Britain’s richest and most prestigious race takes place on Saturday as the much anticipated Epsom Derby takes centre stage in what looks set to be a fascinating if not slightly below average renewal of Britain’s fourth and most valuable classic.
The highlight of Britain’s flat racing calendar has long been the talking point of punters and experts alike and with so many key contenders failing to live up to their inflated repuatations throughout the season, but on Saturday it’s time for the horses that are declared to prove their credentials.
On the back of three successive Derby victories and a mass of firepower in his Ballydoyle stable, Aidan O’Brien dominated the ante post betting from the moment the markets opened.
But with John F Kennedy, Sir Isaac Newton and Ol’ Man River all failing miserably to stake their claim in the race, O’Brien relies on just three entrants in the shape of Hans Holbein, Kilimanjaro and Giovanni Canaletto, who are all relative outsiders.
Lingfield Derby trial winner Kilimanjaro appeared to hold the best chance of O’Brien retaining his Derby crown, but the money has come in the last few days for Giovanni Canaletto as the Coolmore faithful clutch at straws.
In a race that has so far eluded him, master trainer Dermot Weld enters this year’s Derby picture with a massive chance of adding to his illustrious CV as his unbeaten colt Zawraq heads to Epsom in the hope of ending his trainers quest for success in this race.
Rumours of Weld describing the Hamdan Al Maktoum owned colt as ‘the best he’s ever trained’, have prompted a tumble in the odds but at 5/1 he is still great value.
The manner in which Zawraq quickened away from Endless Drama when last seen in the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas trial marked him down as a horse to follow and with Endless Drama since coming out and franking the form finishing just behind Gleneagles in the Irish 2000 Guineas the form looks rock solid.
In the aftermath of that Leopardstown victory, Weld instantly said: “I always thought he could be a Derby horse,” which speaks volumes from a man who very rarely talks up a horse and if the rumours are true of how highly regarded Weld holds this horse he should have no problem dismantling this sub-standard Derby field.
Many experts have doubted his stamina for a Derby ,but Weld has no doubts regarding that matter and believes the predicted faster conditions will prove no problem either
He added: “He will stay more than a mile and I see him as a Derby horse. Better ground will be no problem.
“He is very adaptable and has a beautiful temperament.
“He’s a straightforward colt and there are no complications in any way. He’s a very, very high-class horse and will always represent us very well. He has a lovely pedigree and is related to Bustino and Height Of Fashion. There is a lot of stamina in his pedigree”
The Dante form will be put severely to the test at Epsom as the first three all re-oppose from York with favourite Golden Horn expected to confirm the form with Jack Hobbs and Elm Park who supposedly ‘worked like a crab’ on his first trip to Epsom.
The John Gosden duo of Golden Horn and the recent Godolphin purchase Jack Hobbs hold solid claims, but with doubts over Golden Horn’s stamina I think Zawraq represents much better value.
Preceding Saturday’s predicted below-average renewal of the Derby it’s the turn of the fillies on Friday at Epsom as what looks like a stellar line up in a vintage renewal of The Oaks.
The three-year-old fillies are of such a high standard this year that there was plenty of talk of a couple of them targeting the Derby but luckily for the purist’s out there this failed to materialise but nevertheless it adds further spice to what looks a cracking contest.
Very often the so-called experts and pundits will try and over-complicate things when the glaringly obvious is staring straight at them.
This year every man and his dog is trying to come up with alternatives to the long time favourite and 1,000 Guineas winner Legatissmio but I see no reason to do so.
She has always been considered a filly with considerable stamina and anything she did over a mile in the 1,000 Guineas would be a bonus, so to dismantle the field the way she did marks her down as an exceptional horse.
Trainer David Wachman expects the extra four furlongs at Epsom to bring out further improvement and of the 12 horses that have tried to complete the Guineas/Oaks double since 1971, six have been successful and with the expected services of the best flat jockey in the world Ryan Moore a further boost I think she’s the best part of a good thing.
Obviously there are a couple of flies in the ointment in the shape of recent ante-post gambles Crystal Zvezda and Jack Naylor hailing from the well respected yards of Sir Michael Stoute and Jessica Harrington but they are yet to do it at the top table like the selection Legatissimo.
Legatissimo, The Oaks, Epsom, Friday 3/1
Zawraq, The Derby, Epsom, Saturday 5/1