Epsom Derby Day 2013 Preview / Tips
The Blue Riband. Derby Day. The fourth of the quintet of British Classics is the Epsom Derby, and it's only the first day of June! Having got my rant about the anachronistic nature of the British racing calendar out of the way yesterday, I'll move straight on with the action today.
It's a cracking card - not an easy one from which to tease winners - but Premier League equine action all the same. If we can nail a couple of gold medalists, we'll likely come out in front. That, though, may be a sizable enough 'if'.
With little or no rain forecast, and a nice bit of sun for racetrack revellers to boot, we look set for a good ground Derby.
To the action...
1.35 INVESTEC OUT OF THE ORDINARY HANDICAP (CLASS 2) (3yo 0-105)
We start, fittingly enough, with the Classic generation. Ten furlongs, twelve horses, and a typically tough opening conundrum. For all its ostensible difficulty, eight of the last ten winners were priced at 17/2 or shorter, though the favourite has just two and a half (i.e. a joint fav) victories in that time.
Sir Michael Stoute has claimed three wins since 2004, but that only tells part of his race story. Without a runner in the race in 2011 and 2012, he'd previously saddled six straight favourites (between 2005 and 2010)! Sir Michael even won this race with subsequent St Leger, dual Breeders Cup Turf, and King George winner, Conduit. That's all very interesting, but as he doesn't run one this year, it's kind of academic.
Top weight is John Gosden's eventual maiden winner, Space Ship. It took him six attempts to win one, but he did run well behind some decent sorts (including one time Derby hope, Telescope). The filly he beat the last day, Butterfly McQueen, fairly hacked up on Thursday, although that was a moderate contest. A mark of 93 for winning a Chester maiden, when rated 80 at the time, seems quite harsh and certainly leaves little scope for being ahead of the handicapper.
It's a toughie, as all three year old handicaps are to me, and I'll plump for High Troja, on the balance of his form and that of his trainer. Specifically, he's won twice over this trip this season, either side of a decent third place in a competitive Newmarket handicap. He's only four pounds higher than his winning mark last time, and will surely progress again this day.
In a race where it hasn't paid to get too smart, he's a tentative pick against plenty of other unexposed sorts.
Tentative pick: High Troja 11/2
[Prices correct at time of publication, 16:30 Friday]
2.05 INVESTEC WOODCOTE STAKES (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (2yo)
A good little race for juveniles, which has been won in the recent past by horses that turned out to be solid if unspectacular types. Mick Channon can claim two wins since 2005, and Mark Johnston trumps him with three since 2002. Both are represented this year: Channon with Riverboat Springs and Johnston with Ifwecan.
Twelve of the last sixteen winners were drawn one to five, and in a race where there have been some decent sized fields, that looks relevant. And there were eight last time out winners which prevailed (from 80 to try, -37.24) in the last sixteen years.. Value seekers however might be more interested in the fact that last time out runners up have bagged six during that time (from just 31 saddled, +8.5). Either way, it seems sensible to focus on those which ran 1-2 the last day.
14/16 ran here within eight to thirty days of their prior start, and all sixteen had had one (five wins), two (five wins) or three (six wins) runs to this point.
Throwing all those profile pointers into the mixing bowl cooks up a shortlist of one: Thunder Strike. Drawn against the rail, this fellow hasn't been troubled in two starts to date, both over five furlongs, and is bred to be better over six. He's barely been out of second gear so far and, whilst he's not beaten anything which has revealed itself to have ability, he has done it very well. Richard Hughes takes the ride again, which is hardly a negative.
Haikbidiac ticks a lot of trends boxes too, though he was 'only' third last time. He did keep on well under hand urging to beaten just a length. That was in what might have been a better race than this, behind Steventon Star and, whilst that one was beaten in the National Stakes on Thursday evening, he's likely one of the best juveniles seen so far. He's a player.
Bill Turner's Money Team is taking the same route as the 2011 winner, Fulbright, in winning a five furlong Musselburgh maiden before heading here. Turner, who has saddled enough two year old winners down the years, thinks he's a nice colt, and he'll be attempting to reverse form with his debut conqueror, Riverboat Springs, with the benefit of experience. This will be his third run in just over two weeks.
Riverboat Springs, for his part, was badly outpaced in that Bath maiden, but when the penny dropped, he won going away in the manner of a decent sort. He looks sure to be better over this 20% longer trip, and might be the value in the race.
Mark Johnston's Ifwecan has a nightmare draw in eleven, as he likes to front run. His chance is probably irreparably compromised by this, and whilst his trainer has a great record in the race, I'm looking elsewhere this time.
Zalzilah annihilated a moderate field last time on fast ground, but the step up in class/trip are enough to put me off this time.
At the prices, I think Riverboat Springs could be the one. He looked smart when powering away from Money Team and the rest on debut, and that was on Bath's quirky strip, which gives hope he'll handle the undulations here. He was held up that day - or just couldn't go with them - so his draw in six may be neither here nor there.
Of the rest, Haikbidiac and Thunder Strike are obvious dangers.
Selection: Riverboat Springs
Obvious Dangers: Haikbidiac, Thunder Strike
2.40 INVESTEC CORONATION CUP (Group 1) (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
A very good race, as it should be being a Group 1. St Nicholas Abbey won it last year, and the year before; and his trainer, Aiden O'Brien has won it six times in the last eight years. St Nick is clear top-rated by seven pounds, and is proven in today's exact conditions. He's very hard to oppose.
If looking for one for the forecast, we can probably discount Chamonix. He's in as a pacemaker, and hasn't run for eight months. I'm also confident that this year's four-year-olds - and therefore last year's three-year-olds - are one of the worst crops in living memory. Quite simply, I expect the older horses to demonstrate that time and again this term.
That also rules out Chapter Seven, who may himsef be in as a pacemaker for Dunaden. All of a sudden, we're down to two: Dunaden and Joshua Tree. It's hardly surprising that they're the next two in the betting and, on official ratings at least, there's not much between them.
Dunaden is high class but there's very little value in a price of 3/1, so Joshua Tree, a Grade 1 winner over a mile and a half on good ground in Canada last backend, might be the answer. He'd have needed his seasonal debut at York, and that mile and three quarters trip would have stretched his stamina, especially when allied to his lack of match fitness that day.
Now dropping back to his best trip, and with a run under his belt, I can see this ex-O'Brien inmate giving his former pal most to think about.
Forecast suggestion: St Nick to beat Joshua Tree
3.15 INVESTEC SPECIALIST BANK "DASH" (Heritage Handicap) (CLASS 2) (3yo+)
The fastest five furlongs in the world, or so they say, and it's a virtually impossible punting proposition. That statement is lent credence by the presence of winners at 33/1 and 50/1 in the last three years. But faint punting heart never won fair pile of folding maiden, if you see what I mean, so let's try to find a route in.
Three-year-olds are none from 27 in the last sixteen years, which is a bit of a negative for Smoothtalkinraskal. Curiously, last time out winners are none from 27 too, presumably because of the additional handicap burden that victory imposes. But those finishing second to fifth last time, i.e. in form but not encumbered by weight, have won eleven of the last sixteen.
Draw is interesting: while traps one, two and three have won one each in the last sixteen years, the middle boxes have held sway. Stalls eight to twelve have accommodated the winners of nine of those sixteen renewals, with berths higher than fifteen housing the remaining four champs. Still with me? Great!
So, it's middle to high, and something with at least a touch of early pace: if you get left early here, you're probably not going to be winning. (Indian Trail and Hogmaneigh have won from the back, but the percentage call is pace pressing middle to high).
So a profile starts to emerge: older horses, drawn middle to high, ideally with early pace, and coming here off the back of a good last time out run (without winning).
Last year's 50/1 shocker, Stone Of Folca - who incidentally won from trap two - is better berthed this time, and should sit close enough to the lead to have a real go. He's not run for 255 days which is ideal for him, as he goes best fresh. His win last year was his first run for nine months, and he has a first time out record of 211.
Another former winner, has a very high draw and, in a race where the old guard have done very well down the years, he can add to his short head second in 2009 and win in 2011. He's eight now, the same age as Atlantic Viking was in 2003, and a year younger than his 2009 vanquisher, Indian Trail, was that year.
Course and distance winner, Fair Value, is well named this day, as his Epsom trainer has a good draw, and a handicap mark within the bounds of possibility. She was third last time, and likes to press the pace. She's a chance if she doesn't do too much too soon.
Long Awaited and Duke Of Firenze head the market in a race where the last winning favourite was Bishops Court for Jack and Linda Ramsden back in 2001. The former, a sprinter trained by David Barron (already a double tick in my book), has been off since the end of last September.
But he was progressive on all types of ground, and has won over course and distance. He was beaten almost seven lengths in this race last year, when a little bit squeezed. It would be stretching things to say he'd have won without that, and I don't think he's any value here, though he has plenty in his favour.
A fast run five is probably exactly what Duke Of Firenze wants, but Ryan Moore will need to be at his masterful best to chart a path through the wreckage of a score of horses rolling and stopping in front of him. I'd never put it past Moore, but he must be 6/1 to get a run, let alone win.
Top Cop has the rail draw in twenty, and very little to find with the favourite. His seven pound claiming jockey, Joey Haynes, is a decent 'bug' rider, and this six furlong horse will have something left at the business end... IF he's not outpaced beforehand.
It's the hardest puzzle of the whole weekend, and I don't pretend to have a solution. Instead, I'll fire a couple of bullets into a crowd scene and hope I... well, I'm not really sure where I'm going with this analogy, so I'll park it there!
Two hopefuls in a sea of possibilities: Stone Of Folca 12/1, Top Cop 16/1
4.00 INVESTEC DERBY (Group 1) (Entire Colts & Fillies) (CLASS 1) (3yo)
The big one. The Derby 2013. Let's start with the trends. The first thing to say is that there's rarely been a shock here in recent times. The last winner to be sent off at bigger than 7/1 was High-Rise, a 20/1 chance, back in 1998. With Dawn Approach knocking on the door of even money, and only Battle Of Marengo joining him under the 7/1 bar, it will be interesting to see how things pan out this time.
For all Aidan O'Brien's perceived dominance in the Derby, he's actually only saddled three winners: Camelot last year, and the back-to-back pair of Galileo and High Chapparal in 2001/2. Considering he's run FIFTY horses in the race since 1998, that's not a fantastic return. Indeed, he's -40.15 units for a level stake wager. Ouch.
Sir Michael Stoute's three winners in that period have come from just fourteen runners; and Jim Bolger's winner from just two runners. That winner, of course, was New Approach, father to Dawn Approach, 2013 Derby favourite.
Due to the course constitution and the general big fields, draw has historically been an issue. But, with just twelve set to go to post this year, and only one total rag, there should be no hard luck stories this time around.
Horses that won or were second last time have won this every year since 1992, when Dr Devious put a lacklustre effort in the Kentucky Derby behind him to take the British version. Incidentally, even he had been second on his previous turf start.
Don't be making excuses for horses like Mars - he's almost certainly not good enough.
The trends are all very well, but this year looks quite simple: if Dawn Approach stays this far, he WILL win the Derby. Softer ground would have made it more of a test, but it looks very much like it will be good turf for the big race, and I think he has every chance of staying. After all, his dear old man won this in 2008, didn't he?
The knock that Dawn Approach-getters point to is that his mummy is Hymn Of The Dawn, a pretty useless racemare over six, seven and eight furlongs. I'd counter that with the observation that nothing was finishing better than Dawn Approach in the 2000 Guineas and, while that's half a mile shorter than here, and while Ballydoyle team tactics will attempt to make this as grueling a test as possible, I just don't think they've got anything to get Dawn Approach off the bridle!
Let's look at the Ballydoyle squad, and their likely tactics. Firstly, Flying The Flag can serve no other purpose here than making it early. He'll have curled up with three to go, for sure. So his job is to make it quick from the start. Festive Cheer will probably then take it on, and this lad has stamina. Whether he's got much class is another question, but he could take them close to the furlong pole, when enough of the non-stayers have faded away.
I just don't like Mars. I know he's never had a better chance to prove his ability than here, but he's a long way short of some of the others on known form. Improvement is a given, but a stone and a half improvement? Highly. Unlikely.
Battle Of Marengo and Ruler Of The World are FAR more likely types to my eye. The former was dull in winning the Derby Trial and he's yet to win - or contest - a Group 1 yet. Compare and contrast with Dawn Approach, who has contested and won three of the buggers.
Ruler Of The World can be excused not contesting a Group 1, as he's only had two starts. He took time to get the idea in the first, but he fair lagged up second time in the Group 3 Chester Vase, over a mile and a half on good ground. So, we know he's improving (quickly), we know he stays, we know he will like the ground. He's got to be the most likely of the O'Brien squad and I think he's a very good each way bet to nothing in case the jolly doesn't stay.
There are three others worthy of mention: Ocovango, Chopin, and Libertarian. The first two are overseas raiders with interesting form, the latter was a surprise (to many) winner of a weak (I suspect) Dante.
Ocovango is trained by Andre Fabre, a man who rarely pops over to these shores for the sun or the wine, ahem, so he must like this boy. He's won all three so far, including in Group 2 company at around this trip, but all three have come on wet turf. How he'll fare on quicker has to be a worry, as a son of Monsun. There's no value in his price, to my eye at least, and while I've backed him each way, I think RotW offers more possibility of collecting on the win part of the wager.
Chopin has been a talking horse in recent weeks, but this first German entry in the Derby has to take his blitzkrieg Deutsche duff-ups, add three furlongs of top class Group 1 action, and come out on top. Specifically with regards to those Deutsche duff-ups, he won a nothing run at Frankfurt last back end by nine lengths over a mile; and then he won a Group 3 at Krefeld by eight lengths over nine furlongs.
I can't see it. I just can't see it. He's 10/1. To win the English Derby. Nah. (Cue incredibly hacking-up German victory).
And then there's Libertarian. Game winner of the Dante after running as green as a very verdant vegetable - a marrow perhaps - in the early stages. He's got the same dad as Dawn Approach and a much more stoutly bred mum, so there'd be no worries about the trip. And he won the Dante on merit, right enough. But surely he's not classy enough to win this after being tonked in the Sandown Derby Trial (officially the world's worst-named race: never thrown a Derby winner, never will). And that's even if he handles the contours of Epsom's lower slopes, which has to be a significant if.
So, there you are. I'm a believer. I think - and despite betting elsewhere each way, I really want - Dawn Approach to win. He'd be going eight unbeaten, a run which has already taken in the Coventry Stakes, the Irish National Stakes, the Dewhurst, and the 2000 Guineas. He'd be a great story and, if he could win the Eclipse and perhaps even the Arc or Breeders Cup Classic, he'd go down as one of the greats.
I like greats. Nothing else in this field will ever be a great.
Behind him, I'd expect Ruler Of The World to run into the places, and perhaps Libertarian or Ocovango will join him.
Derby 1-2-3: Dawn Approach, Ruler Of The World, Libertarian/Ocovango
4.50 INVESTEC ZEBRA HANDICAP (CLASS 2) (4yo+ 0-100)
Same trip, different calibre of horse altogether, as we return to the normal and a 0-100 handicap.
My eye is drawn to Stuart Williams' Aquilonius, for which the trainer has booked Jamie Spencer to ride. This nag started out in Ireland, where he was good enough to win at both Dundalk and the Curragh over a mile. His last win was at Lingfield in February, over a mile and a quarter, and he's now dropped back to below his last winning mark. Although stamina has to be taken a little on trust, Spencers' record on the horse is 1132, and his prominent racing style means he'll at least not have traffic problems. Whether he'll quite get home remains to be seen, but he's an interesting contender.
Sheikhzayedroad is also interesting for David Simcock. In more obvious form currently, Martin Lane's mount could improve for the step up to a mile and a half, and the soft ground might have been against him the last day. Back on terra firmer, he's worth a second glance.
John Biscuit is a horse I like. And given he's a two times course winner, I like him here too. He's not shown much this year and, as a consequence, his rating has dropped a few pounds. His Epsom record is 13137 so we know he's fully at home here, and a close up third on his only previous try at the distance means he ought to stay just fine. The trainer, Andrew Balding, is ticking along nicely, so there are no real negatives with this fellow.
Right Step's last win was here last year, from a rating of 90, and he's now officially pegged at 81. Given his affinity for the track and his historically generous perch, he can go close too.
Three against the field: Aquilonius, John Biscuit, Right Step
5.25 VOYAGE BY INVESTEC HANDICAP (CLASS 2) (4yo+ 0-100)
And we close the Derby Festival with a six furlong sprint handicap, with just the seventeen scheduled to go to post. Hmm.
Khawatim is a much better horse than he showed last time, and that duck egg by his name will add a point or two to his price. He got seriously buzzed up in the preliminaries there as someone put a rug on him in the parade ring. There will be no such recurrence of that here, and if he looks settled at the start, you can expect a good run, despite a high draw (he's a hold up horse anyway, with Jamie Spencer, the hold up jockey riding).
Clive Cox's horses are running very well this season, and Seeking Magic has good recent form, a pace-pressing style and a decent draw. He acts on good ground and has won in a field of sixteen. In other words, he's got a fair chance here.
Compton comes from the top sprinting stable of Robert Cowell and looks another ready to step up to Group class in due course. He'll have to win a race like this if he's to justify a statement like that and, while it might not be today, I do expect him to make the jump.
Gabbiano is on the hat-trick after a Class 5 Kempton defeat of decent stick, Alnoomaas, and a win in a 25 runner Ascot handicap over this trip. That was on good to firm and it could be well as quick as that by the last race tomorrow, so this progressive sort (only three runs on turf, only twelve in total) could go close again off just a five pound higher mark.
In truth, it's a typical 'last race of a festival' race: one to avoid. But you might need a miracle ticket by this time, and I might have one. Clearly, that double is about 40/1 but on the off chance, these are my fancies...
'Throw enough mud at the wall and hope some will stick' picks: Khawatim, Gabbiano, Compton
And that's your lot. I'll add a placepot perm in the morning, and hope that we get further than today's fourth race bath (could have had Vainglory too!).
Best of luck.