Charlie Appleby is spearheading the challenge to outdo big-race favourite Bolshoi Ballet as he sends three contenders in pursuit of Cazoo Derby glory.
While Aidan O’Brien relies on his sole heavyweight representative from six possibles for the Classic at the start of the week, Appleby’s Godolphin team numbers Hurricane Lane, One Ruler and Adayar at Epsom on Saturday.
They are among a clutch of worthy opponents to Ballydoyle’s Bolshoi Ballet – including Jim Bolger’s Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Mac Swiney, as well as the remainder of the Newmarket challenge, William Haggas’ Mohaafeth, Ed Dunlop’s John Leeper and Third Realm from Roger Varian’s yard.
Appleby’s unbeaten Dante Stakes winner Hurricane Lane is the choice of number one jockey William Buick, as the partnership bid for a second win in the blue riband after Masar in 2018. One Ruler, who was sixth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month, will be ridden by James Doyle, with Adam Kirby on Adayar.
Appleby said: “One Ruler has solid Group One two-year-old form and is a Group Three winner at two as well in winning the Autumn Stakes, which is a great race to have coming into a three-year-old career.
“Hurricane Lane, on the other hand, had one run on bottomless ground at the back end of last year at Newmarket. He then came out and did what he did at Newbury before going to York. He comes here as an unexposed horse. He wouldn’t have the natural pace of One Ruler.
“As we saw in the Dante, his best work was in the last couple of hundred yards. Everything bodes well to step him up to a mile and a half – it might bring about further improvement.”
One Ruler is, of course, also trying the Derby trip for the first time.
Appleby added: “One Ruler is a different horse when he comes to the track – he just lights up more.
“James said, although it was quick in the Guineas, he rode like a horse that would appreciate stepping up in trip.
“The trip is a big question mark, (but) if he is going to get a mile and a half, he has got a good chance of getting it around Epsom.”
Bolger has always been confident Mac Swiney can run right up to his best form on good ground – but Friday’s unexpected rain has eased conditions considerably in any case.
A literal reading of Mac Swiney’s career record could indicate an aptitude for very testing conditions.
He got the better of stablemate and Newmarket Guineas winner Poetic Flare in a driving finish on soft to heavy ground at the Curragh last month, but must overturn Derrinstown Derby Trial form with Bolshoi Ballet.
He will be outdoing even his brilliant sire New Approach’s Classic achievements if he adds Epsom success to his Curragh victory – because he had to settle for second in both the English and Irish Guineas before winning the 2008 Derby for Bolger.
The Coolcullen trainer reports his colt ready to run up to his best, following his hard-fought victory two weeks ago, irrespective of the ground.
“You know how well he was a couple of weeks ago, and he came out of that race very well – and he’s been fine since,” he said.
“All his best form has not been on heavy ground.
“I wouldn’t like any firm in it (this weekend) – but then I don’t like firm for any of my horses.”
Bolger is unconcerned too by either the move up in trip or the unusual situation of a one-horse Ballydoyle team.
Mac Swiney was below his best on his last meeting with Bolshoi Ballet when beaten almost seven lengths on good ground.
“Not being right when he was beaten (behind Bolshoi Ballet) at Leopardstown, that’s all been very well-documented,” said Bolger.
“(The extra distance) is not a concern.
“I’m training my own horse, and I’m not concerned with how many any (other) trainer runs in the race.”
Victory for John Leeper would be a fairytale outcome for a horse regally-bred out of Dunlop and owner Cristina Patino’s 2010 Oaks heroine Snow Fairy, named after the trainer’s father and to be ridden by Frankie Dettori.
Dunlop said: “It is probably one of the more interesting stories of the race.
“Having a horse named after my father is very exciting, and it creates a little bit of pressure for everyone – but at the moment the horse has no idea there is any pressure on him, so hopefully we can enjoy it.
“Of course it is quite emotional as well, and it would be a great day if he could go on and win the Derby.”
He is hoping that inexperience will not catch out John Leeper after just three career starts, and two wins this term – including most recently in a slowly-run Listed race at Newmarket.
“There was a bit of a concern with Newmarket, because it was such a farcical race that he just latched a bit earlier than we would have liked to – and it was something we had never really seen,” Dunlop said.
“I think he did well to win at Newmarket. William (Buick) was very good. He kicked on and got on with it.
“That was all part of his learning curve. He hasn’t done much wrong so far – but there is still a long way to go, as they say.
“We always liked him last year. He had a tiny hiccup after Doncaster last year, which meant we weren’t able to run him again. He was a very big, immature horse – so he was never going to do much as a two-year-old.
“We like him, and he was bred to be liked. Many of the well-bred horses don’t turn out to be much cop, but hopefully this horse will. You hoped he could get to this stage.
“We would have been disappointed if he hadn’t won his maiden, and he has now won his Listed race, but he has now got to step up markedly to be competitive in the Derby.
“The trip should be up his street, because his mum won the Oaks – I’d be surprised if there was any problem with the trip.
Mohaafeth has been a revelation this spring, with three increasingly emphatic victories.
The rain will not have helped his cause, and it is possible his participation may depend on no further deterioration. But Haggas is not fazed at least that the Shadwell Estate-owned colt has a draw towards the inside.
“There’s not a lot I can do about the draw (stall four) – it is what it is,” he said.
“That’s for the jockey to work out.
“When we bought him as a yearling, he was our ‘Derby’ horse in big inverted commas. When he went to Lingfield in March (for a novice, first time out, after two defeats last year) I didn’t think he was our Derby horse.
“But I thought he could be an Ascot horse, and it was really that effort in the Newmarket Stakes that appealed to everyone and brought him into focus.
“He’s got a chance of staying the trip. I’ve always felt it’s not a question of seeing it out, but more if they are going to improve.
“Whether he’s going to end up being better at a mile and a half than 10 furlongs, I’m not so sure, but there’s no better race to find out. We’re very keen to give it a go.
“He could be flattered or he could be improving quite quickly. There’s no greater race than the Derby – whether he’s up to it we’ll find out, but he was visually very impressive at Newmarket.
“The handicapper’s view was that it was impressive, and he stuffed him up 19lb. So we’ll see, but he needs to be 120 to win the Derby.”
Third Realm put in a notably professional performance to beat Adayar on only his third start in the Lingfield Derby Trial.
Varian said: “He’s not a big horse – he’s a small-to-medium colt. He’s very well balanced, he’s got gate speed and I’m quite confident he’s going to get the trip.
“We always liked him. He had a setback in May or June last year – otherwise he could have easily run at the back-end of the summer.
“We had to wait, and he only had the one start in November, but he did very well through the winter – he thrived in January, February and March.
“We had him earmarked for a Derby trial, and we’re obviously delighted with how he’s progressed over the last two months.”
Third Realm has the evident disadvantage of being drawn in stall two – but so too was Varian’s sole previous Derby runner, 2012 runner-up Kingston Hill.
“He’s versatile (tactically),” the trainer added, of Third Realm.
“He’s got gate speed, he can relax in behind horses and has shown a turn of foot. He’s pretty straightforward, and I think he’s the type of horse Andrea (Atzeni) could put anywhere – which is comforting, going into a race like this.
“The Derby is always a test of horses, because it comes early in the season, but I think he’s shown his worth – he deserves to be in the line-up.”
Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer of Gear Up, retains faith too – despite an underwhelming return when only fifth in the Dante.
“It was not a bad run, but it was not a particularly good run – it was just OK,” he said.
“I thought he was in a reasonably good pitch, and I would have not swapped him three furlongs out. I thought of those chasing the leaders he looked the most likely at that point.
“The eventual first and second had another gear than him from two out, and he plugged on at one pace at the finish. He is sure to be better over an extra two furlongs.”
Andrew Balding’s Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit is bidding to go one better than the yard’s Khalifa Sat did when a 50-1 runner-up, in the same colours, 12 months ago.
The Kingsclere trainer said: “We always liked the horse, and it was a relief that he stayed the mile and a half at Chester well – because that was the one big question mark.
“He is one of the few in the field we know will get the trip, and that has got to be to his advantage in a very deep race that will take some winning.
“It would be lovely if we could go one better than last year – but the owner, trainer and jockey would be very satisfied with a podium finish.”