Epsom Derby Day 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips
It's Derby Day at Epsom, and a bumper field of sixteen colts will bid to claim the Blue Riband. The supporting card features one of the great racehorses of our generation - Cirrus Des Aigles - and would be a race to set any meeting alight in its own right.
The going is something of an unknown at this stage, with good ground as I write threatening to turn softer as significant rain is expected in the Epsom area during most of Saturday.
It's probably best to assume somewhere between good and good to soft, and I'll do my utmost to flag going preferences throughout this preview.
Things tee off with the...
1.35 1m2f Handicap
A ten furlong three year old handicap, with eleven going to post. Most of the last ten winners have come from the lower part of the weights, but then so have most of the runners. Willie Haggas and Mark Johnston saddle five of the eleven between them, and team tactics could come into play.
There does seem to be a lot of pace in the race, with Double Bluff probably most likely to lead the dash for the front. He will have company in the vanguard from the likes of stabemate Stars Over The Sea (a son of Sea The Stars, unsurprisingly), Zampa Manos, Al Busayyir, and Flippant. It is of course perfectly possible that some of those will reign back off the heat in the early furlongs, and that will be a sensible play for any versatile enough still to run their race under unfamiliar tactics.
The pick of Johnston's trio might be the likely more restrained Lyn Valley, for whom this trip could see improvement. He ran arguably his best race on his only previous attempt at ten furlongs, plugging on without threatening in the hyper-valuable Tattersalls Millions at Newmarket. He's since underperformed on soft ground, but the return to quicker sod and a longer trip off a fierce pace could be optimal. Adam Kirby is enjoying a fine season and takes the ride.
There are a number of lightly races alternatives, headed by Yenhaab and Black Shadow. The former is trained by Willie Haggas, and he has shown plenty of pace in his three runs thus far. David Probert, who knows these slopes better than many, will probably have him just behind the speed and he can improve plenty on what he's shown to date.
Indeed, in a bizarre race the last day, he was two lengths behind Lyn Valley in a field of seven. Bizarre because they split into two groups, with Lyn Valley last of three in one group and Yenhaab first of four in the other! The last named may reverse the placings here, and has much the greater scope so to do.
The jockey of the season so far has, for me, undoubtedly been Andrea Atzeni, and he rides Al Busayyir here. Marco Botti's Amadeus Wolf gelding is unbeaten in two since stepping up to this ten furlong trip, and has form on both good and good to soft ground. Atzeni is a very cool customer and should have Al Busayyir placed on the heels of the leaders. That can be a rough, tough place to be in the helter-skelter skirmishes down the hill and around the camber here, but have faith in Andrea. He's my idea of a bet in the race, if there is such a thing.
It's a ferocious start to the wagering day, but Al Busayyir is the one for me, and Yenhaab should also run well.
2.10 WOODCOTE STAKES (Listed Race)
The Woodcote is a six furlong Listed race for juveniles, and it's a speed test plain and simple. They hurtle downhill pretty much all of the way, and if you miss the kick, your chance is gone. The last half furlong or so does kick back up, and that's where those freewheeling will need to gather momentum for the final shove.
All of the last seventeen winners of the Woodcote had between one and three prior starts, and fifteen of them were first or second the last day, albeit from the majority of the runners. That alas does very little to pare the protagonists, and all bar two of the field of nine satisfy the fairly flimsy trends.
Baitha Alga and Ballymore Castle head the market. The former is one of only two distance winners in the field, though plenty of others are bred for this and more, and plenty of previous winners had yet to win at six.
The Fast Company colt won his maiden at Chester a week ago, and backs up here soon enough afterwards. It's too early to say what he beat that day, and with no subsequent winners emerging from his debut run either, the form has a hollow look at this stage.
Ballymore Castle by contrast has run in two races awash with subsequent winners, and he was the victor in the latter of that pair, having run third to Kasb in one of the best juvie maidens to date. His draw is wider than ideal, but he's bred for the trip, has shown form on the soft side of good, and has the services of one R L Moore. He doesn't need to lead so his wide draw may be less of a hindrance than it might be for some, and this chap looks to have a fine chance.
One such wider drawn speed horse is Red Icon, and it's possible his chance will be compromised by his post position. Tom Dascombe's team continue in sensational form, however, and if he can get a position early, he could hold onto it until very late. Still, he has a bit to find on Chester form with Ballymore Castle, and I'd not be convinced of his ability to reverse the placings.
Exentricity is an interesting contender for the stable which saddled the winner two years ago and the second last year. On form he has a bit to find, but he improved for the step up to six last time and was a touch unlucky to go down by a head there. Previously, he'd run behind Tiggy Wiggy on debut, and that one has gone on to win the Listed National Stakes at Sandown. He sandwiched that pair of runs with a mid-div effort in Listed company behind Patience Alexander and Tiggy Wiggy (again), beaten seven lengths.
On balance that gives Exentricity something to find, though connections are respected.
Lightning Stride has a first run on ground softer than good to firm and that could be a source of regression, or improvement. At the least, it's a question mark about his ability to handle conditions, and combined with the limited value of his form to date (improved on a well beaten debut - as so many Meehan horses do - to win a moderate looking maiden), he's a pass.
The rest are probably not good enough, though Fine Prince is an interesting one at a reasonable price. Second on both runs so far, he's been beaten an aggregate of less than a length, and looks well drawn to avail of the early speed he's shown. He might jump fast and hang in there for a long time, and looks the best each way option in a race where each way betting is not really advised...
I think Ballymore Castle will take some beating.
2.40 Coronation Cup (Group 1)
Eight runners over a mile and a half and they're headed by the magnificent Cirrus Des Aigles, trained by the magnificent Corine Barande-Barbe. I'm a huge fan of both of them, and am personally delighted that Cirrus was 'decoupled' so early in his career. Since that severance, he's been a reformed character and, now eight, continues to plunder Group 1's like they're going out of fashion.
He's won twenty races. TWENTY! He's won five Group 1's. FIVE! He's a superstar and no mistake.
Getting over my personal crush on Cirrus Des Aigles, his rating superiority is only three pounds over 2013 Grand Prix de Paris winner, Flintshire. That one was subsequently under-cooked when fourth in the Prix Niel and had a horror run in the Arc last time. On his Grand Prix de Paris win, he'd be a serious danger to Cirrus Des Aigles, but whether he's quite ready for this on debut is another question. The guy (pronounced 'gee') from Paris Turf sitting opposite tells me he is ready, and has a very good chance on good ground.
If he's as fit and well as M. P Turf relates, he's clearly the main danger to CdA.
The top three in the ratings is completed with another overseas raider, this time from Germany, Empoli. This Halling colt has been racing with credit in Dubai, culminating in a close fourth in the Sheema Classic. He has a high level of form but is not a frequent winner: indeed, just one win from ten starts tells its own story. It's not hard to see Empoli running well but it is quite hard (for me at least) to see him beating Cirrus et al.
Talent won the Oaks here last year, so there are no course or distance fears. There is however a reservation about whether she's up to showing her best on seasonal debut, and in any case she needs to improve nine pounds on a race fit Cirrus Des Aigles.
For those looking for an each way bet, a mile and a half on the soft side of good is ideal for Joshua Tree and, while he has a bit to find on form, Ryan Moore will bridge at least some of that gap with his tactical acumen. 40/1 is worth a shekel win and place.
I'm not one for backing odds on shots, but I think Cirrus Des Aigles is a supreme animal, fit, and racing under optimal conditions (course question notwithstanding). He looks robust in the extreme.
3.15 INVESTEC "DASH"
The Dash. The fastest five furlong race in the world, so the media blurb relates. Clearly then, you need a horse that can get out and stay out. Half asleep in the box? No chance. Or have you?
Whilst traditionally you need to be close to the speed - though not necessarily on top of it - Duke Of Firenze demonstrated Ryan Moore's trackcraft with a superlatively charmed run to weave his way to victory under the jamstick last year. It was a masterful ride, but also a lucky one, and the balance of probabilities demands a wager on a prominent racer than can stalk an unsustainable meter.
Let's begin with the pace profile for the race, then. You won't be shocked to read that there is plenty of zip in the formbook. Even Stevens may be the speed of the speed, and it will be very interesting to see how he fares from the widest stall of all. He'll be hustled by some or all of Caspian Prince, Tangerine Trees, Addictive Dream, and Judge N'Jury.
Expecting any of that group to prevail may be dependent on the rain staying away. In the likelihood that it won't, something in the next rank may be a better option. That group includes Eton Rifles and Taajub and, in a wide open race, they'd be my pair against the field.
Eton Rifles has plenty of weight, largely by dint of the fact that he has plenty of ability. He's a pound lower than his last winning mark, and a bit of give in the ground will be ideal. In fact, the more rain the better for this fellow. Closely tied in with Steps, who has beaten him by fine margins twice and is worse off at the weights today, he's twice the price of that one in some lists. His stall eight draw gives jockey Andrea Atzeni options, and I like his chance from an each way bet perspective.
Taajub was fourth in this race two years ago, and was tenth - beaten just three lengths - in the race last year. He's also been second and third at the track, and looks likely to run his race once more. 20/1 seems reasonable.
Smoothtalkinrascal was extremely unlucky when a neck second in The Dash last year, but his running style means he'll have to be as lucky this year as he was unlucky last to prevail. A horse of obvious talent, he can win if it all falls right for him.
Lots more with chances but there's little point me prevaricating further!
Eton Rifles and Taajub, each way a pleasure.
4.00 INVESTEC DERBY (Group 1)
The big one. The Derby. Sixteen of them go to post, and I previewed the race a couple of weeks ago here. Those I fancied are still much the same prices now as they were then, and I'm still happy to suggest them.
Specifically, I think the Derrinstown trial could be the best, and the first three home there, notably Fascinating Rock and Geoffrey Chaucer, look value. I also like Orchestra, a strong stayer.
These are the best bookie offers I could find for the race:
Betbright - All Customers, Money back if you finish 2nd to SP fav in Derby
Coral - All Customers, Bet £10 on the Derby and get free £10 on World Cup
4.50 INVESTEC ZEBRA STAKES (Handicap)
A handicap over the Derby course and distance. Lots of exposed types, so the unexposed Stomachion from the Sir Michael Stoute yard catches the eye. A winner of three of his last four starts, he looks like twelve furlongs on the easy side of good will be ideal at this stage of his career, and Ryan Moore will eke out every ounce of talent from his mount. Indeed Moore has won on Stomachion the last three times he's ridden the Duke Of Marmalade gelding.
Two that are relatively new to domestic eyes are Kelinni and Open Eagle, and both could get involved. Kelinni has been racing in Australia at up to Grade 1 level and, while he wasn't up to winning in that stratosphere, he can boast a pair of Grade 3 handicap victories. He seems versatile with regards trip and ground, and should be cherry ripe on this third start for Marco Botti. Frankie Dettori, without a ride in the Derby, will be especially keen to press his claims here.
Open Eagle was bought by Middleham Park Racing for 50,000 guineas last autumn, and he ran third in the November Handicap before rather disappointing in three subsequent starts. It's perfectly possible he was over the top after a hard season, and he's had a pipe opener this term too, so he should be fit to fire. As with Kelinni, a mile and a half on the easy side of good is dead on, and he could be a big priced play.
Blue Wave is a typically tough Mark Johnston handicapper and he will track the speed early on. That will likely give him first run on his rivals, and he might well be good enough to make the frame at least.
Christopher Wren is a relatively rare flat runner for Nick Gifford, and the booking of my mate Atzeni looks intriguing for this JP McManus-owned US bred. He probably wouldn't want too much rain, but good to soft should be fine, and he is a tough and genuine competitor, and another at a price that could go better than his odds suggest.
Typically trappy and a potential placepot-buster of a race for those skilful/fortunate enough still to be rolling; and I'm taking tentative interest in Kelinni and Christopher Wren. Stomachion is the most obvious of many dangers.
5.25 6f Handicap
The curtain falls on two fascinating days of racing on the Downs, with a six furlong handicap. With winners at 25/1 and 33/1 in the last five years, it might not be a race to go mad in, but equally there could be a spot of value to dig us out of a hole, or elevate us to punting glory.
Course form is represented by Fair Value, a horse that has been in the first four on all five runs at this track. However, all five were over the minimum distance, and his form suggests that the sixth furlong does rather stretch his stamina and, thus, the credibility of advising him as wager material. Fair Value has yet to win at six, and his better runs at that trip were on fast ground.
Swiss Cross could be more interesting at a price, his five course runs including three places, all at the six furlong distance. Indeed, both five furlong runs culminated in staying on fourth placings in dozen-plus fields, so we can say he loves this strip. Whilst he wouldn't want much rain, his trainer Phil McEntee is in cracking form, and Swiss Cross is now nine pounds below his last winning mark. With a nice low draw to track the speed, he won't be far away as long as it remains good to soft or quicker.
An alternative, should the heavens have well and truly vented their soggy spleen by this time, is Bondesire. He's a versatile sort as regards both trip (five or six furlongs seem alike to him) and ground (placed from heavy, to good to firm), and he's in fine form at present. To that end, three runs this season have yielded two wins and a second. He's just four pounds above his last winning perch, and may not have finished progressing yet.
Bondesire will give his supporters a run for their money as he's likely to lock horns early with the probably favourite, Ashpan Sam. It's possible one of that pair can prevail in their duel and in the race, but it might be more likely that something will track the pace and have a bit more in the locker to go by. Swiss Cross is one option and, on softer ground, the formerly talented juvenile Lewisham may be another.
Lewisham has had more trainers than Mo Farah in his short career, but he doesn't lack talent. His career best effort was when second on his sole start on soft in the Group 2 July Stakes as a two year old, and if he could find anything like that form under current handler, Dandy Nicholls, they might not see which way he went. Put it like this: he was rated 107 after that July Stakes run, and he's in here off 84.
Best of luck whichever way you wager in the 'lucky last'. My ha'penny will be shoved towards Swiss Cross on good to soft or quicker, or on Lewisham on softer. They'll both be fair prices I'd imagine, so you pays your money and takes your chance.