There’s no doubting the strength of Ballydoyle, backed by Coolmore Stud, the home of the most potent Stallions on the planet.
Galileo has been the leading Sire in recent times, and has fuelled the crusade by Aidan O’Brien and his team, and subsequent harvesting of Classics in the UK. It’s somewhat surprising therefore, that Ballydoyle have only captured three of the last 14 Epsom Derby’s, despite being ever-present at the head of the markets, coupled with the sheer numbers sent across the Irish Sea, year after year.
This is in no way meant to diminish the achievements of O’Brien, but it shows that our perception of Ballydoyle dominance isn’t necessarily accurate, when the Epsom Derby is at stake.
The Irish trainer has seven declared for the World’s most famous Flat race on Saturday, with Cliffs Of Moher appearing to be the number one. It usually pays to follow a fancied runner in the Derby, and this son of Galileo, currently vying to go off favourite, took the Dee Stakes at Chester last month, defeating a decent yardstick in Bay Of Poets. It was a workmanlike performance, and he’s likely to improve plenty for the run. His odds are plenty short enough on the back of what he’s done on the track, and though it wouldn’t surprise me should he win, I’ll be looking elsewhere.
Capri has been supported in the markets though he’s looked far from impressive in his two outings so far this season. He was a close third in the Derrinstown Derby Trial, behind stable companion Douglas Macarthur, with the pair running neck and neck for the last half-mile. The trial probably showed that neither of these have the class to win at Epsom. Their form is closely matched by Rekindling, who was soundly beaten in the Dante at York.
Venice Beach won the Chester Vase for O’Brien, but again was workmanlike rather than spectacular. He beat stablemates The Anvil and Wings Of Eagles on that occasion, though the three were well bunched at the line. That race rather sums up Ballydoyle’s challenge on Saturday, with numerous horses of a very similar ability, and none looking to have that star appeal. Cliffs Of Moher probably will prove the best, though he certainly doesn’t look special.
John Gosden’s Golden Horn was an impressive winner of the Derby in 2015, and connections have another leading fancy with Cracksman duelling to go off favourite. He beat Permian at Epsom in April, and the form has been franked since, notably when Permian took the Dante Stakes at York. The pair had the aforementioned Bay Of Poets behind them at Epsom, and that form ties in nicely with Cliffs Of Moher.
Permian has undoubtedly improved since losing out to Cracksman, though Gosden’s fella looks sure to strip fitter on Saturday, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t again come-out on top. A son of Frankel, out of a Pivotal mare, his action suggests softer ground wouldn’t go amiss, though he’s unlikely to get that on Saturday. Nevertheless, he’s the one I like, and he has the right man onboard in Frankie Dettori.
I also think Eminent will go close, despite his rather disappointing effort in the Guineas. That form may still be the best available, and he was hugely impressive prior to Newmarket when comfortably defeating Dante runner-up Benbatl in the Craven. He’s another by the mighty Frankel, out of a Kingmambo mare, and that’s a pedigree that appeals. His odds of 6/1 are nothing to get excited about, but I fancy he’ll run a huge race.
Best Solution may prove to be Godolphin’s leading contender. He won the Lingfield Trial in impressive fashion, and was a classy juvenile, finishing ahead of Capri and Douglas Macarthur at Saint Cloud in October. He’s by Kodiac, and I remain dubious as to his ability to get the trip in a strongly run, classier affair. I’m pretty sure the field will be ‘at-it’ from a long way out, and the winner will need to get every yard.
One that looks sure to be doing his best work late-on, and could run well at a price, is the John Gosden trained Khalidi. He shapes like the trip will be ideal, having been soundly beaten over shorter by Permian in May. He’s by High Chaparral, out of a Cape Cross mare, and he’d be my idea of an each-way shot.
But it’s Cracksman that I fancy will claim victory, giving Gosden, Dettori and owner Anthony Oppenheimer, their second success in three years. I liked him at Epsom, and though I fancy he’ll be better with more juice in the ground, I still think he’ll prove himself the best of these. I fear Eminent, though it’s another Gosden horse for each-way money, with Khalidi getting the thumbs-up. Best of luck to all those having a punt. It should be a cracker.