A Classic race which changed complexion entirely on Thursday when Aidan O'Brien changed tack sharply and threw all the eggs in one basket on the favourite, rather than running six as was mooted just 48hrs earlier. Usually the team run pacemakers and back-up options in case of bad luck, a policy which has worked well for them in recent years, winning six times in the past decade. So one probably has to deem this a very strong vote of confidence in the favourite. Although perhaps they think so much of High Definition, they want to keep him for the Irish Derby where the flatter Curragh course may suit him better.
Anyhow, that's not a matter for today, let's focus on the big race on the goat track of Epsom!
Group 1, 3yo colts, £1.125million
1m4f6y (approx 2400m)
Epsom, Friday 1630 BST (Sat 0130 AEST, Fri 1130 EST)
1. Adayar (1)
Frankel colt running for Godolphin. Touted as a Derby prospect in October when winning a maiden by 9L, then has returned with a pair of seconds - first to Alenquer (beaten 0.5L) in the Sandown Classic Trial, and again to Third Realm at Lingfield, beaten 1.25L.
Hasn't had to deal with anything unusual in terms of track configuration and (obviously) still improving, so there's room for a step forward. Needs to break better and take up a prominent position as doesn't appear blessed with a big finish, just the ability to keep on going. Might be a silly price, particularly after drawing the dreaded gate one.
2. Bolshoi Ballet (9)
Obvious favourite after blowing away his rivals in the Derrinstown.
A couple of those rivals (MacSwiney, Taipan, Southern Lights) may reoppose here but worth noting that the stablemate runner-up wasn't even entered for Epsom. Only two defeats have been on rain-affected tracks so the drier the better for him. Alternatively, all three wins have been at Leopardstown so does he have an aversion to travelling? Races prominently, and the stable seem so confident, they've taken the rare move of declaring none of his stablemates, after a mob hand of six were planned just days ago. The last time this tactic worked for the stable was with Galileo in 2001 - one of only four times they have tried it (also 1999,2000,2004) but they probably have far greater numbers to work with 20 years later. Class act, hard to find holes in him. Might even start odds-on but expect bookies to want to lay him in various chest-beating promos on Saturday morning.
3. Gear Up (6)
Won three out of four as a 2yo, including the G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud in October, on a heavy track.
Made no impression in the Dante behind a couple of leading chances here, can't make any case for him to be competitive.
4. Hurricane Lane (5)
Undefeated Frankel colt who took a significant step forward winning the Dante at York.
I'd class that as a 'nice' win rather than anything special, he took a while to get going in the straight, keeping on well rather than showing any great burst of acceleration. Seemed to enjoy the undulations of Newmarket on debut so the twists and turns of this unique track shouldn't be a concern. Dam won over two miles so the increase in distance should only be a plus. Definite chance.
5. John Leeper (12)
In a race where cheap bloodlines simply don't exist/have any chance, this guy is the blue blood, by unbeaten superstar Frankel out of dual Oaks winner Snow Fairy. Has been impressive winning his two starts this season, particularly on debut at Newcastle and still looks to have more up his sleeve, as he gains more racing experience.
The Fairway Stakes win at Newmarket was a strong effort but none of those rivals were ever in contention for the Derby. Disappointed for Adam Kirby in that he's been booted off in favour of Frankie, but he's not as if he's been the regular rider throughout his career (would have been his first time aboard). This might be a step too soon for him.
6. Mac Swiney (8)
Irish 2000 Guineas winner who seems to need a bog track to perform.
Clear top three ratings came on soft or heavy tracks, while he has finished worse than midfield in all starts on good going. Beaten almost 7L by Bolshoi Ballet on a good track in the Derrinstown. Unlikely to get the rain he seems to need.
**FRIDAY EDIT** - steady rain has seen conditions soften up more than expected. Jim Bolger has always declared he was more of a Derby contender than Guineas, so he has to come into contention. Still prepared to leave him out of my selections but wouldn't be as hard against him as I was initially.
7. Mohaafeth (4)
Massive improver this season winning a novice, a handicap and a Listed race in three runs in 2021, however none of those rivals have graduated to Derby class. Travelled strongly with a nice turn-of-foot in the Newmarket Stakes, will be happy to see a dry week and firm ground.
A Classic double for Shadwell Stud would be all the more special after the passing of Hamdan Al Maktoum earlier this year.
**FRIDAY EDIT** - steady rain has downgraded the track to good to soft, which should be fine for him, but wouldn't want it to get any worse.
8. Mojo Star (10)
A two-race maiden, close up behind a couple of decent types to be fair, but neither of those rivals are Derby class. Only reason to be here would be to provide Amo Racing and new mega-owner Kia Joorabchian with a first Derby runner. No hope.
9. One Ruler (11)
Originally the leading chance from Godolphin who has been usurped in the pecking order by Hurricane Lane since running sixth in the 2000 Guineas, his only run this year. On that occasion, he was too keen early and wasn't able to go with Poetic Flare, who he settled alongside, when it mattered.
Can make a case for him with the freshness out of his system but not convinced he stays the trip.
10. Southern Lights (3)
Derby runner with an Australian connection, being part-owned by Aquis Farm, a big stud operation Down Under. Second and first in maidens either side of Christmas, followed by 8.5L sixth behind Bolshoi Ballet (1.75L behind Mac Swiney) in the Derrinstown four weeks ago. However that form is worth more than it looks on face value. He probably should have run second after being locked away on the fence when runs were being made on the home turn, followed by being blocked at the furlong when running on nicely. Can mark that performance up by a length or two. No concern about stamina, each-way hope.
11. Third Realm (2)
Another colt unbeaten this season is this son of Sea The Stars trained by Roger Varian. He was the outsider of the six-horse field (14/1) when winning the Derby Trial at Lingfield with a bit up his sleeve, making a sweeping run on the bend and running away from his rivals.
Home-bred by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, his dam has also produced the highly-talented trio of Cape Byron, Ostilio and Ajman Princess. A bit short of the top bracket on ratings, but has earned his place in the field.
12. Youth Spirit (7)
An impressive winner of the Chester Vase, however none of the defeated have continued onto this race so one has to wonder on the depth in the field.
He only had one behind him in the betting that day, but paid that ranking no respect by running away from them in the straight to provide owner Ahmad Al Shaikh another Derby runner, after claiming second last year with Khalifa Sat at 50/1. Similar to Third Realm, a bit to find on ratings but good enough for an honest showing.
The favourite looks just about bulletproof here - can race forward and out of trouble, drawn ideally, has a decisive turn of foot, loves firm ground and of course, comes from connections which have done it numerous times already. Mohaafeth looks to be his closest rival, but that could conceivably be six lengths, with any of the bottom three filling the placings.