo out of an Acclamation mare who herself was a six furlong sprinter.
It would be no surprise if this chap turned up in something like the Jersey Stakes after failing to get home here.
One who will stay, without looking good enough even in a potentially sub-par year, is Red Verdon. Ed Dunlop's Lemon Drop Kid colt has won his last two races - both handicaps - at the Derby trip. But a rating of 102 gives him a stone to find with the best of these on known form, and he may not have the progression - or the class - of others in the field. He can finish top six, based on certain stamina alone, but is surely not good enough to take the whole enchilada, as they say Stateside.
That last comment probably applies to the rest of the field, though Humphrey Bogart could just be seen to better effect than so far given twelve furlongs and softish ground. There is plenty of stamina on the dam's side and he won the eleven furlong Lingfield Derby Trial. In what may be a weak renewal, that form could make him a more credible contender than 25/1 implies.
This is the most open Derby for years, and though it looks weak now, it is worth remembering how early in the season the Derby is run; and how much scope to step forward some of the runners have.
5/1 about either of Wings Of Desire and US Army Ranger is unexciting when there are other runners with as much potential upside at double those odds and more. I backed Cloth Of Stars at 12's a while back and guess his price is about right now in what is essentially a guessers' race.
Harzand could be a touch of value. He's looked good this year - on very deep ground, granted - and looks certain to stay.
It's certainly not a race in which to go mad from a punting perspective, but it could produce an exciting finish one way or another: either via a bunch photo or a lone impressive scorer. I'm personally hoping for the latter, and a three-year-colt finally exerting some authority over his peer group.
5.15 1m4f Handicap (Class 2, 4yo+)
The last two races have 35 runners entered between them, so finding a winner will be super-tough. In fact, aside from hoping I'm still in the placepot, and trying to get through this final leg, I'll be leaving them to braver/savvier souls.
As we can see from the Derby pace picture above, hold up horses often fare well in big field contests over this distance. As such, Duretto, Karraar and Green Light comprise the hastily arranged shortlist.
Duretto hails from the Andrew Balding stable, and has already won over this trip on rain softened ground. His late running style requires the planets to align, but this upwardly mobile son of Manduro, out of a Lando mare (cracking German breeding), is still on a pleasing ascendancy.
Karraar has a bit more to find after a win at Ffos Las Vegas last time, but he too should be comfortable enough on the squelchy turf. The Haggas team have stepped up a notch in the past fortnight with 7 wins and nine further placings from 26 runs at time of writing. Karraar has been off for 265 days, which may be a positive or a negative: it's a positive if he's strengthened up from four to five years, a negative if he needs the run. The market should guide.
Green Light's one win in sixteen starts tells a sorry tale of arriving on the scene too late, getting stopped in the run, and other predictable excuses that hold-up types bandy about with puke-inducing regularity (if you've backed them).
Despite that, the gaggle of early pace runners in this field offers (false?) hope to fans of Raif Beckett's nag that this will be the day. He's by Derby winner, Authorized, and has a chance to follow in the old man's hoofprints.
This trip and ground should be right up Barwick's street. He's a dual course and distance winner - on soft and heavy - and remains in hailing distance of that last winning mark. Another who rattles home late, he would be far from a shock winner.
If something wins from the front, fair play, but I'll be working with these Johnny Come Lately's in the 'pot. No more than a suggestion for the win is Duretto, as uninspired as that may be.
5.50 6f Handicap (Class 2, 4yo+)
And we close with a six furlong 17-runner sprint around the corner and across the camber. Bonne chance, as they say.
In that context, these thoughts are offered for the whimsical amongst the readership more than anything else, and Zanetto is the first name on the team sheet.
Drawn in two, and with the pace to take advantage of that low berth, he's a stone below his highest rating. That was when trained by Andrew Balding, but this will be only his second start for John Quinn, following up a most promising fourth in a big field at York three weeks ago. He should make a very bold bid from the front inside.
Blaine has dropped a stone in six runs, the last two of which were over five furlongs, and the step back up - allied to that weights ease - could see him get involved, though he might want the ground a little quicker. Kieren Fallon is an eye-catching jockey booking: expect him to attempt to weave a passage late.
Iseemist's form at six furlongs on good to soft is impressive, as you can see from the below.
That most recent combination of six furlongs and good to soft was at Goodwood, and the oldest was at Brighton, both similarly helter-skelter tracks. And those two big-field victories also take the eye.
Shane Gray is a jockey going places, and I may have talked myself into having a diddy bet in this race. At 16/1 there is little downside to Iseemist for small stakes.