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Derby preview

The show must go on! There'll be no open top buses, no fairground rides on the infield, no paying customers at all. Just a few owners under tight Covid-19 protocols plus the participants for this year's Derby. A month later than usual, it's the Derby we're just glad we get to have, considering where we could have been.

On with my preview...


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THE DERBY
Epsom Downs, 1m4f6yds,.
Group 1 for 3yo colts and fillies
£500,000. 
1655 local time, 0155 Sydney, 1155 New York


Amhran Na Bhfiann (50/1) - pronounced Ow-rawn-na-veean. For the uneducated (includes me until two days ago), it means 'The Soldier's Song', aka the Irish National Anthem. A rare Ballydoyle ride for Godolphin retained jockey William Buick, but he didn't have much else on his plate. Ran fourth in the hot Leopardstown maiden which provided second, third and fourth in last weekend's Irish Derby, when caught three wide for most of the trip without cover. Loomed up to challenge on the home turn and was swamped in the final 100yds. With a softer run, could have finished in the photo. Now draws a much better gate and gets a significantly better jockey on top. The stable has won Derbys with outsiders before (Sovereign, Wings Of Eagles etc), certainly in with a shot, even if he is nominated as the bunny.

Emissary (33/1) - Kingman colt narrowly beaten in the Cocked Hat at Goodwood by Khalifa Sat who dictated the pace in a four-horse affair. Back to a truer pace, there's potential for considerable improvement. Stayed 1m3f last time and is a half-brother to 2010 winner Workforce, so the distance doesn't appear to be a concern, despite being sired by a miler (who was never given the opportunity to run further).

English King (11/4 fav) - the Derby favourite for an underrated trainer in Ed Walker. Tom Marquand gets the flick for Frankie Dettori which isn't a big surprise considering the latter's affiliation with Stradivarius for the same owner. Mighty impressive winning the Derby Trial at Lingfield a month ago.  
That race had been a poor trial in recent years, until Anthony van Dyck took out the Listed race before glory at Epsom. 

Has drawn the dreaded one peg which has a rotten record here, in part due to the switchback nature of the course at the top of the hill. Is the draw bogey real or just a statistical anomaly in a rather small sample? The same draw bias does not appear in regular 1m4f races at Epsom. 

Bookies would happily take this one on if it wasn't for Frankie in the biggest Flat race of the year. Definite chance, not so sure about the price.

Gold Maze (50/1) - backs up after running sixth in the Irish Derby. Races handy and stays on, might have his work cut out here. No reason to think he'll improve enough to be competitive in a much tougher race.

Highland Chief (14/1) - won the new Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot off a penalty, running on from near last.
   
That run implied the distance should be no problem, and Montjeu blood on the dam side should have that covered. Hasn't always dropped out to last, that was the cost of a poor start at Ascot, so it's not simple to place him on a speed map. Underrated jockey Ben Curtis replaces the unlucky Rossa Ryan (kid with a very big future). Adaptable and capable.

Kameko (4/1) - impressive winner of the 2000 Guineas and has never finished worse than second, or been beaten more than a neck, in his five career starts. Yet none of them have been further than a mile. On breeding, he's not guaranteed to stay the trip and he did wander about near the line at Newmarket, perhaps suggesting the tank was nearly empty. The stable have said they'd rather find out if he stays or not on the big stage, so here he is. 

Drawn 11, ideal. Ridden by champion jockey Oisin Murphy and the only Group 1 winner (twice) in the field. Class will take him a long, long way but I'm not convinced this is his trip, especially with Team Coolmore out to gang up on him.

Khalifa Sat (25/1) - a handy back-up for Andrew Balding. Signalled a crack at the Classics with a 10f win at Goodwood last September then won there again in the Cocked Hat three weeks ago. Not the traditional formline but not hopeless. Tom Marquand aboard which will give Aussie punters someone to cheer for. 

Max Vega (40/1) - Lope de Vega colt who finished nearly five lengths behind Pyledriver in the G3 Classic Trial at Kempton on June 3. Was given a torrid run on that occasion - drew wide, caught at the rear, tried to go around them mid-race but was kept wide by the eventual winner Berlin Tango (since sold to Hong Kong), and understandably wilted in the straight. Was second fav that day (100/30 vs 40/1 for Pyledriver, 7/1 Berlin Tango and 5/1 Born With Pride) so there's high expectation for this colt. 

In the Zetland Stakes (G3, 1m2f, October), he won going away ahead of Miss Yoda (won Lingfield Oaks Trial, was 2nd fav in the Ribblesdale), Berkshire Rocco (2nd to English King in Lingfield Derby Trial, 2nd to Santiago in Queen's Vase), Mythical (was 2/1 fav that say, runs here), Tritonic (ran 2nd to Highland Chief at Royal Ascot) and Subjectivist (ran third to Hukum in the King George V Stakes at RA) amongst others. That's serious form and if you can cast aside the harrowing run first-up at Kempton, he's a big price...

Mogul (11/2) - full brother to Japan who ran third last year at 20/1. Ran a disappointing fourth at odds-on in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, but the stable has assured everyone he will be much improved from that run. My concern with that statement is he is the most expensive colt in the stable - they'll naturally do everything they can to pump up that stallion value, especially when he has been unplaced in his last two starts and that stud fee is on the wrong side of the hill. Sounded like Ryan Moore was getting a pretty strong steer towards this one - again, on performance or stallion value? Might end up looking like a complete goose here but I'm prepared to leave him out.

Mohican Heights (25/1) - finished ahead of Mogul at Royal Ascot, running on late to take third behind Pyledriver and Arthur's Kingdom (who flopped backing up in the Irish Derby). Looked a staying prospect last season when winning the Stonehenge Stakes at Salisbury and this looks like a race he can be competitive in, but the big concern is the form of the stable. David Simcock has trained only two winners from 36 runners since racing resumed, with a mediocre PRB^2 (Percentage of Runners Beaten squared) figure of 33%. Nice horse but could do with the stable being in form/a positive market move to take any financial interest here.

Mythical (33/1) - also-ran from Coolmore, won a Gowran Park maiden by 8.5L in September but has been disappointing otherwise, failing as favourite three times, including twice at odds-on. Most interesting thing about this horse is he also has a Godolphin retained jockey aboard. Times certainly have changed. 

Pyledriver (14/1) - the battler story of the COVID-19 Derby, having not been originally entered for the race, but since all entries were voided and refunded, they started again and later maturing colts without mega-rich owners were able to get a look in. Second in the Classic Trial at Kempton then won the G2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.  
40/1 at Kempton, 18/1 at Ascot, and 14/1 here - run-of-the-mill breeding (bought back by the breeders for just 10,000 guineas as a foal) matched with a trainer without a Group 1 success - he continues to get no respect. Big chance.

Russian Emperor (6/1) - bred to be a superstar, by Galileo out of super Aussie mare Atlantic Jewel. I wrote him off at Royal Ascot, when he won the G3 Hampton Court.
While only a G3 over 1m2f, he did have Berlin Tango behind him in third, a form marker for Pyledriver and Max Vega. The breeding is there, I'm still not convinced on his form, his wins have been workmanlike rather than brilliant but his ratings continue to improve. Could be the day he turns it on and matches the hype but again, I could be left with egg on my face but I think he might fall short.

Serpentine (25/1) - another Coolmore colt thrown into the fire. Broke his maiden last weekend at The Curragh winning a weak race by nine lengths, after finishing fifth behind Galileo Chrome (scratched from Irish Derby but was about a 20/1 shot at the time) in another maiden earlier in June. Made the running in winning last week, expect him to be sent to the front here.

Vatican City (8/1) - full brother to Gleneagles who ran second in the Irish 2000 Guineas three weeks ago behind Siskin. Full of class but can he run the trip? Gleneagles flopped at his only run beyond a mile. Sister Marvellous won twice over a mile, but was beaten at least 8L in the English and Irish versions of the Oaks. Happily - essentially a miler, but ran fourth in the Prix Diane over 2100m. Taj Mahal is the exception, repeatedly tried 1m2f in Europe without success but won a couple of sit-sprint G2s in Australia over 2400m. Struggle to see him staying the trip in a truly-run race. 

Worthily (33/1) - maiden winner for John Gosden at his only start. Trainer hasn't sounded confident in interviews - is Johnny G trying to pull a fast one over us or is owner George Strawbridge just wanting a Derby runner? Half-brothers Lucarno and Thought Worthy both ran fourth in the Derby, behind Authorized and Camelot. It was a handy win on debut but seems to be a fair way short of G1 class at this stage. 


SUMMARY
As you'll have gathered from my words above, I think all the favourites have questions marks over them, and can be taken on to some degree. I'll go out on a limb with Max Vega. His Zetland win last year was superb against a strong field, nothing went right in his first-up run and that form is solid enough. At 40/1, or perhaps a bit less to take an extra couple of places, I'm on.

Highland Chief, Pyledriver and Russian Emperor to fight it out for the minors.

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