O’Brien sends in the Army

Aidan O’Brien has won three of the last four Epsom Derby’s. His leading hope for this year’s race appears to be US Army Ranger, and the son of all-conquering sire Galileo puts his credentials to the test at Chester today.

The MBNA Chester Vase has been dominated by Ballydoyle in the last decade with no fewer than six victories. Soldier of Fortune was another Galileo colt who took the race in 2007 and went on to finish fifth in the Epsom Derby. He then reversed form with Derby victor Authorized in taking the Irish equivalent, before a respectable fifth place finish in the Arc. He stayed in training at four; winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom and finishing third in the Arc won by Zarkava. He was a top-class racehorse.

Treasure Beach was sired by Galileo and took the Chester Vase in 2011 before coming agonisingly close to winning at Epsom when chinned on the line by Pour Moi. He then took the Irish Derby, but failed to build on those performances in the remainder of his career.

Ruler of the World did manage to complete the Vase/Derby double when winning both in 2013. Yet another Galileo, he romped to victory at Chester before staying on powerfully at Epsom to beat the Dante winner Libertarian. Gutsy rather than flashy, he lacked gears and was outpaced in the Arc before staying on in the latter part of the race for a seventh place finish.

Today’s Galileo representative is US Army Ranger, and it’s pretty clear that O’Brien thinks plenty of him. He spoke at Chester yesterday, saying: “US Army Ranger is still a baby, as he's only done it once and it was on very slow ground. This will teach him much more of what Epsom is about. He's a very nice prospect and has always gone through his work very easily. He has massive potential, and has been doing his work with the Group horses, and he'd always come there cantering so we know he has a massive engine.”

He has an eye-catching pedigree being by Galileo out of Moonstone, herself an Epsom Oaks runner-up. His only run thus far was at the Curragh in April when comfortably accounting for Dermot Weld’s Aasheq. That form took a thumping at Navan a few weeks later, when another of O’Brien’s colts, The Gurkha, ran out an impressive winner. Today we’ll certainly get some idea of whether US Army Ranger has the potential to be a serious Epsom Derby contender.

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O’Brien also runs Port Douglas, yet another Galileo, but this time out of a Kingmambo mare. He was last seen finishing fourth to Marcel in the Racing Post Trophy in October, having previously taken a Group 2 in Ireland. His pedigree suggests this step up in trip should suit, and he’s an interesting contender. All talk has been of his stable companion leading into the race, but a bold run from this fella would come as no surprise.

Biodynamic may prove best of the British contingent though it would be something of a shock if he were good enough to win this. He was almost three lengths behind Linguistic at Newmarket though stayed on stoutly that day. Better ground today may help, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be good enough to cope with the Ballydoyle pair.

High Grounds runs for Charlie Hills and is by Epsom Derby winner High Chaparral. He was battered by Sir Michael Stoute’s Derby prospect, Midterm, at Sandown. Though he’s sure to have ‘come-on’ for that, it’s some leap of faith to think he’ll win this. Hills said of the horse: “His third at Sandown was a step up and he will stay very well. We're taking on the Derby favourite so finishing second would be a good performance. He'll learn plenty from the experience.”

Midterm could yet prove the fly in Ballydoyle’s ointment come Epsom, but that’s for another day. Today we will see if US Army Ranger has the ability to match the hype.

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