Epsom Saturday

2:00 Cazoo Handicap 1m 2f 17yds

This race has thrown up all sorts of head-scratching results over the years, such as when Poet’s Word, Scarlet Dragon and Prince of Arran all finished unplaced off marks in the 80s behind Gawdawpalin in 2016. Three of the last eight winners have been 25/1 or bigger, and no favourite has won since Conduit scored at 11/8 in 2008. His mark of 85 looked generous when he won the St Leger a couple of starts later!

Swilcan Bridge represents owner Mick Mariscotti, born in Epsom, and keen to have winners at this meeting, so it’s no fluke that Mariscotti and trainer Andrew Balding have won this race twice in recent years, with Droichead and Le Don De Vie. Swilcan Bridge is proven at the track, improved again when placed last time, and the fact that he’s out of the handicap is only a minor concern, given connections also had Schmilsson in this at the entry stage, but are happy to rely on this colt instead.

2:35 Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Group 3) 1m 113yds

Statement could prove value, as she is the lowest rated in the race on official figures, but has promised to be much better before her career stalled last summer when with Martyn Meade. She started a warm favourite for this race last year, in fact, and finished third despite missing the break, which put her in a bad position. She had been sharp enough to lead the field in the 1000 Guineas prior to that, however, and her usual run style suits this track.

She was an excellent second to Alcohol Free (Vadream, Primo Bacio, Happy Romance, et al, behind) in the Fred Darling on last year’s return, but failed to build on that, and may be best caught fresh. She’s also changed stables, being bought for 300,000 guineas by Steve Hillen to join Kevin Ryan. Given her favourable handicap mark, there would be easier openings for her, but she holds an entry in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot, which suggests that new connections – not the sorts to tilt at windmills – are adamant that she is a group performer, as she suggested last spring.

3:10 - Cazoo Diomed Stakes (Group 3) 1m 113yds

It’s hard to look beyond the progressive Modern News, who looks to have outstanding claims, but there might be value in betting without him given what we know of the others. Escobar has run in this race before, but was below form, and all but one of his wins have come on flat tracks, so I’m inclined to view him as a bad value option, as is Megallan, who is a hard ride, and seemed not to handle the tight track at Chester last time.

Zakouski was below form at Meydan in the spring, racing too freely, which is a new trait, and a negative one. He could bounce back, but is risky. Mutasaabeq has disappointed raised to pattern class previously, but ran well when second in the Bet365 Mile at Sandown, and could be getting his act together, but the one I think will be best suited to this test is Finest Sound, who is a strong traveller, and raised his game when second in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta at Meydan last time.

He tends to get found out in a stiff finish, being worn down late there, and often beaten after trading short in running, but he looks the ideal sort for Epsom, and I can see him either making the running or tracking the pace before going on in the straight, and he will be favoured by the track in that regard. He will do well to beat Modern News, but he appeals in the “without favourite” market, and with this being a World Pool day, the quinella ought to pay well.

3:45 Simpex Express ‘Dash’ Handicap 5f

This is the fastest five furlongs in the world, and the Dash will be frantic. The draw can play a big part, with the stands rail often an advantage, which gives those drawn high a generic edge, but there is also a greater chance of trouble in running when most of the field want to converge towards the rail. As a result, horses drawn very low can often avoid any trouble, and the winner has come from stall one or two four times in the past decade, notably when Caspian Prince landed the 50/1 nap in this column in 2017.

Drawn in stall one this year is another old favourite who is getting faster as he gets older, and that is Justanotherbottle, who took time to find his form when initially joining Kevin Ryan, but really hit his stride in the second half of 2021, blitzing his rivals in the Great St Wilfrid and showing better form when scoring again there in September, where he had the widest draw to contend with. He went three lengths clear a couple of furlongs out there before being closed down late, and he’s matched that form in two runs this season, looking the winner a furlong out over six furlongs at Newmarket last time, but overhauled on the final climb. Most of his racing has come over six furlongs, but he looks more and more like a five-furlong horse these days and his greatest asset is early and mid-race speed. He was well beaten in a previous try over this course and distance, but was struggling for form at the time, and I think the test will suit him well now.

4:30 Cazoo Derby (In Memory Of Lester Piggott) (Group 1) 1m 4f 6yds

The Derby may have a strong favourite in the shape of Desert Crown, but it is arguably more open than usual as there is not a single Group 1 winner in the field, and the first nine in the betting are all colts who have improved to win one of the recognised Derby trials in Britain or Ireland, with the exception of Walk Of Stars, who was runner-up in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

That is a unique scenario, and while it’s tempting to judge those horses based on how they impressed last time, trials are trials, and this is the real thing, so the key is to work out how much, if at all, the main contenders will improve on the day.

Desert Crown impressed when winning the Dante, but I don’t share the general belief that he’s certain to stay the trip at Epsom, and with Green Desert as his dam sire, there must be a chance he will prove best at 10 furlongs, and at 15/8, he’s easy enough to pass over on value grounds.

Stone Age has shown his best form with cut underfoot, as when winning Leopardstown’s Derby Trial last month, and his chance will be enhanced if there is heavy rain overnight – that rain is predicted in some quarters but not in others, however, and if it stays dry overnight, I’d be much less confident as to his chances. Good ground will suit Nations Pride, but the last Derby winner to go straight to Epsom after winning the Newmarket Stakes was Pinza in 1953, and there is a feeling he’s become Godolphin’s main Derby hope by accident, rather than design.

Changingoftheguard is my idea of the value, and he’s another who won’t mind if the rain hits, being proven on a variety of surfaces, and with his stamina absolutely guaranteed having won a well-run Chester Vase where he beat New London – at that stage the main Godolphin Derby hope – by a wide margin.

A line through the well beaten Savvy Victory gives him the clear beating of the Blue Riband Trial winner Nahanni, as well as Walk Of Stars, and he is positioned to lead the field from a favourable outside draw. He’s also fitted with cheekpieces, which saw improvement from Derby winners Serpentine and Ruler Of The World, and the fitting of headgear confirms that he will be asked to go forward again. Serpentine showed what an advantage a lead can be in a big-field Derby, particularly in conjunction with a wide draw.

Ballysax winner Piz Badile merits respect, but he was beating a non-stayer in Buckaroo, and his late rally suggests stamina reserves which are far from guaranteed at a mile and a half, a comment which also applies to Dee Stakes winner Star Of India, whose full-brother Roman Empire just about stayed 10 furlongs.

I’d respect Nahanni, who won the Blue Riband Trial despite dropping in trip, so ticks course and stamina boxes, and will also be on the speed in a race which promises to get rough behind. I’m tempted to have a saver, for all there’s a concern that he and the main selection could hook up in a duel up front.


Statement 2:35 Epsom – 1pt e/w at 25/1 (Bet365, 20/1 general)

Justanotherbottle 3:45 Epsom – 1pt e/w at 12/1 (Skybet 7 places, 11/1 Betway 7 places)

Changingoftheguard 4:30 Epsom – 1pt e/w at 15/2 (Skybet – 6 places, 8/1 general - 4 places)