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Cox ‘elated’ after Kirby secures deserved Derby triumph

Clive Cox is full of pride after his stable jockey Adam Kirby pulled off a brilliant triumph on Adayar in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

Kirby joined Lambourn trainer Cox as a 15-year-old in 2005, and the pair have since enjoyed tremendous success – including at the top table with Lethal Force, Profitable, Harry’s Angel and Golden Horde.

Cox was thrilled to see Kirby etch his name on the roll of honour in Britain’s biggest Flat race on Saturday – on the Godolphin-owned colt for trainer Charlie Appleby.

“I’m absolutely over the moon for him. It was spectacular,” he said.

Trainer Clive Cox hailed Adam Kirby's 'very well-deserved' Derby success
Trainer Clive Cox hailed Adam Kirby’s ‘very well-deserved’ Derby success (John Walton/PA)

“We’ve had some amazing days, but it is very special to see him win a Derby – the pinnacle of the racing scene. It’s such a wonderful achievement.

“We go back a long way, and I’m absolutely elated by watching him yesterday.

“It’s well-deserved, and on top of everything else he’s a really nice fella. I was very proud of what he did.”

Kirby himself was on Sunday trying to come to terms with his amazing success on Adayar.

Still replying to countless messages and missed calls, the 32-year-old plans a couple of days off to fully take in what has been a rollercoaster week.

From looking forward to the ride on John Leeper, then losing out to Frankie Dettori only to be given a second chance to be aboard Adayar for Charlie Appleby at the expense of champion jockey Oisin Murphy and then to win the premier Classic, is quite a story.

“It’s unbelievable. A great day,” Kirby told Sky Sports Racing.

“It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m a bit stuck for words – it’s only just kicking in, but it’s fantastic.

“The Derby is the ultimate test. It’s still sinking in. It was a great feeling. It’s something no one can take away from me. I’m really pleased.”

Adam Kirby (right) receiving his trophy after his Derby victory on Adayar
Adam Kirby (right) receiving his trophy after his Derby victory on Adayar (John Walton/PA)

Kirby savoured the moment, because he does not expect to ride Adayar again – with William Buick, who rode Hurricane Lane into third place, and James Doyle, sixth on One Ruler, as Appleby’s two main jockeys.

“We all know William Buick is stable jockey, and James Doyle is the second, so good look to the boys,” he said.

“I doubt I will ever come across him again, because the boys will have him back. That’s their job.

“I’d like to say what two great lads they are. They were the first to greet me and congratulate me – two top jockeys and two top blokes as well.

“I’m still trying to reply to messages and get back to missed calls. I will get back to everybody – it’s been a manic few hours.”

Dettori full of praise for Derby hero Kirby

Frankie Dettori was delighted to receive Derby-winning jockey Adam Kirby’s thanks for his part in the unlikely sequence of events which resulted in Epsom glory on Adayar.

Kirby, who stormed to a four-and-a-half-length victory on the apparent Godolphin third-string, began Cazoo Derby week planning his challenge instead on the well-touted John Leeper.

He lost that ride to Dettori, however, after Aidan O’Brien decided to field just one of his six possible challengers for Saturday’s Classic – leaving stable jockey Ryan Moore to partner the ultimately unplaced favourite Bolshoi Ballet, and the Italian newly available.

John Leeper’s owner responded by swiftly snapping up Dettori. But Kirby was not left without a Derby mount for long as Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby updated his bookings by switching him to Adayar, in place of dual champion jockey Oisin Murphy.

Adayar was the least-fancied of Appleby’s three contenders but proved the best of his generation at Epsom, becoming the first this century to win the great race from stall one – and ending an incredible week for Kirby on an undoubted career high with his first Classic at the age of 32.

As Dettori reflected on contrasting fortunes, having himself been beaten more than 20 lengths into ninth on John Leeper, he described the “great story” of the 2021 Derby.

Asked about the aftermath of Kirby and Adayar’s victory, on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday, Dettori said: “He thanked me for taking him off John Leeper.

“I was partly responsible for him winning the Derby.”

Kirby spoke with an admirable combination of clarity and emotion following the race, having admitted beforehand that the disappointment of being taken off John Leeper had briefly been hard to take.

Dettori added: “Adam was shell-shocked yesterday. It was great to see his big smile, and I thought his interview was amazing…it nearly had me in tears.

“The Derby was run at a good pace, and the best won on the day.

“Adam gave him a fantastic ride – and the further they were going, the further away Adam was going.

“It’s a great story, great for Charlie, Godolphin, for everybody. I thought he was a good Derby winner.”

Dettori is confident John Leeper will have many better days ahead – but, in the immediate term at least, over a shorter trip.

“He’s quite a free-running sort, so I spent most of the race trying to get him settled,” he said.

“So I advised to bring him back to a mile and a quarter. He’s a good horse, but he wasn’t ready for this kind of test at the moment.

“It was very plain and obvious that he didn’t get home at all.”

Epsom’s two-day meeting was nonetheless another memorable success for Dettori, who broke new ground at the age of 50 by steering O’Brien’s Snowfall to Oaks victory on Friday by a record-breaking margin of 16 lengths.

Snowfall and Frankie Dettori were record-breaking winners in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom
Snowfall and Frankie Dettori were record-breaking winners in the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom (John Walton/PA)

It was also his 21st win in a British Classic, equalling the historic achievement of Fred Archer – dating back 135 years.

“I’m very proud of it, of course – 30 years of being in the sport, and it’s a big number,” added Dettori.

“Snowfall was breathtaking. It goes without saying they went too fast the first bit.

“She travelled at ease, enjoyed the ground – and had everything beat at the three (furlong pole). It is very unusual for a Classic – they’re very hard to win, (but) I had the race won at Tattenham Corner.

“When I got on the fence she took off. I could probably have squeezed another couple of lengths out of her if I’d pushed her out. It was an amazing performance.”

Dettori envisages an ambitious plan for Snowfall to try to follow in the hoofprints of Enable, whom he famously rode to Oaks success in 2017 and then victories against colts and her elders as a three-year-old – culminating in the first of her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe wins.

He said: “I spoke to Aidan about it and I said ‘with all the allowances she will get in the future she will be very hard to beat’.

“Enable did it for three years in a row. Snowfall is just starting – but when you have a filly of this calibre you’ve got to go for the big races.

Victory in the 2017 Oaks was just the start of the Enable-Dettori story
Victory in the 2017 Oaks was just the start of the Enable-Dettori story (Adam Davy/PA)

“I’m sure they’re going to make a huge plan, and it goes without saying that the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the season – with the fillies’ allowance – will be a prime target.”

Before then, Dettori will focus next on his “favourite week” of the year, at Royal Ascot – including a string of prospective big-race chances for John and Thady Gosden, and American trainer Wesley Ward.

“In an hour’s time, I’ going to ride (Commonwealth Cup favourite) Campanelle (work) for Wesley,” he said on Sunday morning.

“So already, we’re gearing up to Royal Ascot.

“We’ll have a pretty big team for John Gosden. The only thing left to fill in is all those handicaps – but we’ll tackle them when we get the entries.

“Royal Ascot is my favourite week. I love it – it’s why we work so hard every morning, to get horses to Ascot

“Now the Derby and Oaks are gone, it’s full steam ahead for the Royal meeting.”

Connections of Mojo Star so proud of huge effort in Derby

Connections of Mojo Star are excited for the future after the maiden ran the race of his life to finish second at odds of 50-1 in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

Trained by Richard Hannon for owner Kia Joorabchian, Mojo Star had just two previous runs under his belt ahead of the premier Classic, finishing second in two Newbury maidens in October and last month.

Partnered by David Egan, Mojo Star defied his inexperience to chase home impressive four-and-a-half-length winner Adayar, and Joorabchian, who is involved in the football industry, believes his Sea The Stars colt has some big days ahead of him.

He said: “It’s very, very exciting. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in the Derby and he’s run a great race. It was a fantastic run.

“Richard and Rossa (Ryan, his retained rider, who is currently injured) always loved this horse and always spoke about him very highly.

“Today he proved it, and that’s only his third run. You have to remember he’s quite inexperienced and he’s going to get better from here, and he’s going to be brilliant. Richard has a lot of belief in the horse and thinks he can go further and further, so we are very excited.

“I remember when we bought him Ross Doyle was very keen on him. Since then we’ve been patient with him and it’s proving to be very successful, as finishing second in the Derby is not an easy thing to do. We are a young operation – still a baby operation – and we are up against the big Goliaths.

“I’m loving being in racing.”

Hannon added: “This is a massive day for the owner. There’s more to life than winning the Derby, and it’s just what he needs. He wanted to come here and we always thought he was very good. He’s got loads of horses and that will cheer him up.

“We’ve got enough money now from this to throw at some fancy entries.”

Adayar was one of three runners for Charlie Appleby, who also saddled third-placed Hurricane Lane. He said: “He’s finished third in a Derby and is going to be a contender in some of the other big races in the year.”

Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney was fourth for veteran handler Jim Bolger, and jockey Kevin Manning thought it was a fair effort.

He said: “I had a good run all the way, but he just didn’t pick up in the straight. The ground may have been a bit dead for him, but it was a good run.”

Third Realm, conqueror of Adayar in Lingfield Derby Trial, was a further neck back in fifth for Roger Varian and Andrea Atzeni.

The rider said: “It was a pleasing run. I followed the winner through and he just got a little bit tight for room, but he stayed on quite well and didn’t disgrace himself.

“He’s still a young horse, very lightly raced and it was a nice run.”

Bolshoi Ballet was sent off the 11-8 market leader, but could finish only seventh as the sole representative for Aidan O’Brien this year.

The Ballydoyle handler said: “He just ran a bit lifeless. What the reason was, I’m not sure.

“It doesn’t work every day. That’s the way life is.

“I don’t want to make excuses because I don’t want to take away from the other horses.

“He was in the perfect position. He wants nice ground and maybe that was the reason.”

It was subsequently found at a post-race examination by the veterinary officer that the Galileo colt had been struck into on his right-hind in the early stages of the race.

Tom Marquand, rider of eighth-placed Youth Spirit, thought his mount had found the 12-furlong trip a stretch.

He said: “He probably melted a bit just beforehand – we travelled beautifully throughout and (they) probably just galloped the legs off him over a mile and a half on this ground.

“We’ll probably come back a couple of furlongs and hopefully see him back to his best.”

John Leeper was well fancied for Ed Dunlop and Frankie Dettori, but he trailed home in ninth place on his first try at the distance.

Dettori said: “It was just too far for him at this stage of his life. We’ll go back to a mile and a quarter.”

The Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up set the early gallop and was in front until the two-furlong marker, but eventually beaten a total of 21 lengths.

Jockey Ben Curtis said: “My race was very straightforward. We jumped out, led and everything went perfectly. I thought I’d pick up nicely heading into the straight and then I just lacked maybe for a gear up the home straight.”

Southern Lights finished last of the 11 contenders on what was just his fourth outing for trainer Joseph O’Brien.

Rider Declan McDonogh said: “He was disappointing. He got a lot of bumping around and had a tough trip, but he probably just wasn’t ready for the experience.”

Derby absentee Mohaafeth to head to Royal Ascot

Mohaafeth will head to Royal Ascot after being taken out of the Cazoo Derby due to ground conditions at Epsom.

William Haggas had made no secret of the fact he thinks the Shadwell-owned colt is not at his best on rain-softened ground, and following the significant downfall at Epsom on Friday, the going was officially described as good to soft for the premier Classic.

Haggas subsequently believed it best to sidestep the race with Mohaafeth, who is unbeaten in three starts so far this term, and instead point towards the Royal meeting with the Frankel colt.

He told ITV Racing: “After lots of soul searching and discussion – and my god, we’ve had some – we have decided to scratch and go to Ascot.

“It was a decision that was left essentially, by Sheikha Hissa (of Shadwell), to me, and I have never felt the horse is comfortable on soft, dead ground. It’s not soft, but it is dead and I don’t really want to run in a race I don’t think I can win.

“I’m very grateful for the support. I’m sure it’s right, but we’ll never know if it’s right or wrong. We all want to win the Derby, every owner, jockey and trainer wants to win the Derby, but we want to have a fighting chance.

“This is a young horse with a lot of potential and he’s got a lot more to offer, so I think it will be a bump in the road running him. So yes, it’s sad, but in a way I’m relieved.”

Hurricane Lane leads Appleby hopes of second Derby triumph

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.

One Ruler is among Charlie Appleby's three Derby contenders
One Ruler is among Charlie Appleby’s three Derby contenders (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“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.

Mohaafeth was a easy winner at Newmarket
Mohaafeth was an easy winner at Newmarket (John Walton/PA)

“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.”

Gear Up must improve from his performance in the Dante Stakes
Gear Up must improve from his performance in the Dante Stakes (David Davies/PA)

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.”

Bolshoi Ballet bids to join Ballydoyle greats in Derby

Bolshoi Ballet has already followed a path trodden by two of Aidan O’Brien’s greats as he seeks to further emulate Galileo and High Chaparral by providing his trainer with a ninth victory in the Cazoo Derby.

It is 20 years since O’Brien secured his first victory in the premier Classic with the mighty Galileo, before following up 12 months later High Chaparral.

With long-time ante-post favourite High Definition and several other colts not declared, O’Brien saddles just one runner in the Derby for the first time since 2004 – perhaps indicative of the confidence behind him.

Like Galileo and High Chaparral, Bolshoi Ballet has warmed up for his Epsom date on Saturday by winning the two key Irish trials at Leopardstown – the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

“This has been Bolshoi Ballet’s target all the way,” said O’Brien, who struck last year with surprise all-the-way winner Serpentine.

“The plan was to do the two trials in Ireland, both at Leopardstown. Both of those went well.

“He came out of Leopardstown well last time, and everything has been smooth since.”

While O’Brien admits only time will tell how the improving colt – a son of Galileo – will handle the undulating track and the step up in trip, he hopes he possesses all the attributes to become his latest Derby hero.

Aidan O'Brien pats Bolshoi Ballet after victory in the the Ballysax Stakes
Aidan O’Brien pats Bolshoi Ballet after victory in the the Ballysax Stakes (PA)

He added: “You’re never sure about anything, and it is a new track for him, (but) Leopardstown is left-handed. Obviously it’s not as extreme as Epsom, but you have to quicken and you have to go left and down the hill and up the hill and all that kind of stuff.

“In Saint-Cloud last year (when fifth in the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud) it was a different track as well, and he seemed happy enough there.

“He is a very well-balanced horse. He seems to get the mile and quarter very well and he is very relaxed, very off-handed, and tactically he is very easy to place in a race.

“We always thought middle distances wouldn’t be a problem to him. Obviously you are never sure until you run over the mile and a half, but we always thought he would stay.”

O’Brien would love to add another Derby to his burgeoning CV, but is well aware it will be no easy task.

He said: “The Derby is like no other race – it’s the be all and end all – and the jockeys go out with that in their minds as well.

“There’s not an inch given anywhere, and nobody really thinks of tomorrow when you’re in the Derby. There’s no quarter given by anybody, and that is what you have to be prepared for.”

Mick Kinane was in the saddle for those Galileo glory days – and expects Bolshoi Ballet to go very close, on this next step of what has become known as the ‘Galileo route’.

The multiple Classic-winning rider said: “Bolshoi Ballet has taken the route Galileo took all those years ago by taking in both the Ballysax and Derrinstown, which are strong Epsom trials.

Mick Kinane with Galileo after they struck gold in the Derby 20 years ago
Mick Kinane with Galileo after they struck gold in the Derby 20 years ago (Martyn Hayhow/PA)

“Sometimes the winners might not quite win the Derby, but they will always be in the fight at Epsom and are always at the forefront of Ballydoyle runners in the race.

“Epsom is tricky, and you just never know how it is going to work out, but he would be my pick to win the race.

“He looks like a very easy horse for Ryan (Moore) to ride. He can ride him in front, he can drop him in. The horse seems to be happy with whatever he wants to do.

“He seems to be a very intelligent horse and the type of horse you would love on your side at Epsom.

“Things can change dramatically, and a lot of horses are overawed by the track and hustle bustle of it. He does appear to have the mind-set of a horse that will handle the Derby.”

John Leeper has Dettori on his side, with emotional Derby day in prospect

Ed Dunlop is delighted to have old ally Frankie Dettori on his side at the 11th hour as he puts the final touches to John Leeper’s bid for the Cazoo Derby.

Dunlop approached Dettori some time ago – but it looked for all money that the 50-year-old would be aboard High Definition, for Aidan O’Brien.

When the Ballydoyle trainer announced on Wednesday that Bolshoi Ballet would be his only runner in the blue riband, with stable number one Ryan Moore aboard, Dunlop wasted no time in contacting Dettori at the request of owner Cristina Patino.

What a fairytale it would be too if Dettori can guide John Leeper to victory on Saturday. He partnered his dam Snow Fairy in the same red and yellow colours to triumph in her very last race, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Dettori is a two-time Derby winner, as was Dunlop’s late father John – after whom Snow Fairy’s offspring by Frankel is named.

Snow Fairy and Frankie Dettori after their victory in the Irish Champion Stakes in 2012
Snow Fairy and Frankie Dettori after their victory in the Irish Champion Stakes in 2012 (PA)

“Mrs Patino instructed me after the news about Ballydoyle only running one,” said Dunlop.

“I approached Frankie very early on. He rides a lot for Aidan O’Brien now in England. He was presuming he was going to ride for Aidan, and obviously that hasn’t transpired.

“I was asked by Mrs Patino to see whether he was available to ride the horse. He rode Snow Fairy in the Arc and he won the Irish Champion on her, so he knows the mother well.”

Dettori got the leg-up John Leeper for the first time on Thursday, and all went well.

“Frankie rode him this morning. He gave him a canter up Warren Hill – and he was pleased with him – so it’s all systems go, hopefully,” said Dunlop.

“I’ve spoken to Frankie since the draw, and he’s happy to be drawn up there in stall 12 rather than down the bottom, and now we just hope for the best.”

Dettori was impressed with John Leeper, saying: “He’s a lovely big horse that fills the eye, and we’re hopefully yet to see the best of him. His form up until now is good, but the Derby is a big step up – and we’ll only know on Saturday afternoon if he’s good enough.

“Funnily enough, I thought his ears were just like Snow Fairy’s, but he’s much bigger than she was, and his stride is much more like a Frankel. You can certainly see the mix between the two great horses, and hopefully he turns out to be nearly as good as one of them.”

As for coming in for the ride at the expense of Adam Kirby, Dettori told his Sporting Index blog: “I was pencilled in to ride for Aidan in the Derby, but the news came out that he only had one runner, and I was then contacted by the Ed Dunlop team about John Leeper.

“I feel very sorry for Adam. He’s done most of the work on the horse and rode him (in a gallop) at Epsom last week – I can’t stress that enough.

John Leeper returns following his victory at Newmarket
John Leeper returns following his victory at Newmarket (PA)

“It’s not nice to be taken off a horse three days before the Derby. But it’s not my decision – I don’t pay the bills, and it’s an offer you can’t refuse as a jockey.

“It was a strange feeling, and I certainly didn’t come home with a happy face on Thursday because it’s not the way you want to get rides – but it is what it is, and we have to move on. I didn’t go looking for it – it just came to me. I know the owners very well, having ridden Snow Fairy a few times, and am still very grateful to pick up the ride.”

Kirby’s anguish at being jocked off John Leeper has been tempered with the news he will ride Adayar for Charlie Appleby. Champion jockey Oisin Murphy had been down to take the mount.

Dunlop reports his Derby contender to be in tip-top condition.

“The horse is in good form. We’re very happy with him,” he said.

“There’s another two days to go – so long may that continue – but we’re very pleased with the way he is.”

The Newmarket handler is confident there will be no problems with the ground – which after a dry spell will be much different to conditions when he took John Leeper for a spin round the track last week.

“For the Epsom Derby, the ground is always beautiful,” he said.

“Obviously, they’ve kept a fresh strip for the Derby. There is a hint of some rain coming on Friday. They might get a few millimetres, but I’ve seen they are watering away at Epsom, so I’m sure it will be beautiful ground for all of them.

“We went to (the event formerly known as) Breakfast With The Stars when it was very soft ground. Now it’s drying up, the grass is growing is very well, I’m sure there will be a lovely cover.”

The day is certain to be full of emotion for everyone connected with John Leeper.

“It will be a very emotional day and for the owner, who named the horse after my father,” Dunlop added.

“Let us hope the horse doesn’t let us down, but we’ll dust ourselves off if it doesn’t happen. He’s a horse that hopefully has got a very decent future ahead of him, and this is the first stage of it.”

Bolshoi Ballet tops Derby dozen chasing Classic glory

Red-hot favourite Bolshoi Ballet will face 11 rivals in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

Drawn in stall nine, the Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial winner is all the rage to provide trainer Aidan O’Brien with a record ninth victory in the premier Classic.

As expected, the Galileo colt is the sole Ballydoyle representative, with long-time ante-post favourite High Definition, Sir Lamorak, Van Gogh, Kyprios and The Mediterranean all not declared. It is the first time since 2004 O’Brien has saddled just one horse in the Derby.

Jim Bolger’s Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Mac Swiney (drawn eight) and Joseph O’Brien’s Southern Lights (stall three) are the other Irish challengers, while the home team includes Ed Dunlop’s John Leeper (stall 12).

Frankie Dettori has been called up to partner John Leeper – named after his trainer’s late father John Dunlop. Dettori had been set to ride one of Aidan O’Brien’s runners, but his last-minute availability means he replaces Adam Kirby.

Kirby does still have a ride, however, after being booked to ride Charlie Appleby’s apparent third string Adayar, who will race from stall one.

Appleby also saddles unbeaten Dante winner Hurricane Lane (five), the chosen mount of William Buick, and 2000 Guineas sixth One Ruler (11), who will be ridden by James Doyle.

Hurricane Lane (left) winning the Dante at York
Hurricane Lane (left) winning the Dante at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The William Haggas-trained Mohaafeth (four) steps up in class after winning each of his three previous starts this season.

Roger Varian’s Third Realm (two) and Andrew Balding’s Youth Spirit (seven) have earned their tilt at Derby glory by winning the Lingfield Derby Trial and the Chester Vase respectively. Gear Up (Mark Johnston, six) and Mojo Star (Richard Hannon, 10) are the other hopefuls.

Youth Spirit was ridden on the Roodee by Tom Marquand, with the Camelot colt representing the same connections that went close with Khalifa Sat 12 months ago.

Marquand said: “The only difference to last year is we were probably slightly cautious that Khalifa Sat might not have the speed for the Derby and would appreciate further, whereas this lad went to Chester with a question mark over whether he would stay. He answered that nicely so the distance won’t be an issue.”

Dubai-based Ahmad Al Shaikh will be having his third runner in the Derby – Marhaba Malyoon finished last in 2011 – having attended the race for over 30 years as part of the Maktoum family entourage and being present for the victories of Nashwan, Erhaab and Lammtarra.

Youth Spirit (centre) in winning action at Chester
Youth Spirit (centre) in winning action at Chester (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Marquand added ahead of a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series: “It’s great for Ahmad Al Shaikh to have found another Derby prospect so quickly and for Andrew, having had the second in the Derby last year, to be coming back with a horse with a competitive live chance.

“The trials are open to interpretation because nobody quite has the full story as to what went into the races 100 per cent fit and who would appreciate the ground and trip.

“It’s a game of opinions and the opinion of the bookies is that his trial wasn’t the strongest, but I think he answered every question thrown at him. For a trial you couldn’t have asked him to do anything else.

“It was good to get a Derby ride last year and Ahmad Al Shaikh was absolutely over the moon. But you don’t dream of finishing second in the Derby, so I can’t say it was special to finish second because I haven’t won it.”

2022 Derby Festival to form part of Platinum Jubilee Weekend

The 2022 Cazoo Derby will form part of the official Platinum Jubilee Weekend to celebrate the historic 70-year reign of the Queen.

An official announcement confirmed the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee – or 70 years of service – will attend the Derby at Epsom next year, accompanied by members of the Royal family. The 2022 Cazoo Derby Festival will take place on June 3 and 4.

The Queen has had multiple runners in the premier Classic, with Aureole faring the best of them when runner-up to Pinza in 1953 – just three days after her coronation on June 6, 1953.

The Queen presents the late Pat Smullen with his trophy after Harzand's Derby victory in 2016course
The Queen presents the late Pat Smullen with his trophy after Harzand’s Derby victory in 2016 (David Davies/PA)

More recently, Carlton House carried the Queen’s colours to finish a close third behind French raider Pour Moi when favourite in 2011.

Phil White, who runs Epsom as London Regional Director of Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “We are incredibly grateful for the support Her Majesty The Queen has given to the Derby over several decades.

“To be afforded this opportunity to celebrate the contribution she has made to horseracing, to British life and the Commonwealth, is a real honour for all of us at the Jockey Club.

“Planning for this very special occasion has already begun, even before we have staged this year’s Cazoo Derby Festival this weekend.”

Shaamit carried plenty of Haggas confidence before famous Derby win

William Haggas is now firmly established in the upper echelons of the Newmarket training ranks – but when he saddled Shaamit in the 1996 Derby that was far from the case.

At that time Haggas was relatively new on the scene and trained around 40 horses, so the notion of winning the Derby had never really crossed his mind, apart from perhaps in the small hours when allowing himself to dream of it.

Having married Lester Piggott’s daughter, Maureen, though, there was a good chance some pearls of wisdom would find their way to the trainer.

A late two-year-old, Shaamit did not break his maiden until his second outing at Doncaster in November – strangely for that time of year on good ground – and it was hard to imagine the next time he would be seen he would etch his name into Derby folklore.

In modern times only one other horse had won the Classic first time out at three, and that was 12 months earlier when Lammtarra, who would end his career unbeaten, managed it.

“It was a great time then because we had so few horses,” said Haggas, who is set to be represented this year by the strongly-fancied Mohaafeth.

“The Derby means exactly the same now as it did 25 years ago. It is the ultimate race for an English trainer to try to win.

“We’ve had a few darts at it unsuccessfully, but if we’d known how difficult it was to find a runner, never mind win it all those years ago, we’d have enjoyed Shaamit even more.

“What he did was pretty phenomenal because in the history of the race only two horses have won it on their first start at three.

“He must have been a fantastically good horse on that day. We only had 40 horses then, chugging along fairly ordinarily.”

William and Maureen Haggas with Shaamit
William and Maureen Haggas with Shaamit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A son of the great Mtoto, Shaamit beat the Dante one-two of Glory Of Dancer and Dushyantor, who finished fourth and second at Epsom – with subsequent St Leger winner Shantou, ridden by a young Frankie Dettori, in third.

On the day Shaamit and Michael Hills were ready winners, with a performance which promised so much more.

“Horses like him don’t come along very often. He had all the ability, he had the balance, the ability to stay and the ability to quicken. It’s a long time ago and then Galileo came along and he’s dominated the race ever since, I think it’s fair to say,” said Haggas.

“When Galileo is no longer with us or not producing horses, then it might open it up a bit more.”

Shaamit’s career never reached the heights that Epsom suggested it would. He was a respectable third to Pentire in the King George, fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes and seventh in the Arc.

Unfortunately his stud career did not last long as he died as an eight-year-old – but in that short spell he produced a Classic scorer in St Leger winner Bollin Eric.

Shaamit provides William Haggas and Michael Hills with their crowning glory
Shaamit provides William Haggas and Michael Hills with their crowning glory (David Cheskin/PA)

Reflecting further, Haggas explained that in the weeks before the Derby, Shaamit galloped with horses from other yards, a rare thing these days.

“I hardly speak to my wife now in the evenings, but in those days we still used to and she asked me the night before how I thought he’d run,” he said.

“We’d been just as involved as each other in his journey, but I did say to her I think he could win because he’d galloped with other Newmarket horses. He’d gone with the Dante winner, Glory Of Dancer, trained by Paul Kelleway, on the July Course after the Dante and Shaamit went better than him.

“Then we had a gallop with Henry Cecil and went with Dushyantor, who was second in the Dante, and Clever Cliche, who was a nice horse, and a nice older horse led them and Shaamit went better than them as well.

“So I knew going there on home form he was better than the Newmarket runners and they were the favourites. We had the usual thing – that it was the worst Derby people had ever seen at Epsom – but it didn’t matter because we won it and I’d be delighted for the same to happen if the headlines are ‘Mohaafeth wins worst Derby on record’.

“We don’t work with other yards now as we have enough horses to do it ourselves. I’m sure if someone asked you’d get a hand, but it’s not satisfactory having a mixed gallop and most trainers and jockeys have a different agenda to yours.

“The Cecil gallop was fantastic as he used to have lots watching. He had a majestic grey pony and in those days I used to ride out. I cantered off after the work and Ray McGinn, a former jockey, rode Shaamit every day, I asked him if it was all OK, knowing it was.

“But he said ‘no, he’s not fit guv’nor’. Those were great days. It was fun, but it’s a long time ago. We used to take the mick out of Alec Stewart for talking about Mtoto every day and I don’t want to be in the same boat with Shaamit.”

Final decision yet to be made on O’Brien’s Derby team

The make-up of Aidan O’Brien’s team for the Cazoo Derby has yet to be finalised, with the Ballydoyle handler describing the Epsom showpiece as “the most important race of all”.

It is 20 years since the great Galileo provided O’Brien with his first Derby success. A couple of decades on, his tally stands at a record eight victories.

The hot favourite for Saturday’s renewal is Bolshoi Ballet, while High Definition, Van Gogh, Sir Lamorak, Kyprios and The Mediterranean are also in the mix, with the latter the only one who will almost certainly not line up as he is declared to run at Leopardstown on Thursday.

“It’s not definite yet what we’re sending. They’ve all done their last piece of work this morning and that is being analysed at the moment,” the trainer said on Tuesday afternoon.

“When the figures come back from all those works, they’ll be sent to the lads (owners) this evening. They’ll be blooded and scoped in the morning and we’ll have the results of that at lunchtime tomorrow or a little bit later. After that we’ll see what the lads want to do.

“Obviously with Bolshoi Ballet, this has been his target all the way. High Definition the same, but he didn’t have a clear passage obviously to York.

“Kyprios and Sir Lamorak both have other options, The Mediterranean is in at Leopardstown on Thursday and Van Gogh has an option of going to France (French Derby on Sunday).

“It’s really going depend on what the lads want to do, how many they want to go with and in what order.

“Everything went well this morning and it’s so far so good with them.”

Aidan O'Brien following Bolshoi Ballet's latest victory
Aidan O’Brien following Bolshoi Ballet’s latest victory (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bolshoi Ballet has earned his place at the top of the Derby market by dominating his rivals in Ireland’s two key trials at Leopardstown – the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial.

O’Brien said: “We’re very happy that he’s well and everything is well with him.

“The plan was to travel him last year (ran in France) so that we didn’t travel him in the spring this year. The plan was to do the two trials at Leopardstown and both of those went well.

“He came out of Leopardstown well the last time and everything has gone smoothly with him since.”

High Definition spent the winter months as Derby favourite, but missed an intended appearance in the Lingfield Derby Trial due to unsatisfactory blood results – instead returning five days later in the Dante at York, in which he finished a creditable third.

“We were delighted to get the run into him. It looked like we weren’t going to get the run into him the week before – and if that had happened, it would have ruled him out of Epsom straight away,” O’Brien added.

“Running him gave him the option of going to Epsom. He hasn’t had as much time from York to the Derby as Bolshoi Ballet has had, but he seems in good form.

“The little thing he got in his blood, we don’t know where it came from or where it went, but it was there for four or five days. I suppose we’ll be a little bit on tenterhooks when he’s blooded in the morning, to see what way that comes back.

“We’ve been happy with him since York in everything that he has been doing.”

While O’Brien appears to hold a formidable hand, he will not be taking anything for granted.

Sir Lamorak (right) is also in Derby contention
Sir Lamorak (right) is also in Derby contention (PA)

He said: “I think it’s very competitive. There’s horses that have come from different trials over different trips and I think they all have to be respected.

“Every Derby is very competitive – I don’t remember one that wasn’t. There’s always different stories as to how horses got to the position they’re in.

“For me, there is no doubt the Derby is the most important race of all. The whole thoroughbred breed is measured by the Derby – because it’s the most gruelling race and tough on horses.

“It’s left and it’s right and they have to stay and handle everything – it just tests a horse in every way. Everyone knows Epsom is an unusual track and it’s the ultimate test for them really.”

Galileo legacy lives long at Ballydoyle and far beyond

Just a quick glance at this year’s Cazoo Derby betting highlights the influence Galileo has had on the thoroughbred breed.

It is 20 years since the son of Sadler’s Wells, out of the brilliant racemare Urban Sea, launched Aidan O’Brien’s assault on winning the blue riband.

The Coolmore team has since triumphed at Epsom with some true greats such as High Chaparral, who went on to win at the Breeders’ Cup, and Camelot, who came agonisingly close to claiming the Triple Crown.

But none of them come near to Galileo, who in his three-year-old season won the Ballysax, Derrinstown, Irish Derby and King George, as well as at Epsom.

His unbeaten run came to an end in a tremendous tussle with Fantastic Light in the Irish Champion Stakes, before the big dice was rolled in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – where he was not disgraced in sixth on dirt behind Tiznow.

Serpentine’s unlikely victory last year was a record fifth for Galileo as a sire at Epsom (his others were New Approach, Australia, Ruler Of The World and Anthony Van Dyck) – the previous record of four had been jointly held by five others, which included Montjeu.

It is odds-on he has a hand in this year’s race – because Galileo is the sire of O’Brien’s two big guns, Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition, while the next two in the betting, Hurricane Lane and John Leeper, are sons of Frankel, himself by Galileo.

Mick Kinane returns on the brilliant Galileo after the 2001 Derby
Mick Kinane returns on the brilliant Galileo after the 2001 Derby (Martyn Hayhow/PA)

O’Brien said: “He was almost the perfect racehorse. He had speed, stamina and was just a marvellous horse.

“Because of what he’s done at stud, it can get forgotten just how good he was on the track.

“He won the English and Irish Derby and then went on to win the King George – he was special.

“He was our first Derby winner, so he’s had a big say on my career.

“His legacy will live on for a long time through his fillies and his colts.”

Aidan O’Brien (centre) walks the track at Epsom with his team of jockeys in 2019
Aidan O’Brien (centre) walks the track at Epsom with his team of jockeys in 2019 (Steve Parsons/PA)

The man on board 20 years ago was Mick Kinane, who would win the Derby again on Sea The Stars – having already guided Commander In Chief to glory, so his words carry a great weight.

“He was a very good racehorse. He was foot-perfect around Epsom,” said Kinane.

“He was probably my pick at the beginning of June, because he had such good balance, and if I had to pick a Derby favourite it would be him.

“There were no negatives with him. He wasn’t keen, he had a turn of foot, his balance – he was a very good Derby winner.

“He ran in the Ballysax and Derrinstown before going to Epsom, then the Irish Derby and the King George. He ended up at the Breeders’ Cup in the Classic, but his form was just tailing off by then.

“Obviously he had nothing to lose by then, and if he could become a champion on dirt as well as turf, that was the dream.”

As well as producing Frankel, some of Galileo’s other star progeny include Nathaniel, Waldgeist, New Approach, Highland Reel and Teofilo.

Frankel, Galileo's most famous son, could have his own Derby winner this year
Frankel, Galileo’s most famous son, could have his own Derby winner this year (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

But perhaps what will see his legacy live on even longer are the brilliant mares who are now producing their own offspring of note. Found, Magical and Minding have been among the best mares of recent times, and all will do their bit to keep his name in lights.

“He had the best start in life, being out of Urban Sea, one of the best broodmares of all time, so it shouldn’t have been such a shock just how good a stallion he became,” said Kinane.

“So you could see him being a success at stud, but you couldn’t possibly envisage just how good a stallion – a stallion of stallions – he would become.

“His legacy will live on for a very long time through the mares he has produced – they will make sure we remember him for an awful long time.”

Epsom begin watering for Derby Festival

Epsom clerk of the course Andrew Cooper has begun watering the track for this week’s Cazoo Derby Festival.

On Sunday the going was described as good across the course, but a warm afternoon and the decreasing likelihood of rain later in the week has caused Cooper to step in and begin irrigation.

The ground is described as good, good to firm in places for the two-day meeting which starts on Friday and hosts the Derby itself on Saturday – and only those areas which are slightly quicker will be targeted during the initial watering.

“At nine o’clock yesterday morning I’d have called the ground good,” said Cooper.

“Yesterday was a dry, sunny day here. Temperatures got up to about 20 degrees – and it was a lovely, sunny afternoon.

“We dried out a bit more – and as of nine o’clock this morning, if we were racing here today I’d call it good, good to firm in places.

“You’ve only got to look at the going reports up and down the country and see that a lot of the Flat courses are heading into that territory, so that’s not unexpected at all. It’s exactly where I’d have expected us to be, given the weather in the last week.”

Cooper’s team will apply an initial five millimetres of water to the drier parts of the track, with the forecast in the latter stages of the week the deciding factor as to whether further watering will be needed.

“We’re focusing today on those bits of the track that we would be calling good to firm, or the fast side of good, if we were racing here today,” he said.

“As far as the Derby course is concerned, it’s really only the first half a mile, from the Derby start to the mile start that walks a bit quicker than the last mile.

“We’ll be leaving the last mile, certainly for today, and we’ve decided we’ll put 5mm over that first half a mile.

“In our judgement, the time has come for us to step in and just start irrigation.

“In terms of the forecast, increasingly – this morning even – the shower risk at the end of the week is diminishing.

“There’s still a degree of uncertainty. But here and now, the risk of showers is diminishing – which is one of the considerations to us cracking on and doing some watering.”

Bolshoi Ballet tops Derby contenders

Ante-post favourite Bolshoi Ballet heads a potential six-strong squad for Aidan O’Brien in Saturday’s Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

The Galileo colt is a general 7-4 chance for the premier Classic after impressing with comfortable victories in both the Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on his two starts so far this year.

Next best in the betting is stablemate High Definition, who was the winter Derby favourite before being deposed by Bolshoi Ballet and finished third on his recent reappearance in the Dante Stakes at York.

O’Brien also has Kyprios, Sir Lamorak, The Mediterranean and Van Gogh in contention at this stage.

Hurricane Lane (second left) won the Dante at York
Hurricane Lane (second left) won the Dante at York (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Dante winner Hurricane Lane is set to be in opposition again and is one of three possibles for Charlie Appleby – along with One Ruler, who finished sixth in the 2000 Guineas and pleased connections in an Epsom spin last Monday.

The Godolphin handler also has Adayar, who has finished second in Derby trials at both Sandown and Lingfield this term.

Dual champion jockey Oisin Murphy is due to ride Adayar, with William Buick choosing Hurricane Lane and James Doyle on One Ruler.

Adayar will be ridden by dual champion jockey Oisin Murphy in the Derb
Adayar will be ridden by dual champion jockey Oisin Murphy in the Derby (Tim Goode/PA)

Murphy told Sky Sports Racing: “Godolphin and Charlie Appleby have given me the ride.

“I had a sit on him last week. He felt really nice – it was a sensible canter, but he’s a gorgeous horse, improving type, bred for the job.

“I’m super-excited to be involved in the race.

“He’s by Frankel out of a Dubawi mare, and he’s lightly-raced, so who knows (if the ground will suit). But he is a big, strong horse – and the ground at Epsom is never allowed to get super-fast, because of the undulations of the track. They do a brilliant job there.

“I’d like to win a Derby – hopefully it’s this year.”

Jim Bolger’s Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney brings Classic form to the table, having edged out stablemate Poetic Flare in a thrilling finish at the Curragh nearly two weeks ago, with Joseph O’Brien’s Southern Lights and rank outsider Seattle Sound from Luke Comer’s yard the other Irish-trained possibles.

John Leeper and jockey Adam Kirby enjoyed a racecourse gallop at Epsom last week
John Leeper and jockey Adam Kirby enjoyed a racecourse gallop at Epsom last week (Adam Davy/PA)

John Leeper is set to represent Ed Dunlop as he takes a huge step up in company after winning a Newcastle novice contest and a Listed heat at Newmarket so far.

Bred to be a champion as a son of Frankel out of Dunlop’s Oaks winner Snow Fairy, the colt would be a poignant winner for the team because he is named after Dunlop’s father.

Mohaafeth is another who will be making a significant move up in class, having won each of his three starts for William Haggas this term.

A Lingfield novice victory was supplemented by a handicap success at Newmarket, before the Frankel colt cantered home five lengths clear in the Listed Newmarket Stakes on his most recent run.

Roger Varian’s Lingfield Derby Trial winner Third Realm and Andrew Balding’s Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit are two other trial winners in the mix – with Mark Johnston’s Gear Up, the Martyn Meade-trained Lone Eagle and Richard Hannon’s maiden Mojo Star completing the 19 contenders.

Uncertain forecast leaves Epsom officials watching the skies

Epsom’s ground was described as good on Sunday after several drying days – but clerk of the course Andrew Cooper is wary of an uncertain forecast for possible showers closer to Cazoo Derby day.

If there were no further rain, before the start of the showpiece two-day meeting on Friday, Cooper would anticipate the need for some watering.

But updated weather forecasts from Wednesday onwards have put plans up in the air.

“We’ve been dry – the last rain we saw at Epsom was on Monday night of last week,” said Cooper.

“Temperatures have crept up a bit over that time – (but) I don’t think we’ve ever been warmer than about 22 degrees (yet).

“We’ve dried out, as anywhere would, and if we were racing today I’d call it good.

“It produced a GoingStick reading of 7.1 – which I think is bang on, historically, good ground at Epsom.”

The weather had appeared largely set fair for another week, but showers have popped up on the horizon.

“There is uncertainty as to the forecast for the week as a whole – particularly from Wednesday onwards,” added Cooper.

“It looks as if there isn’t any confidence at all, talking to meterologists. I don’t think they’re quite sure what’s going to happen, quite how widespread the showers are going to be at the end of the week, which part of the country.

“It’s unhelpful uncertainty.

Bolshoi Ballet is current market leader to give trainer Aidan O'Brien a ninth success in the Derby
Bolshoi Ballet is current market leader to give trainer Aidan O’Brien a ninth success in the Derby (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Going into this weekend, you’d have said it looked pretty settled – but that’s what happens, with the weather. We accept that, we’ve seen it before – it’s a sort of unhelpful forecast really.

“You’d far rather know you’re either going to see definite rain or none at all – in which case you’re that much more in control of things.”

Asked whether watering will be in order if the dry spell does persist, Cooper said: “The answer probably is yes – but quite when that will be, what volume etcetera it’s impossible to say at the moment.

“We certainly won’t be doing anything in the immediate future. We’ll sit tight, take stock of things early tomorrow, walk it again, look at the latest forecasts and formulate a bit of a plan going forward.

“I have a guiding principle that there’s parts of the course at Epsom you would water the day before but (other) parts that I’d like to give 48 hours to.

“One of the 48-hour parts of the course would be the downhill section – anything from the six (furlong) pole down to the road crossing into the home straight, basically experience has taught us you water that late at your peril.

“It just doesn’t quite settle as you’d like.

“So for Friday’s racing, that would take us back to Wednesday.”

Epsom will aim for a range of going no quicker than good to firm.

Cooper added: “If you’ve got a drying day, wherever you were at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, it will be something quite different at 4.30 that afternoon.

“I’ve always said our preparations are really to ensure we don’t run the Derby on ground quicker than good to firm – bearing in mind, it’s the fifth race of seven at 4.30 on the second day of a two-day meeting.

“What we’ve got to determine is what ground we should aim for on the Friday – as a starting point, you wouldn’t want to be going into racing on ground quicker than good to firm. That would just store up problems for the Saturday.

“So given the uncertainty of a showery forecast, the decision we have over the next 48 hours, is what do we need to do – if anything – to ensure Friday is run on safe, sensible, appropriate ground.

“That doesn’t mean it has to be good, doesn’t mean it has to be slow side of good – it just means that anything between good and good to firm is (fine).”

The early June weather is set to test Cooper a little this year, but it is an occupational hazard he is used to.

“This sort of forecast poses questions for us – but we’ve been there before,” he said.

Serpentine and Emmet McNamara were the big-race heroes on a
Serpentine and Emmet McNamara were the big-race heroes on a “surreal” 2020 Derby day at Epsom (Bill Selwyn/PA)

“It’s not unprecedented weather situation. Some years are very straightforward – but as with any race meeting, you have to work with the weather and you’re at the whim of it really.

“Our overriding aim will be to hope to produce the safe, consistent surfaces where horses can perform to the best of their abilities.”

Off the course, Cooper reports Epsom is all dressed up to welcome back a permitted crowd of up to 4,000 on Friday and Saturday – and he is confident the two Classics and Coronation Cup will deliver too.

He said: “Overall, things are coming together at the racecourse really well – we’re looking forward to welcoming a degree of crowd back to Derby day, after the very surreal one of last year.

“There’s a lot of activity (under way) – because a lot of the stuff on the hill comes later in the day, it almost looks like a normal Derby at the moment.

“With the hospitality marquees and other temporary structures that are in use there (already), it almost feels more normal than it is going to be.

“The crowds on the hill and the outer enclosures will always be the big thing that will be missed – but that’s just the way we have to do it at the moment.

“I think the races are coming together really well (too).

“It looks a fascinating Derby, Oaks and indeed Coronation Cup – I think they all look really good races to me at this stage.”