It is billed the most famous race in the world and the greatest test of a thoroughbred.
The Derby at Epsom racecourse is what turns potential into achievement, stars into superstars and dreams into reality.
It is sometimes doubted whether the race meets the hype but looking back on previous winners it really is evident that the cream does rise to the top. Stretching back to the turn of the millennium, Montjeu and Galileo for Ballydoyle went onto win a King George (Group 1) on the back of their Derby wins. High Chaparral went onto win a Champion Stakes and dual Breeders Cup Turfs. New Approach won the British and Irish Champion Stakes; Sea the Stars won the International and Irish Champion Stakes en route to his incredible Arc win. And then last year Workforce followed up a disappointing King George run with a blistering Arc de Triomphe victory showing, once again, the value of the Derby in establishing the best.
The reason it is held in such high regard, as well as the history and the alumni, is the unique track and conditions it is run under. The 1m 4f trip proves it is a true test of stamina, Tattenham Corner and the gradients and cambers test the horse’s agility and that run down the straight in front of a massive crowd of cheering racegoers will test its resolve and determination.
Such is the pace the race is invariably run at, the winning horse has to have a high cruising speed which can then be translated into that extra kick of acceleration in the straight.
This year the main challenger has the hopes of a nation and a monarch on his back. The Queen’s CARLTON HOUSE seemingly fulfilled all his previous promise when winning the Dante Stakes at York, a good indicator towards Epsom, with Motivator and Authorised in recent times winning en route to their Derby victories.
The colt played up before the start of that race, showing signs of greenness, but in the race he showed maturity in taking a gap that appeared a furlong from home, showing a smart turn of foot, and winning comfortably in the end. Trainer and jockey believe he will come on a lot for that run and his recent work on the gallops have wowed spectators, indicating he is in perfect order for the day. A recent setback put his participation in doubt but if he lines up you can be sure that Sir Michael Stoute will have him in perfect order.
Ballydoyle and trainer Aidan O’ Brien usually take on Epsom mob-handed, and this year is no exception. In 2009 he had five runners of an eleven runner field, and last year had four from thirteen. This year he currently has five entered – although Irish Guineas winner Roderic O’ Connor is expected to be diverted to France.
O’Brien has Dante second SEVILLE, who will have Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillion on board again. He also has the Derrinstown Stakes winner RECITAL. The Derrinstown is always a strong trial and Recital looks smart, although he does show some of the less beneficial Montjeu traits. His head carriage looked awkward at the Curragh and he may find the Derby Day atmosphere at Epsom a trial. Chester Vase winner Treasure Beach and Derinstown second Memphis Tennessee complete the likely O’Brien starting quartet.
The other main challengers come from across the English Channel, with the French posing a serious threat for the first time in several years (they haven’t won the Derby in 35 years). POUR MOI represents Andre Fabre and wonder boy jockey Mikael Barzalona. The vibes have been very strong for this horse in the last few weeks, having been backed down from 20/1 into 7/2 second favourite after a recent Group 3 success at Longchamp.
He cantered well at a recent Epsom work out, and the stable are hopeful. The horse he beat at Longchamp was a warm favourite for HH The Aga Khan, in VADAMAR, a colt trained by Alan Royer-Dupre. However he came out of the race with a minor injury so could perhaps be excused. He is a possible dark horse for Saturday at a bigger price.
What seems such a close race has been made wide open with that doubt over the Queen’s star horse CARLTON HOUSE. However, if he turns up at Epsom he should be very difficult to beat. He has a sharp turn of foot, travels and stays, and looks very much the complete package. Ballydoyle horses are invariably bred for this race, and should fill the minor berths, with Recital possibly running on past stable mate Seville, who should be held by Carlton House on Dante form.