Saturday’s Race Of The Day: The Epsom Derby

By Dave Stevos

It is hard to believe that Derby Day at Epsom is upon us already. This race is seen as the ultimate test of a thoroughbred and, with soft ground likely, stamina and an ability to handle an ease will be paramount. Aidan O’Brien had won three in a row before John Gosden and Golden Horn broke his stranglehold last year. Three of the last four favourites have obliged and no winner has been priced bigger than 7/1 since 2006. However, if the ground stays soft there is the potential for a shock result and below you can read my thoughts on what should be an exhilarating Epsom Derby.

ACROSS THE STARS (STOUTE/FALLON)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 103
Draw: Stall 6
Best Odds: 25/1 Sky Bet

This son of Sea The Stars would be a surprise winner of this year’s derby, but he has the right man on board in Kieran Fallon. He is riding well this season and he has already won three Derbies, including two for Sir Michael Stoute. It would be some story were he to claim a fourth on Saturday, but Across The Stars has an awful lot to find to get involved at the finish. I am not sure soft ground will be ideal on pedigree and he was beaten over 3L on debut on easy ground at Nottingham. Best watched at odds of 25/1.

ALGOMETER (SIMCOCK/CROWLEY)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 106
Draw: Stall 4
Best Odds: 33/1 BetVictor

This strapping son of Archipenko is seen as an ideal type for the Leger by his shrewd trainer, but the downpour on the Downs this week has convinced him it is worth having a crack at the big one. You can’t really blame him for taking the chance as many of the more fancied runners would have been hoping for good ground or better. This fella is 2 from 4 and handled the step up to 11f well at Goodwood when taking a 4 runner listed heat. He won his maiden on good to soft and his half-sister All At Sea loves to get her toe in. He will look to break quickly from stall 4 and make it a real test. He hasn’t got a huge amount to find at the ratings and he could sneak a place if the rain continues to fall.

BIODYNAMIC (BURKE/COSTELLO)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 94
Draw: Stall 7
Best Odds: 200/1 William Hill

This son of New Approach was fancied to run well on his first try in pattern company at Chester but he was disappointing behind US Army Ranger. He has it all to do to turn that form around and given that he was well beaten the only time he encountered soft ground his price of 200/1 looks justified.

CLOTH OF STARS (FABRE/BARZALONA)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 109
Draw: Stall 14
Best Odds: 7/1 Ladbrokes

Fascinating French raider whose trainer and jockey combined to win this race with Pour Moi in 2011. This son of Sea The Stars has looked imperious on both starts this year, taking a Group 3 on heavy (10f) and then a Group 2 on good (10f). There is no shortage of stamina on the dam side of his pedigree and his running style suggests 12f will suit. Has a poor draw in stall 14 but if anyone is capable of weaving their way through late on it is the mercurial Mickael Barzalona. His trainer knows what it takes to win here and this fella has every chance of giving Godolphin their first win in this race since Lammtarra all the way back in 1995.

DEAUVILLE (O’BRIEN/SPENCER)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 113
Draw: Stall 12
Best Odds: 10/1 Betfred

Jamie Spencer has been booked for the ride on this son of Galileo and he will need to be at his best from a poor draw in stall 12. This colt is a full brother to The Corsican, a listed and Group 3 winner at 10f (gd) and 11f (gd/sft) respectively. However, he was beaten when he tried 12f and Deauville didn’t look like a resolute stayer at York last time when beaten by the re-opposing Wings Of Desire (10.5f gd/fm). He won his maiden on heavy so he should be okay on the soft ground, but his best form has come when it has been good or better and with doubts about his stamina he is best watched at odds of 10/1.

HARZAND (WELD/SMULLEN)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 110
Draw: Stall 9
Best Odds: 14/1 Ladbrokes

It was touch and go as to whether this son of Sea The Stars would take his chance and if the rain hadn’t arrived he likely wouldn’t be travelling. He was beaten his sole start on good ground but he has looked a different proposition on heavy. He won his maiden by 16L at Cork before accounting for Idaho in impressive fashion in a Group 3 at Leopardstown. The way he won that day suggests 12f will be fine and he is a half-brother to a 12f winner. He hasn’t got a bad draw in stall 9 and if he handles the track he could have a say at odds of 14/1.

HUMPHREY BOGART (HANNON/LEVEY)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 105
Draw: Stall 2
Best Odds: 25/1 Sky Bet

This son of Tagula has won just 2 of his 8 career starts so he doesn’t have the profile of a potential Derby winner. He has been beaten on both starts at group level, his best performance a Listed win at Lingfield (gd) last time out when trying 11.5f for the first time. He showed he handled the track with a fine effort here behind crack filly So Mi Dar over 10f on soft on his penultimate outing, so it is not surprising that connections have decided to have a crack. Whether he is up to this level I am not so sure and he is likely best watched at odds of 25/1.

IDAHO (O’BRIEN/HEFFERNAN)
Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 108
Draw: Stall 8
Best Odds: 20/1 Stan James

Another son of Galileo for O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan is on board, just as he was on his last start at Leopardstown (10f gd). He could only manage to finish third behind Moonlight Magic that day, though he did stay on very well late on, suggesting that 12f would suit. However, he has been beaten both tries on ground softer than good, including behind Harzand at Leopardstown (10f hvy). His full brother Highland Reel was also best on fast ground so all the rain that has fallen is a huge worry. If it dries out his chance will increase, but that is unlikely so he is another that is best watched at odds of 20/1.

MOONLIGHT MAGIC (BOLGER/MANNING)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 111
Draw: Stall 1
Best Odds: 12/1 bet365

If ever there was a horse bred to win a Derby this is it. This son of Cape Cross has an illustrious pedigree, out of a dam that is a half-sister to the likes of Galileo, Sea The Stars and Black Sam Bellamy. He is very closely related to Sea The Stars and he stayed on well to land the Derrinstown from Shogun and Idaho. He won his listed race on yielding ground and his maiden on soft so he handles an ease. He was miles behind Harzand on his seasonal reappearance on heavy but Bolger has reported that he wasn’t right that day. If that is the case, and it wasn’t the ground that beat him, then Moonlight Magic is a serious contender on Saturday. Bolger has been bullish about him and at odds of 12/1 he looks overpriced from a plum draw in Stall 1.

PORT DOUGLAS (O’BRIEN/O’DONOGHUE)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 111
Draw: Stall 10
Best Odds: 18/1 William Hill

Yet another Aidan O’Brien trained son of Galileo who was controversially beaten by US Army Ranger at Chester. He ran a cracking race that day but the ground was a lot different than it will be on Saturday. Both his career wins have come on good or better, including a Group 2 last season at the Curragh, and his pedigree suggests that the rain will harm his prospects. He has been beaten on both runs on ground softer than good and for that reason he is best left alone at odds of 18/1, unless the ground dries out considerably.

RED VERDON (DUNLOP/DE SOUSA)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 102
Draw: Stall 16
Best Odds: 20/1 Sportingbet

This son of Lemon Drop Kid has taken an unconventional route to Epsom and this will be his first try at pattern level. He is 3 from 5 in his career so far, winning a maiden at Wolves (8.5f) last December and then winning 2 handicaps at Chester (12.5f gd) and Haydock (12f gd/sft). His stamina has been proven, as has his ability to handle an ease, but the Derby will be a different kettle of fish compared to the handicaps he has been running in. It is no surprise to see connections having a crack as it is a wide open race, but it would be a huge surprise if he were to prove good enough at odds of 20/1.

SHOGUN (A O’BRIEN/D O’BRIEN)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 109
Draw: Stall 5
Best Odds: 50/1 Ladbrokes

Prices and jockey bookings would suggest that this son of Fastnet Rock is the least fancied of the O’Brien runners, but I think he shouldn’t be written off. He flew home for second behind Moonlight Magic in the Derrinstown (10f gd) and that is not the first time he stayed on strongly late on. He also finished with a wet sail in a Group 1 at Longchamp (8f gd) last season, finishing sixth but beaten less than 2L. His sister Qualify won the Oaks last year so the track should not be an issue, the big worry has to be the ground. If it dries out to good to soft this fella could come into the reckoning, and he will be staying on when others have cried enough. He definitely looks overpriced at 50/1.

ULYSSES (STOUTE/ATZENI)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 98
Draw: Stall 3
Best Odds: 7/1 Boylesports

Sir Michael Stoute has been raving about this son of Galileo and he did look very impressive when dominating a maiden at Newbury (10f gd/sft) last time out. That was his third career start and he has done nothing but improve with every run. His dam Light Shift won the Oaks here on good to soft ground so he has the pedigree to run well at Epsom. He has shown he handles an ease and while he hasn’t proven his stamina it should not be an issue on breeding. He has a good draw in stall 3 and he is sure to be popular with punters at odds of 7/1. However, it is a big jump in class from a maiden to The Derby, and for that reason his current odds look a bit skinny to me.

US ARMY RANGER (O’BRIEN/MOORE)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 108
Draw: Stall 15
Best Odds: 5/1 Betfred

This son of Galileo was heavily backed for this race prior to his debut at the Curragh (10f hvy) and he duly landed the odds by less than a length. He was a warm order to follow up at Chester but he was a shade fortunate to keep his unbeaten record intact ahead of Port Douglas. He is bred to be a special horse, out of super mare Moonstone who was second in an Oaks at Epsom before winning the Irish equivalent. US Army Ranger has been drifting like a barge in the betting since that narrow Chester win but I wouldn’t read too much into that. He has shown that he stays, that he handles easy ground and Moore keeps the faith. I think he won’t drift out any further than his current odds of 5/1 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off shorter on the day.

WINGS OF DESIRE (GOSDEN/DETTORI)

Weight: 9st 0lbs
Official Rating: 114
Draw: Stall 13
Best Odds: 5/1 William Hill

This 3yo son of Pivotal has been well backed for this race since accounting for Deauville at York (10.5f gd/fm) last month in a Group 2. He had previously been beaten on debut back in April at Newmarket (10f gd/sft) and he won his maiden at Wolves (12f) as easy as you like. He is a full brother to useful sorts Eagle Top and The Lark, both of whom stayed 12f and both of whom handled easy ground. The only thing that worries me is his lack of experience and his wide draw, but if anyone can settle him and nurse him through the race it is Frankie. The soft ground will hold no fears and he really is a fascinating contender. However, the value has definitely gone at odds of just 5/1 so I will be just watching this fella on Saturday.

VERDICT

This has to be one of the most wide open Derbies in decades. There is no one standout performer and that is reflected in the betting where it is 5/1 the field. O’Brien fires five bullets in a bid to regain his crown and the two I like from his runners are US Army Ranger and Shogun at a huge price. Wings Of Desire is bred to go on the ground and he has shown that he has stamina, but inexperience and a wide draw temper enthusiasm. The French raider Cloth Of Stars is another with a live chance but he will need lots of luck in running. Algometer is well drawn and at fancy odds he could give punters a decent run for their money from the front.

However, at the current prices the one to be interested in is Moonlight Magic for Godolphin and Jim Bolger at 12/1. I was at Leopardstown the day he won the Derrinstown and he really looked a superb type in the parade ring. He showed guts and determination to prevail that day and it is best to put a line through his run behind Harzand on his seasonal comeback as he was clearly amiss. He has a good draw in stall 1 and he can slot in behind the likely pace setter Algometer. Manning will look to kick on a couple of furlongs from home and hopefully Moonlight Magic will stay on best and continue his family’s rich tradition in this race.

STEVOS’ SELECTION: MOONLIGHT MAGIC E/W 12/1