Epsom or Chantilly? That is the question facing connections of Roaring Lion after he stated his Derby case with a scintillating display in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York on Thursday.
Always considered the best trial for the Derby after the 2000 Guineas, there is one big obstacle standing in his way – the imperious winner of that classic, Saxon Warrior.
Roaring Lion’s trainer John Gosden has the utmost respect for the odds-on Derby favourite, given they have taken him on twice and been on the receiving end both times.Stepped up to 10 furlongs for the first time, the grey put behind him two disappointing runs this season in justifying 3/1 favouritism, beating Mark Johnston’s Mildenberger by a yawning four and a half lengths.
“I’ve always said this is his trip and he’s proved himself over a mile and a quarter. I liked the way he hit the line strong. He’s galloped out well,” said Gosden.
“I think it just confirms the fact that the best Derby trial is the Guineas and this is probably the second best Derby trial.”Asked about the Derby, Gosden said: “I think we’ll see how he is over the next few days and if he’s in great nick we’ll make a decision about which race to go for (Epsom or French Derby).
“They (Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion) are the two nicest colts in Europe, the French Guineas was a bit of a muddle.
“We thought we had him beat and Donny and then I don’t know what happened, we all went left, our boy messed about and he came back and beat us fair and square.
“We’ve given ourselves something to think about. I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t done that, to be honest.”
Earlier on the York card, the Gosden-trained Coronet made a successful reappearance with an dominant display in the Betfred Middleton Stakes.
The grey filly won the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer and ran several fine races in defeat, most notably chasing home esteemed stablemate Enable in the Yorkshire Oaks on the Knavesmire in August.
She went on to finish fifth in the St Leger and third on Champions Day at Ascot, and she was dropped in class and distant on her seasonal bow.
Frankie Dettori cut a confident figure in the saddle throughout the 10-furlong Group 2 and committed for home over two furlongs out.
The 2/1 favourite idled in front, but was ultimately far too good for her rivals, passing the post a length and a half clear of Horseplay.
Dettori said: “She’s the best ride. She’s brilliant, she’s honest and she’s got an engine. It's just nice to be around her. When you get up on a morning and see your name down to ride her it’s a privilege.”Gosden said: “That was a great return. She’s been training nicely.
“We were perfectly aware that a mile and a quarter on top of the ground is not her favourite, but she did it very well and when we step her up to a mile and a half she’ll be even better.
“She’s in the Hardwicke (at Royal Ascot) and that is there for her to look at. If not, there’s the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock.”
Main Desire kept her unbeaten record intact with a narrow success in the British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes.
Michael Bell’s filly won each of her two starts last season, but had not been seen in competitive action since landing a course and distance success in the Listed Marygate Stakes at this meeting a year ago.
The 12/1 shot was being ridden along inside the final two furlongs, but responded to Danny Tudhope’s urgings to grab the lead late on and she knuckled down well considering her lengthy absence to see off Hey Jonesy by a neck. Roussel, the 7/2 favourite, was the same distance away in third.
Nick Bell, the trainer’s son, said “She’s very quick and that’s a great result given she’s been off the track for a year. It was a blow she got injured when she did last year and couldn’t go to Ascot, but to return with a win is great for the yard. This has been the plan since she came back to us in January It will be Ascot now, she’s in the King’s Stand and the Commonwealth Cup and it’s a nice position to have to choose.”
Tudhope said: “She’s very good, she’s always been highly regarded and is still unbeaten. It was unfortunate she missed the Queen Mary last year, she was nearly favourite for that, but hopefully she’ll be there this year. I think the King’s Stand will suit her more, but we’ll see what everyone else thinks.”
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