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Bolshoi Ballet leads the way as 29 remain in Derby reckoning

All the major contenders have stood their ground as a total of 29 horses remain engaged in the Cazoo Derby following the latest scratchings deadline.

Ante-post favourite Bolshoi Ballet leads Aidan O’Brien’s eight possibles, advertising his Epsom claims with victories in the Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial – a route followed by his sire Galileo 20 years ago.

Also featuring in the O’Brien team as he seeks a ninth success in the premier Classic is High Definition, who headed the market throughout the winter but lost that spot after a blood disorder forced him to miss his comeback in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

High Definition remains very much in the Derby picture
High Definition remains very much in the Derby picture (PA)

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He returned in the Dante Stakes at York last week, making quite eyecatching late gains to finish third to Hurricane Lane.

Hurricane Lane is one of four left in by Charlie Appleby, together with Adayar, One Ruler and Yibir.

John Leeper booked his ticket with victory at Newmarket on Saturday, with the beautifully-bred colt set to be a first Derby runner in five years for Ed Dunlop – and a special one at that, as the Frankel colt is named after his late father.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the great Mill Reef’s Derby triumph.

One of the all-time greats of the Turf, Mill Reef was trained by Ian Balding, whose son Andrew has an interesting contender in the shape of Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit.

Balding has saddled seven Derby runners to date, faring best with Khalifa Sat, who outran his 50-1 odds to finish runner-up to Serpentine in 2020. Like Khalifa Sat, Youth Spirit is owned by Ahmad Al Shaikh.

Youth Spirit (right) booked his Derby spot at Chester
Youth Spirit (right) booked his Derby spot at Chester (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Balding said: “The Derby is still the plan for Youth Spirit. He seems fine after his run at Chester, he hasn’t done a lot since but he’s come out of the race well.

“The key thing to find out that day was whether he stayed the trip and he saw it out well. He’ll go there with no stamina doubts, which there will be about some of the field and that’s got to be to his advantage, but it’s a much stronger race than the Chester Vase was so he’s got to up his game again.

“I don’t think that the track will faze him. He’s a very well-balanced horse and he handled Chester well, so he shouldn’t have a problem with Epsom Downs. He’s a different horse to Khalifa Sat, but both are very talented and if we can get the same result as last year with Youth Spirit, we’d be delighted.

“It’s great for the owner to have another contender for the race. He’s a big supporter of racing and he’s got plenty of horses in training with many yards, so it’s lovely for him to have another candidate for the Epsom Derby.

“It’s the most important race of the year for any Flat trainer I think and to have a horse good enough to run in it is an achievement in itself – anything else on the day would be a massive bonus.”

Bolshoi Ballet powers to Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial demolition

Bolshoi Ballet leapt to the head of the Cazoo Derby ante-post market with an impressive trial victory at Leopardstown.

Aidan O’Brien’s Galileo colt was far too good for his rivals in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes – a race which has been springboard to a succession of the Ballydoyle trainer’s champions over the years.

Ryan Moore tracked big outsider Wexford Soil in the early stages of the Group Three, before taking over with three furlongs to run and quickly scooting clear with a quarter of a mile to run.

The outcome was instantly beyond doubt, and the even-money favourite crossed the line six lengths clear of his vain pursuers, led by stablemate Lough Derg.

Mac Swiney failed to boost his Derby prospects by managing only a near seven-length fourth.

Bolshoi Ballet, who was following up his course-and-distance victory in the Ballysax Stakes last month, was quickly promoted to outright favouritism for next month’s Derby – at as short as 7-4 with Coral, as he follows a route famously trod by his sire.

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He had previously shared the top of the market at around 5-1 with unbeaten stablemate High Definition, who had to miss his intended prep run in Lingfield’s Derby Trial on Saturday because of a poor blood test but may yet be in action in the Dante Stakes at York this week.

O’Brien was notable among the admirers of Bolshoi Ballet’s performance.

“He’s very uncomplicated, quickens, relaxes,” he said.

“We always loved him. He travelled to France last year (fifth in the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud) in ground that we knew he wouldn’t like – but we wanted to travel him for experience.

“We are delighted with that and we couldn’t have asked for any more from him.

“There was an even pace which was great. He quickened well and he gets it (the trip).”

Moore added: “He’s a very professional horse and was always travelling beautifully through the race. He’s very smooth and ticks a lot of boxes.

“It was a proper test today, and that will stand him in good stead for what comes next.

“It’s very windy, and inexperienced horses are getting knocked around. He has a super attitude and is a straightforward horse.”

O’Brien confirmed High Definition still has a chance of taking part in Thursday’s Derby trial at York, which he reiterated is paramount for his participation at Epsom.

He said: “High Definition will do a bit in the morning, and we are hoping that he might go to York.

“His blood count is still coming down – it’s not 100 per cent yet, but it’s a lot better than it was. It’s nearly there.

“We need to run obviously. He has to get out if he’s going to the Derby.

“He’s not been medicated, because we couldn’t find anything.”

Mac Swiney aiming to underline Classic claims in Derrinstown

A week on from teaming up to land the Qipco 2000 Guineas, Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning unleash another potential Classic contender at Leopardstown on Sunday when Mac Swiney returns to action for the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

The veteran trainer and jockey combination struck gold in a thrilling renewal of the Newmarket showpiece, with Poetic Flare following in the hoofprints of his sire Dawn Approach as he came out in top in a pulsating three-way finish.

Mac Swiney, winner of the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster on his final appearance as a juvenile, was also under consideration for the Guineas, but Bolger ultimately decided to split his aces.

“I’m very happy with Mac Swiney,” he said.

“I’m staying at a mile with Poetic Flare. He’s come out of Newmarket well and hopefully he’ll be ready to run for Paris (French 2000 Guineas) on Sunday week.

“Mac Swiney will be running over a mile and a quarter at Leopardstown and we’ll take it from there.”

The Coolcullen handler is hoping Mac Swiney can earn himself a shot at the Cazoo Derby at Epsom, which Bolger and Manning famously won with his sire New Approach in 2008.

Mac Swiney and jockey Kevin Manning after winning at the Curragh
Mac Swiney and jockey Kevin Manning after winning at the Curragh (PA)

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Although the chestnut colt’s high-profile juvenile wins in the Futurity Stakes at the Curragh and at Doncaster came in soft and heavy ground, Bolger would not be concerned by quicker conditions.

“He’ll go on any ground,” the trainer added.

Mac Swiney’s biggest threat appears to be Bolshoi Ballet, who will bid to provide Aidan O’Brien with his 14th Derrinstown victory.

Subsequent Epsom heroes Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002) are among the former Ballydoyle superstars to win this key trial, as well as the brilliant stayer Yeats (2004).

Just like Galileo, High Chaparral and Yeats, Bolshoi Ballet lines up off the back of winning the Ballysax Stakes over the same course and distance four weeks ago.

Bolshoi Ballet (centre) winning the Ballysax Stakes
Bolshoi Ballet (centre) winning the Ballysax Stakes (PA)

O’Brien said: “It was always the plan to go for the Derrinstown after he won the Ballysax.

“Everything has gone well with him since and he seems to be in good form.

“We’re happy with him and looking forward to his run.”

O’Brien has a second string to his bow in Lough Derg, who won on his Dundalk debut before finishing fourth in the Ballysax, while son Donnacha saddles the sixth from the same race in Fernando Vichi and his brother Joseph runs course-and-distance winner Southern Lights.

Joseph O’Brien told Betfair: “Southern Lights is a gorgeous horse that we’ve always had high hopes for.

“We really liked his performance when he won a maiden over this course and distance last month. He is a very laid-back character and he seemed to wake up as the race progressed. It was a really pleasing performance.

“This is obviously a huge step up in class for him, but he has earned the chance to be tested in a race like this and we can’t wait to see how he measures up.”

Jessica Harrington’s Ballysax third Taipan, the Ger Lyons-trained Team Of Firsts and Bolger’s possible pacemaker Wexford Soil complete the line-up.

The Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial is preceded by two other Group Three contests in the Amethyst Stakes and the Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial.

Joseph O'Brien has a strong hand in the Amethyst Stakes
Joseph O’Brien has a strong hand in the Amethyst Stakes (PA)

The Amethyst field is headed by the Ado McGuinness-trained Bowerman and also features three runners from Joseph O’Brien’s yard in Numerian, Raise You and Snapraeterea.

“Raise You seems to have benefited from being gelded and made a winning return to action in a handicap at the Curragh last time. This is obviously a much stronger race, but he has the class to be competitive in this sort of company,” O’Brien added.

“Numerian has been a shade disappointing in his two runs this season, but he seems to be on his way back and has the form in the book to be competitive at this level.

“Snapraeterea hit the frame in a couple of Stakes races last season, but was a bit disappointing on his return to action at Leopardstown. He takes on his elders here and it is a stiff task on paper.”

The Lyons-trained Acanella bids to follow up an impressive debut success over the course and distance in the Guineas Trial, with Paddy Twomey’s Fantasy Lady and Dermot Weld’s Curragh scorer Shandra among her rivals.

Mac Swiney on course for Derrinstown return

Jim Bolger’s firm belief that he has two star colts on his hands this season could be further advertised at Leopardstown on Sunday, with Mac Swiney set to carry his hopes in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

Stablemate Poetic Flare has already won the Qipco 2000 Guineas, and the County Carlow trainer has been keen to stress he finds it hard to split the pair – a statement with which jockey Kevin Manning concurred at Newmarket on Saturday.

Speaking after the Guineas, Manning – asked to compare Mac Swiney and Poetic Flare – said: “The two of them have been working well, and I rode the two of them on the grass in two separate bits of work three weeks ago and Jim asked the question and said if both turn up (at Newmarket) which would you ride – and I said ‘I don’t know’.”

A son of Bolger’s Derby winner New Approach, Mac Swiney took Group One honours when beating One Ruler in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster in October.

Chief among his potential opposition this weekend is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Bolshoi Ballet, winner of the Ballysax Stakes on his reappearance.

The Ballysax-Derrinstown route is one familiar to O’Brien with his Derby runners – Galileo winning both races on the way to glory in the premier Classic 20 years ago, while High Chaparral did likewise 12 months later.

Bolshoi Ballet winning the Ballysax Stakes under Ryan Moore
Bolshoi Ballet winning the Ballysax Stakes under Ryan Moore (PA)

O’Brien has also entered Derby favourite High Definition, although he is thought more likely to run at Lingfield on Saturday. Chester defector Sir Lamorak is another among the possibles, which total 15 at the entry stage.

There are also 15 in the Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial, including the Ger Lyons-trained Acanella.

The Juddmonte-owned Dansili filly looked potentially smart in beating Jessica Harrington’s Climate – who could reoppose – over this course and distance last month.

The other highlight on a top-class card is the Amethyst Stakes – which features the O’Brien-trained Lancaster House, among 11 entries.

Bolshoi Ballet second-favourite for Derby after authoritative Ballysax success

Bolshoi Ballet enhanced his Classic claims as he provided trainer Aidan O’Brien with an 11th victory in the P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown.

The Ballydoyle handler saddled subsequent Epsom heroes Galileo and High Chaparral to land successive runnings of the Derby trial in 2001 and 2002, while four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats also features on the roll of honour.

O’Brien was doubly represented in this year’s renewal, with Dundalk maiden winner Lough Derg joined by stablemate Bolshoi Ballet – a winner at the track in the autumn before finishing fifth at Group One level in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

Aidan O’Brien was thrilled with the performance of Bolshoi Ballet
Aidan O’Brien was thrilled with the performance of Bolshoi Ballet (PA)

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Ryan Moore kept things simple aboard the 2-1 favourite, allowing him to track the pacesetting Catena Zapata for much of the 10-furlong journey before taking over the lead two furlongs from home.

Lough Derg found a gap on the fence and briefly looked a threat, but Bolshoi Ballet hit the line strongly to score by just over two lengths. Lough Derg was run out of the places late on by Flying Visit and Taipan.

Coral make Bolshoi Ballet their 12-1 second-favourite for the Cazoo Derby at Epsom, with stable companion High Definition heading the market at 7-2.

O’Brien said: “You’d be delighted with him as he only ran on soft ground (last season) and will have learned a lot today.

“He’ll probably come back here for the Derrinstown if all goes well with him. He’s straightforward and, while you’re never sure, he should get a mile and a half. He goes to the line well.

Derby favourite High Definition is reported to be in good form
Derby favourite High Definition is reported to be in good form (PA)

“High Definition will go for one of the Derby trials. We didn’t want to give him two runs before the Derby, but we thought this horse would be able for two.

“He’s in full work and we’re very happy with him.”

O’Brien also had news on the Classic front of Santa Barbara, who has been all the rage for the Qipco 1000 Guineas in recent weeks after her trainer gave her a glowing report in a stable tour.

He said: “Santa Barbara is working very well. She’s going through her work in second gear with all the fillies.

“We were going to come here and then we said we’d go straight for the Guineas.

“It’s a big ask for a filly only after having one easy run in a maiden to go to the Guineas. She looks exceptional in her work, but she’ll be very green going to a Guineas. She’ll learn a lot either ways.”

Looking to the Newmarket meeting that starts on Tuesday, O’Brien added: “We might run Khartoum in the Craven on Thursday.”