Monday Musings: Trials and undulations

After 2,000 Guineas number ten, on Sunday we had a fifth 1,000 Guineas, again not with the most expected candidate, for Aidan O’Brien and so it went on with the Derby Trials, writes Tony Stafford. Circus Maximus (Dee Stakes), Anthony Van Dyck (Lingfield Derby Trial) and Broome (Derrinstown Stud Stakes) were all favourites when winning their Epsom preps, but Sir Dragonet, a Shergar-like winner of the Chester Vase, emphatically was not.

It’s just a year short of 40 since Shergar exploded around Chester to propel himself into Derby favouritism. My recollection of a 20-length margin was corrected by Wikepedia early this morning which relates to a 12-length win but in an article which suggests a non-racing author. I looked in vain once again for the 1980 form book!

What is not in question is the ten-length romp at Epsom for which I watched sat next to John Oaksey overlooking the old paddock there. For some reason I had been co-opted to “help” the Noble Lord but what assistance I actually provided I cannot recall. It was great of course to be at Epsom for one of the epic Derby performances.

Sir Dragonet is NOT a son of Galileo. Neither is Broome, although he is from the first crop of Galileo’s Derby winning son, Australia. Anthony van Dyck and Circus Maximus do have the standard Coolmore Galileo branding but Sir Dragonet is a son of Coolmore’s other multiple Derby winner producer, Montjeu.

Three weeks ago Sir Dragonet had never even been heard of outside his stable. When he turned up at Tipperary on April 25 he was a 14-1 debutant, ridden by Seamus Heffernan in a mile and a half maiden where another son of Camelot, the previously once-raced King Pellinore was a 4-5 shot.

In the manner of races where the ground changes to soft, the field swung around the final left-hand turn and aimed for the stands side, causing traffic problems for a number of horses, notably King Pellinor. Those who laid the odds soon knew their fate, Donnacha O’Brien giving up the ghost some way from home.

Meanwhile the stable neglected was being guided from some way behind to the inside, getting a clear run. He still needed a fair engine to sweep past the entire field to win by three clear lengths, so it was possibly a surprise that he could start as big as 13-2 for his Chester challenge 13 days later.

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This time Donnacha had the mount as Ryan Moore partnered the dual winner Norway (9-2) in a seven-horse field. O’Brien sat a long last as Dashing Willoughby set a good pace, but could be seen making very comfortable ground on the outside coming to the last half-mile of the 12-furlong test.

The result was never in doubt, Sir Dragonet drawing clear to win by eight lengths from a staying-on Norway with the rest trailing in at intervals. Sir Dragonet, despite no direct Galileo-ness, does have an element of the great sire’s bloodline as his dam, Sparrow, is a grand-daughter of Urban Sea, via Galileo’s full-sister, All Too Beautiful, herself runner-up to Ouija Board in the 2004 Oaks.

Urban Sea’s other main claim to fame of course is as dam of a second Derby winner in Sea The Stars, who for good measure also collected the 2,000 Guineas on the way. Camelot for his part, would have preceded the two now Coolmore-owned US Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify by becoming the first English Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970 bar Encke’s intervention. Encke, clean on the day, was subsequently found to have been one of the Godolphin horses under the disgraced Mahmoud Al Zarooni’s care to have traces of a steroid in his system.

It would require an £85,000 supplementary entry fee for Sir Dragonet to take his place in the Investec Derby in just short of three weeks, probably not an insurmountable problem. I think he’ll win at Epsom and as Aidan O’Brien has said since his Chester win, the colt needed to go there for his education. At no stage did he seem to need much more tuition and O’Brien’s and the Coolmore team’s seventh success in the Classic is most likely to come from him.

As mentioned before, Telecaster will also require supplementing for Epsom should he convince his owners, Castle Down Racing, by his performance in Thursday’s Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

Over the years the Dante has been the best of the trials and to win it Telecaster, yet to race out of maiden company, will need to beat last year’s champion juvenile Too Darn Hot (John Gosden and the Lloyd Webbers) and O’Brien’s Japan, for some time regarded as Ballydoyle’s prime Derby hope.

Like Anthony Van Dyck, so comfortable at Lingfield on Saturday, Japan reportedly had a minor setback around a month ago. He narrowly won the Beresford Stakes (Group 2) from stablemate Mount Everest last September but has not appeared since.

Should Telecaster come through the test on Thursday, Hughie Morrison and his owners, brother and sister Mark Weinfeld and Helena Ellingsen, will have to restore their home-bred to the race from which he was a March withdrawal, a few weeks before his promising second to Bangkok on debut at Doncaster.

As with Too Darn Hot, unable to take up his planned date at the yearling sale, Telecaster would normally have found other owners but nobody would pay the price and he was retained for 180,000gns.

The family race their fillies in the well-known name and black and white colours as Helena Springfield Ltd and they were prominent last week. On Friday their Twist ‘n’ Shake, a daughter of Kingman, romped away with a Nottingham maiden after making all the running; then on Saturday, Anapurna, by Frankel, cantered clear of her Lingfield Oaks Trial opposition under Frankie Dettori.

Afterwards, an elated John Gosden was happy to add her to his similarly-easy Cheshire Oaks heroine Mehdaayih as Oaks-bound. If O’Brien apparently has the Derby covered – unless Too Darn Hot or one of the others on Thursday argues otherwise - Gosden surely is more likely to collect a third Oaks rather than O’Brien recording number eight.

This weekend’s highlight will be the always-informative Lockinge Stakes at Newbury where the ante-post favourite is Le Brivido ahead of Magical and the wonderful Laurens. Le Brivido ran an astonishing first race for O’Brien – transferred from Andre Fabre – when third after rearing at the start at Naas, staying on strongly into third.

Le Brivido won last year’s Jersey Stakes in the colours of Prince Faisal bin Khaled and judged on that Naas comeback could be an upwardly-mobile performer for Prince Faisal and his new partner Michael Tabor.

Derby Trials and Tribulations

Ruler of the World a Derby contender

Ruler of the World a Derby contender

Such is the frenetic early gallop to the flat season that no sooner has the 2000 Guineas been run, we hurtle headlong into a furlong full of Derby trials. Of course, it can legitimately be argued that the pre-eminent Derby trial is the 2000 Guineas, but there are plenty of more stamina laden, if generally less classy, affairs where contenders are keen to test their mettle over an extra quarter mile.

Dawn Approach sets the standard on the basis of his running-all-the-way-to-the-line execution of a fair Guineas field. Given that he's likely to run next in the Derby, you can take your view on him now. Is he classy enough? No question. Will he stay? Probably. Is he a worthy favourite? Yes. Is he value? Erm, that depends on what else there is in the field.

The next few in the field have mainly been strutting their stuff this past week. If not, then they will be heading to York on Thursday for the Dante, a major Derby trial.

Looking at those to race in the last week, we start with Ruler Of The World, a horse which didn't run until this season, and which is now unbeaten in two, including a six length destruction in the Chester Vase. That was a tactical affair, and in that context, the way he quickened away at the finish was very impressive. So much so that I bagged some of the 14/1 offered by Ladbrokes afterwards. Paddy were as short as 6/1 (and still are), and now the best price on Ruler Of The World is 10/1.

He's sure to improve again, and he'll stay every inch of the mile and a half trip. For me, his was the most taking trial of the week.

On Friday, another O'Brien runner, Magician, pulled a rabbit out of a hat (ahem) to win the Dee Stakes by four lengths from Contributer on slightly rain-softened ground. The word from Ballydoyle is that this chap is not thought to be a twelve furlong horse, and may be kept to ten furlongs. That doesn't make the standout 25/1 with Stan James very appealing.

Saturday saw Lingfield host its Derby trial, traditionally the weakest, and Aidan O'Brien emphasised the strength of his squad of Epsom aspirants by winning this contest too, by the small matter of nine lengths, courtesy of Nevis. With the second favourite running last, the form looks suspect, and it's a good few years since the Lingfield Derby Trial winner took Epsom glory, despite constitutional similarities between the tracks.

Nevis is 33/1 for the Derby, if you fancy his chance. The strong suggestion is that those in the Ballydoyle camp don't especially fancy his chance.

To Sunday, and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, a race farmed by O'Brien in recent years. Indeed, he recorded his tenth win in the race since 1998, courtesy of Battle Of Marengo, a horse which had been expected to be the main flag bearer for the Coolmore operation this term.

That Battle of Marengo was sent off 2/13 favourite, and yet was only able to scramble home by less than two lengths, and was only three lengths in front of a 33/1 shot, must have been disappointing for connections. The market screamed that this was the great hope for the team, and - although a win - it was something of a floppy limp performance.

Most bookies left the Battle where he was and some shortened Dawn Approach as a consequence of a relatively frail effort from a key market rival.

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This week sees the Dante Stakes run, and here it is expected that Sir Michael Stoute's Telescope, vying for second favouritism, will take on something else from the Aidan O'Brien mob, most likely, Indian Chief. Telescope will be stepping up in trip and class from a mile maiden win last time and, whilst he might be able to do it, he doesn't look like value for the Derby to me at 5/1 or so.

You could do worse than take him on with Indian Chief, as a speculative. That fella is 28/1 with sportingbet currently, and will shorten a fair amount even if running close to Telescope. Should he win the Dante, he's likely to be a single figure price for the Derby, so it's worth - as I say - a small speculative.

Having gone through the lines of most of the other key Derby protagonists, it would seem that the answer to the 'Is Dawn Approach good value?' question is no. But nor is he bad value. His price is about right, and he is a worthy favourite.

In a race like the Derby, however, with the big dipper undulations, reverse camber, and possible big field meaning interference for some, I'd sooner back something at a bigger price. At the moment, that would be Ruler Of The World, who might still have an ounce of value in his 10/1 odds; and, Indian Chief, whose 28/1 odds will tumble if he can make a fair fist of the Dante this week.


Onwards, and I've had a dig at a placepot perm from Doncaster today. The format has changed from the last couple of weeks, as well as the author (it's now me!), and there are three ways to follow me in, should you feel so inclined.

Today's placepot picks are here.


And, in other big news, I'm absolutely delighted to report that the daily race cards have had a make over. They are now prettier, more accessible, and lightning fast! We're still adding more functionality to them, and results and deeper form analysis, as well as special reports are to follow, but at last the cards are there, and more usable than most!

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He then ran second to a good horse called The Skyfarmer, with the sixth horse that day, Just Archie, beating all bar the winner yesterday in the Plumpton bumper.

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Until then,