COMPETITIVE DERBY ON THE ANVIL
It has been recorded that some 170 years ago, in 1848 to be precise, the distinguished statesman and future Prime Minister of England – Benjamin Disraeli – encountered Lord George Bentinck in the library of the House of Commons in London. Although he ought to have been elated by the victory of a horse he had bred, Surplice, in the Epsom Derby of that year, Bentinck was instead dejected.
Leading in a Derby winner was his life's ambition – and now he realized that he had effectively "shot himself in the foot" by foolishly parting with all his racing interests in 1846 – including Surplice – as he felt that they acted as distractions from his desire to focus on politics.
When Bentinck lamented that Disraeli, as a non-racing man, could hardly appreciate the significance of the race, the latter is believed to have replied: "Indeed I do. It is the Blue Ribbon of the Turf". Disraeli got that right and the passage of time has not dented every racing person’s desire to win this ultimate test of the Thoroughbred one whit!
At about 4:30 p.m. (9:00 p.m. in India) on Saturday, June 1st, 2019, thirteen high-class three-year-olds will line up for the 240th renewal of the Investec Derby at the starting gate set 1 mile 4 furlongs and 10 yards away from the all-important winning post. Both the leading two-year-old colts of last year, Too Darn Hot and Quorto, are not in the field, the former on stamina grounds and the latter due to injury. Despite their absence, a number of talented and improving sophomores will be on display, most of them having taken widely different routes to get there and no single runner seems as yet obviously superior. Thus a competitive affair is in prospect, which is reflected in the betting.
Before getting down to a discussion on the participants, a word is necessary regarding the extraordinary influence of the 1993 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, Urban Sea (by Miswaki), who was equally successful in the paddocks with her sons Galileo and Sea The Stars. Twelve of the thirteen runners in the 2019 Derby are descended in the male line from Galileo, while the remaining contender has Galileo’s own-sister as his grandam!
The importance of the race to the Coolmore operation, centered in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, can be appreciated from the fact that they send out more than half the runners, all seven of which are schooled by Aidan O’Brien from his base at Ballydoyle Stables in Cashel. With Ryan Moore having elected to ride Sir Dragonet (by Camelot), that unbeaten colt has become favourite at 5 to 2. Unraced at 2, the colt has been supplemented at a cost of £85,000 after his runaway win in the Chester Vase. Both his career starts have come on soft ground and so how he will tackle the expected “good to firm” ground is not known. Stamina is not an issue but “class” might be.
O’Brien’s next best fancied runner at 9 to 2 is Broome (by Australia), who has much more experience, and has won at both his appearances this term, namely the P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes. Donnacha O’Brien will have to work hard to keep the sluggish colt in contention. Being out of a speedy daughter of Acclamation, he might find the last two furlongs beyond his capabilities.
With Galileo having a penchant for infusing stamina in his progeny – sometimes a bit more than is desirable – his owners, Coolmore, have been breeding him to speedier mares and one such is Believe'N'Succeed, an Australian-bred Group winning sprinter who had already produced a Group 1 winning sprinter in New Zealand. The resultant bay colt, Anthony Van Dyck, is a likeable sort who did very well at 2 and trained on to annex the Lingfield Derby Trial last month. Since that event was over 11.5 furlongs, it seems he will surely get the Derby trip. What’s more, he has the highest official rating of the 13 runners. A 6 to 1 shot, he could well give Seamie Heffernan his first ever Epsom Derby and Galileo his fourth, following New Approach (2008), Ruler Of The World (2013) and Australia (2014) – all chestnuts.
Bought for 1.3 million guineas, Japan (by Galileo) has been highly thought of by his connections and had an excellent juvenile season last year, culminating in a victory in the Beresford Stakes. Unfortunately he has been slow to come to hand in 2019 and Aidan O’Brien was forced to wait till the last Derby trial before unleashing him. That effort came in the Dante Stakes just 16 days ago and he finished a tame fourth, clearly short of condition. Although he is certain to improve vastly for that run, Wayne Lordan’s mount might find the race coming too soon for him. Odds of 10-1 are on offer.
Number five in the Coolmore pecking order – as judged by bookmakers – is the Niarchos-bred Circus Maximus (also by Galileo), who will sport the famed silks of that operation as they own him in partnership with the Coolmore team. What a story it would be if this colt could triumph! For the descendant of La Troienne will have on his back none other than the irrepressible Frankie Dettori, whose booking has seen his odds contract from 25 to 1 down to 16 to 1. The popular Italian ace has occasionally ridden for Ballydoyle in the past, most notably when steering Scorpio to victory in the St. Leger of 2005. Coming in off a win in the Dee Stakes at Chester, Circus Maximus will have to show significant improvement to secure the prize. Kris Kin in 2003 was the last winner of that trial to go on to Epsom honours.
A pair of chestnut sons of Galileo round off the Aidan O’Brien contingent, namely the 40 to 1 Norway (full-brother to Ruler Of The World) and the 66 to 1 Sovereign. To partner these, O’Brien has reached out to his one-time retained rider Jamie Spencer for the former and to Padraig Beggy, who shocked the world when guiding Wings Of Eagles to success in this very race a couple of years ago at 40 to 1, for the latter. At the time Beggy had said “when you're riding one for Aidan, you don't worry about the price” and no doubt he harbours the same sentiments here.
So is Aidan O’Brien destined to join the likes of Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling as a seven-time Epsom Derby winning trainer? Though bookmakers have him as an odds-on choice to do so this year, this won’t happen if his six opposing handlers can help it. Although the 66 to1 Humanitarian (by Noble Mission) and the 250 to 1 Hiroshima (by Nathaniel) can scarcely be considered to hold a chance, the remaining quartet is very much in the mix.
After much agonizing, Hughie Morrison took the plunge and supplemented Telecaster (by New Approach) to the race, setting connections back by £85,000. While the colt did not race at 2, he has been in great form in this three starts this year, recording winning brackets in the last two, most recently in the usually informative Dante Stakes at York, where he repelled the stiff challenge of Too Darn Hot. This century alone, North Light, Motivator, Authorized and Golden Horn have completed the Dante/Derby double and Telecaster has every chance of joining that quartet.
The 9 to 2 chance has been drawn 2, which is not ideal because of the peculiar configuration of the Epsom track. In fact, not a single winner has emerged from Stall #2 since the introduction of starting stalls back in 1967. A lot will depend on how well Telecaster negotiates the first two furlongs. Hopefully, 23-year-old Oisin Murphy – a rising star in his profession – will be able go two better than in 2018 when his non-staying mount, Roaring Lion, ran out of gas in the last part and finished third.
When Telecaster ran second on his debut, the winner was Australia’s son, Bangkok, who had the edge in experience. The latter, a 500,000 guineas yearling purchase of King Power Racing, is back renewing rivalry and has champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa – well known in India – at the controls on the 8 to 1 chance. Andrew Balding, whose father, Ian, schooled Mill Reef, has his ward in top condition and has to be hopeful that he will improve, being out of a Darshaan mare from the peerless Fall Aspen family.
Irish schooler Kevin Prendergast, a sprightly 86 years of age, saddled the home-bred Awtaad to a victory in the Irish 2000 Guineas of 2016 for Hamdan Al Maktoum with Chris Hayes astride. Here he sends out the same owner’s home-bred Madhmoon (by Dawn Approach) – closely related to Awtaad on the dam’s side and with the same pilot in command – but a glance at his pedigree suggests the trip will be too far. Most recently the handsome bay, unbeaten at two, was fourth in the Qipco 2000 Guineas. He can be backed at 10 to 1.
Judged purely on his last run, Line Of Duty – a rare son of Galileo in Godolphin’s silks – has little chance. That is because the Charlie Appleby-trained colt finished about 11 lengths behind Telecaster in the Dante Stakes, running about 20 points below his best. The very fact that he is lining up here suggests that connections have figured out the issue on this Gr.1 winning juvenile. With William Buick suffering the after-effects of a concussion sustained in a fall, James Doyle steps in to take the reins on this prospect, rather generously priced at 33 to 1.
A short list would surely include the names of Anthony Van Dyck, Bangkok, Japan and Telecaster, with Circus Maximus and Line Of Duty as live “each-way” chances.