IT feels somewhat comforting after the tribulations of the last two years that we arrive in June and a sold-out, celebratory, big field Derby at Epsom today.
It’s even fitting that Lester has passed in this very week, to be remembered and have his name honoured at the track, in the classic with which he was most synonymous.
It does feel a throwback to a few decades ago, Lester’s name, Sir Michael Stoute with the Derby favourite, and there was even a mid-week impressive winner in the Sangster colours at Newbury.
So who wins? Having backed Buckaroo and Eydon already, I’m on the back foot in the race and if you have concerns over the favourite, it’s a difficult conundrum to solve.
For all the goodwill towards his trainer, do we like Desert Crown at 7/4? Two runs, two wins, by over five lengths and three lengths in a maiden and the traditional best trial, the Dante.
It was only in the last half-furlong that he really opened distance on the second at York and that horse is 33/1. Certainly, Golden Horn, et cetera, were a little bit more explosive in winning their Dante.
On breeding, he’s not totally certain to stay and the dam doesn’t really fit the old best-to-the-best scenario. That said, you would not have looked at Anthony Van Dyck’s dam and said she would breed a Derby winner. Nathaniel, as well as the outstanding Enable, has already got two Cheltenham winners to his name! Desert Berry, Green Desert, Danzig and Distant View in a Derby cocktail? Hmm, not just for me.
How will team Ballydoyle play it? Their three most fancied runners have looked thorough stayers in their recent wins. Neither of the two Chester winners is likely to be used as a pacemaker in this big field though they coped well and ran to the line at Chester. Aidan O’Brien had said that Stone Age is comfortable when ridden positively so you do expect them to make it a test.
Is Stone Age the real deal? Both he and Changingoftheguard had less than auspicious two-year-old careers, neither breaking their maiden.
It’s still a bit difficult to get a handle on how good the British and Irish three-year-olds are in relation to each other. The Godolphin duo beat the best of ours in the 2000 Guineas and Native Trail followed up at the Curragh in a weaker race where the best-fancied Irish runner, Buckaroo, disappointed.
Piz Badile is from a blue-blooded Niarchos family but his form hasn’t been boosted either. Can he go from a Killarney maiden to the biggest stage? He may have received a ‘price boost’ with Frankie Dettori taking over and he has been the each-way selection of many in the last month.
The Godolphin string doesn’t seem as strong over this longer distance. You would think supplementing Nations Pride puts him well up their pecking order.
Walk Of Stars should have improved on his Lingfield run but Ballydoyle may have his measure if they have better colts than United Nations.
It’s a wide-open race if you have questions about the favourite.
Even if their three-year-olds have been a little below par this season, you expect a Ballydoyle runner to hit the first three. There was some money for Changingoftheguard after the draw. Though high numbers don’t produce too many winners, he should be able to get a good position going forward from stall 16.
I’ll take him to give Galileo a sixth success in the race on the week one legend died and the legendary sire was voted into British racing’s Hall of Fame.