This year’s Derby is going to be the most valuable race ever run in Britain, with a host of supplementary entries boosting the already-significant prize fund. The number of supplementary entries is evidence of how open this year’s race appears to be, and it seems pretty tough to back anything with confidence, especially with the ground changing from good to soft with the recent rain. Epsom is a fast-drying track, however, as shown two years ago in the Australia / Kingston Hill battle. At this stage, I’m confident US ARMY RANGER will come on leaps and bounds from his Chester experience, whilst I also like MOONLIGHT MAGIC as an each way alternative.
US Army Ranger. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Ryan Moore.
Unbeaten in his two races to date, he has long been Ballydoyle’s number one Derby horse, a status that was confirmed by just a short head when he held off stablemate Port Douglas in the Chester Vase. Critics will rightly point to the 4lbs US Army Ranger was receiving from Port Douglas that day, as well as a questionable ride from Seamie Heffernan on the runner-up, but US Army Ranger will have learned a lot from his Chester experience and is almost certain to have improved again under the watchful eye of the O’Briens. The ground should hold no fears for colt, given he won his maiden on heavy ground at the Curragh before handling the good ground at Chester, and his recent drift in the market doesn’t concern me. Before The Gurkha’s impressive French Guineas performance, there was a concern that perhaps the 3yo Ballydoyle boys were generally substandard, but those fears have been allayed somewhat and US Army Ranger is a very different proposition to Air Force Blue.
Wings Of Desire. Trainer: John Gosden. Jockey: Frankie Dettori.
Last year, Golden Horn won the Dante Stakes in impressive fashion before following up under Frankie in the Derby, and the dynamic duo of Gosden and Dettori will be hoping for a repeat following Wings Of Desire’s gutsy victory on the Knavesmire. Given the news that Midterm sustained an injury in that race, the form is not as clear as we punters would like it to be, which is why Wings Of Desire is a much bigger price than Golden Horn at this stage last year. Gosden has, however, been effusive in his praise of this rapidly improving horse, and you can just hear his supporters singing: “Wings of Desire, Coolmore must be terrified…” Gosden will be hoping that his decision to remove Wings Of Desire from the Derby entrants a couple of months ago will mean that the £75,000 supplementary fee is merely an inconvenience rather than a fully wasted cheque.
Ulysses. Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute. Jockey: Andrea Atzeni.
This regally bred horse – by Galileo, out of Light Shift – has merely won a Newbury maiden in his career, but he did that very impressively and his second placed effort to Imperial Aviator at Leicester in April received a huge boost when Imperial Aviator routed the field at Newbury last time out. Andrea Atzeni is a decent jockey booking – he gave Kingston Hill a peach of a ride two years ago but nothing was beating Australia that day – and as Sir Michael Stoute himself says, being 8/1, 2/1 or 15/1 doesn’t make them run any faster. The Newmarket dogs have been barking for a while for this horse and he may just deliver, but for me any value in his price has long gone. Those of you sitting on ante-post vouchers of 16/1 and bigger should be very satisfied, however. If Ulysses does run a big race, then it might be worth lumping onto Imperial Aviator in the Prix du Jockey Club on Sunday.
Cloth Of Stars. Trainer: Andre Fabre. Jockey: Mikael Barzalona.
In 2011 Andre Fabre and Mikael Barzalona delivered the Derby for Coolmore in thrilling style, when Pour Moi was delivered at the perfect moment as Barzalona celebrated by standing up as he crossed the line. This time around they’ll be hoping to bring glory to Godolphin as Cloth Of Stars makes his first start outside France. He did work at Epsom during Breakfast With The Stars, however, so the camber should hold no fears for this colt. His pedigree is as impressive on paper as Ulysses, being by Sea The Stars out of a full sister to Light Shift, and he must be taken seriously at the prices. He has won on both good ground and heavy ground, so the rain won’t be a problem and nor will any sunshine.
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Deauville. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Jamie Spencer
In a week where the sad news of The Corsican’s death emerged, it’s over to The Corsican’s full brother Deauville to hopefully provide a timely boost to Fitri Hay. Deauville ran a peach of a race under Ryan Moore in the Dante, being narrowly beaten by Wings Of Desire, and could well appreciate the step up in trip. Given the Dante was also his first race of the season, it is fairly safe to assume we haven’t seen the best of this colt yet, and whilst US Army Ranger’s victory on heavy ground on his debut suggests he won’t mind the rain, Deauville is certainly an excellent second string and given Aidan O’Brien has won this race before with his apparent first reserve (Ruler Of The World was behind both Dawn Approach and stablemate Battle Of Marengo in the 2013 betting) he warrants serious consideration. Jamie Spencer takes the ride as the chosen jockey of Jim and Fitri Hay.
Moonlight Magic. Trainer: Jim Bolger. Jockey: Kevin Manning.
Moonlight Magic disappointed at Leopardstown in April, when he was a well beaten 5th of 7 runners (his only career defeat) behind the reopposing Harzand and Idaho (as well as two other Ballydoyle runners), but that was on heavy ground and his subsequent effort in the Derrinstown last month was much more like the standard required. That day, on good ground, he beat Shogun, Idaho and Beacon Rock from Ballydoyle and finished the 10 furlong race strongly. Being by Cape Cross, the sire of Sea The Stars, he should stay and if he handles the Epsom camber, then he represents a great chance for Godolphin. The genius Jim himself says: “I rate him as a good Derby prospect and I would not swap him for anything else in the race” (see also Humphrey Bogart and Across The Stars) and I think Moonlight Magic is a serious each way bet.
Harzand. Trainer: Dermot Weld. Jockey: Pat Smullen.
Conversely to Moonlight Magic, Harzand’s only career defeat came on good ground at Gowran Park as a 2yo, with both his 3yo victories at Cork and Leopardstown coming on heavy ground. Taken at face value, you’d have to think this son of Sea The Stars would need a lot more rain for it to fall right for him on Saturday. Those heavy ground experiences, both over 10 furlongs, leave little doubt as to his stamina credentials and if it turns into a messy race – very possible with 16 runners and no stand-out candidate – then the best stayer could come out on top. I personally don’t think Harzand will be the best stayer, but much like Jim Bolger, Dermot Weld is a wily old trainer and you couldn’t rule him out.
Idaho. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Seamie Heffernan.
Seamie Heffernan is widely regarded as the number two Ballydoyle jockey, as he has been for around two decades, and so the fact he has chosen Idaho here rather than Port Douglas is probably the best idea we have as to how well the colts are working at home; this could be important as Port Douglas’ form is most closely matched to US Army Ranger, yet we could make the inference he has not improved over the past month whilst US Army Ranger might well have done. Idaho’s defeats in separate races to both Harzand and Moonlight Magic, however, surely gives him far too much to do to overturn the form with either of them, let alone both, and so I’m happy to pass him over for betting purposes.
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Massaat. Trainer: Owen Burrows. Jockey: Paul Hanagan.
In Massaat we have the sole representative of the English 2000 Guineas crop, and it was a fine effort that day in second. The form hasn’t worked out too badly, with Galileo Gold finishing second in the Irish equivalent, and both Zonderland and First Selection running creditably since. He certainly saw out the straight mile with no problems, but connections of the winners of the English, Irish and French Guineas have all decided to stay at a mile in what should be a superb St James’ Palace Stakes and there is nothing in Massaat’s pedigree that strongly indicates he will be better at a mile and a half. It would be an exceptional training performance if Owen Burrows was to win this race in his first season after taking over from Barry Hills, and the suspicion is that this will be a learning curve for all involved. There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but again I’d rather look elsewhere.
Port Douglas. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Colm O’Donoghue.
We have already mentioned plenty about Port Douglas in the write-ups of US Army Ranger and Idaho, so we only need add a little more. Firstly, that Chester Vase run was his sole start of the year to date having been highly-tried as a 2yo, so he is just as entitled to improve as anything else in the race. Secondly, the penalty he was carrying for his Group 2 Beresford Stakes win proved crucial on the day. Thirdly, his fourth in the Racing Post Trophy hasn’t worked out that well, but generally his 2yo form is pretty solid. But that’s all it is – solid, not spectacular. The way he battled back against US Army Ranger when headed a furlong out was impressive, however, and he is another who is likely to stay until the sun sets.
Red Vernon. Trainer: Ed Dunlop. Jockey: Silvestre De Sousa.
There is no doubting the scintillating form of the Ed Dunlop yard at the moment, and this represents the biggest leap of faith to see just how good that form is. Let’s get the the obvious out the way: thus far in his career, Red Verdon has been a handicapper. His last two races have both been class 3 handicaps, and he frankly hasn’t beaten much. But, as the old sporting cliché goes, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and the progress made by Red Verdon is extremely interesting. In his first start this year, he improved his best RPR by 8lbs. Second time around, he improved by a further 8lbs. And on his last start at Haydock, when he won eased down by 5 lengths, he put another 16lbs on to his RPR. He would need to improve again, but his stamina isn’t in doubt and he could well pull off a shock for the champion jockey.
Algometer. Trainer: David Simcock. Jockey: Jim Crowley.
Winner of the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood recently, that win followed a second to the former Derby favourite Midterm at Sandown. The Cocked Hat is the only race in his career to date that has been on faster than good to soft, and facing just 3 rivals at Goodwood will hardly be ideal preparation for the rough and tumble of the Epsom Classic. As a 2yo, however, he did have Ulysses behind him in sixth place when winning his Newbury maiden, and I’m not entirely sure he’s done so much wrong since that he warrants being more than three times the price of Ulysses.
Across The Stars. Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute. Jockey: Kieren Fallon.
This Sea The Stars colt has won just one race in his 4 starts to date, and that was a 4-runner maiden on the all-weather at Lingfield, where he at least showed he will stay the distance. His next start saw him finish an unlucky third on the Lingfield turf to Humphrey Bogart and Carntop, where he was hampered at a critical moment. The Stoute / Fallon combination is certainly one to be feared at Epsom, and King Kieren himself has stated he “wouldn’t swap his ride for anything in the race”. Fallon is still an excellent judge of horses and his bullishness could well speak volumes, but it could also be a load of rubbish. He could well be a lively outsider but he will have to improve as much as he did last time round, and then some.
Humphrey Bogart. Trainer: Richard Hannon. Jockey: Sean Levey.
Supplemented by his owners, the Chelsea Thoroughbreds, this colt was a decent second to So Mi Dar at Epsom in April, before winning his Lingfield trial from Carntop and Across The Stars. The defeat to So Mi Dar looks the best piece of form, with the filly absolutely bolting up at York next time out, while Sean Levey says “I wouldn’t choose another over him”. So that’s both Levey and Fallon that wouldn’t swap their horses for anything, and neither would Jim Bolger. Glad that’s cleared up… My personal concern with Humphrey Bogart is that, in a race full of potential improvers, he is quite exposed with 8 career starts and you have to wonder whether he has the requisite jump that any Derby winner needs.
Shogun. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Jockey: Donnacha O’Brien.
Shogun will be Donnacha’s first ride in the Derby and he’ll have to go a long way to match the exploits of Joseph, particularly on a colt that has won just once in 8 starts, and that being last July in a Curragh maiden. Since then, his best form in terms of RPRs came at Longchamp in October when he was sixth in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day before being soundly beaten in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf. This year, he’s been third in the Craven, before being beaten by Moonlight Magic in the Derrinstown and then running fifth in the Irish Guineas. In short, he’s a decent horse, but seemingly thoroughly exposed and it might just be his role in this Derby is to provide a sound yardstick for the horses in front of him and behind him at the line.
Biodynamic. Trainer: Karl Burke. Jockey: Dougie Costello.
Third behind Linguistic and Harlequeen at Newmarket in April, Biodynamic then contested the Chester Vase against US Army Ranger and Port Douglas. Sent off 12/1 third favourite that day, he finished fourth, with fully 9 lengths to find with just the two Ballydoyle runners. Quite simply, if he does, I’ll be gobsmacked and you’ll deserve whatever you win from taking the 200/1 about this colt.