The field for the most famous three-year-old race in the world goes postward at Epsom, England on Saturday. The modern history of the Investec English Derby (Gr.1) has been dominated by three of the best Classic stallions of all time, Sadler’s Wells and his sons Galileo and Montjeu, who between them have maintained a vice grip on the outcome not only of the Derby, but also of its “sister”, the Oaks.
For the second time in his training career, Coolmore’s Aidan O’Brien has the chance to become the first to win the race three years in a row, and the bookmakers make him an 8-13 chance to achieve this, with the field’s odds 6-5 against. Mother Earth must seem like a topsy-turvy place for Team Coolmore at the moment: their best two-year-old “Down Under” is a colt called Zululand, while “Up Top” their best three-year-old is a colt named Australia, a 6-4 chalk for the big race. Victory for the favourite would see O’Brien and his son Joseph, repeat the history they made in 2012 when, courtesy of the fairy-story, Camelot, they became the first father-son combination to win the Derby. That was O’Brien’s third success in the event, and Ruler Of The World (half-brother to Drakenstein Stud’s recent acquisition, Duke Of Marmalade) made it four in 2014.
Few horses have better credentials than Australia: by Galileo out of the superstar Oaks winner Ouija Board, he was bred to stay the trip, he was bred to suit the track and he was bred to win the Derby. “You need to have a horse with pace, balance and stamina: it’s the ultimate test of horse and rider, and it’s the race every jockey, trainer and owner wants to win,” were the words of his expectant trainer.
Conventional wisdom holds that Guineas form is the best Derby form, because the Guineas mile four weeks before the Derby is the perfect tune-up for the horse with speed and stamina, which is exactly what the betting reflects in Australia’s case. If there is a reservation in O’Brien’s mind, it is about the ground being too soft, but the connections of the probable second favourite at 8-1, last year’s soft-ground Racing Post Trophy (Gr.1) ace, Kingston Hill (by leading freshman sire Mastercrafstman) are concerned at the ground firming up too much. The forecast suggests a good-to-soft surface on Saturday, which shouldn’t inconvenience anybody unduly.
Across the “pond”, Belmont Park in New York hosts California Chrome’s bid for Triple Crown glory and that should depend on whether he gets the mile-and-a-half trip, simple as that. He had both the first two legs, the Kentucky Derby (Gr.1) and the Preakness (Gr.1), wrapped up at the furlong pole, so they will have to outstay him to beat him.
Mind you, in the last 36 years, the Derby and Preakness winner has been outstayed 11 times in 11 tries at the Triple Crown, so around even money seems a fair gamble. Either he stays the trip, or he doesn’t. His most fancied opposition, Ride On Curlin, Wicked Strong and Tonalist, are all quoted around 7-1 or 8-1. The reality is though, if California Chrome stays, he wins.
The weekend’s Classics kick off with today’s Fillies’ version of the Derby in England, the Epsom Oaks (Gr.1), run this year in honour of the late great Sir Henry Cecil, who won it eight times. Two horses are seriously favoured, one being a daughter of the horse that managed to haul in Summerhill resident stallion, Golden Sword, in the final furlong of the Derby of their year, Sea The Stars. His first crop daughter Taghrooda, routed her field by six in the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket in May, though she’s been displaced at the top of the boards by Coolmore’s superlative Irish 1000 Guineas heroine, Marvellous, unsurprisingly a daughter of Galileo out of a Group 2 winning sister to Giant’s Causeway. With strains of both Galileo’s and Giant’s Causeway’s (Await The Dawn) tribe already ensconced in our stallion barn, there’s little guessing where our rooting will be directed.
Big weekend across the world, and for Tellytrack watchers we’re assured that the spat with the bookmakers will not prevent the screening of these epics on the weekend. Before we depart the weekend’s racing, there are other causes for goosepimples in the stallion barn this weekend, besides the arrival on Wednesday of Ato. Two of Brave Tin Soldier’s first juveniles have made the parades for the Black type Two-Year-Old events on the Gold Challenge (Gr.1) card at Clairwood on Saturday. As fate would have it, they’re both drawn in the sticks, though Robbie Hill’s impressive Flying Cross (out of a Galileo mare, nogal) must have a shout in the Listed Devon Air Stakes. This isn’t her mission: ultimately she’s being aimed at the Thekwini (Gr.1) at the end of July, but there’s no substitute for class, as we all know.
The Real Hero, who lines up on the rank outside in the Gatecrasher (Listed) for Ivan Moore, will have to repeat his impressive front-running tactics at his last Greyville start, if he is to overcome what many regard as a nigh-impossible task for an inexperienced youngster. That said, he has Sean Cormack up, and if anyone knows his way around Clairwood, he does. Both these horses displayed a touch of quality in winning their maidens, and it appears to be a trademark of the “Brave Tins” that they improve with every outing; if there’s a semblance of that in these two (which we’d have expected of them, growing up) then our optimism will reside at the upper end of the scale at least until their races are run.