It’s Derby Festival eve and about time I gave some proper attention to the pick of the races.
The build up to Saturday’s Derby is dominated by the drift and tighten of ante-post favourite Carlton House in the markets. Sir Michael Stoute’s charge was discovered to have ‘slight filling in the near-fore limb’ after light work on Sunday evening. I think, on stripping away the mealy-mouthed pseudo-veterinary opinion, that this means a swollen shin.
This story still has mileage and the markets have more turmoil ahead. Although declared today, the appearance of the Queen’s charge in the season’s showpiece will hinge on any reaction later today to a canter early this morning. We’ll know tonight. Or possibly tomorrow morning. Or maybe later than that….. A few more dramatic twists and turns yet. All the ingredients of a good story. Headline writers craving a first Derby winner for the Queen and for it to happen in Royal Wedding year will be poised by their netbooks.
The colt’s credentials are solid enough. Carlton House did all that was necessary in quickening away from a decent field to win the Dante. Seville, considered to be Aiden O’Brien’s premier Derby contender at the time, was soundly beaten and left looking one-paced. Hard to see that form being reversed. Arguably a worthy favourite then. So when Carlton House drifted to bigger than 4-1 on Betfair, I struck - following 20 minutes dithering, pacing and general procrastination - with unswerving precision and decision. Shortly after he was touching 9-2 and I was having kittens about his non-participation, tempered by temptations to go in again. Such is the Janus-like existence of a mug punter.
In the meantime, I’ve also opposed the Queen’s colt with Native Khan. Before the market shifts this week, I played my hand at 13.5-1 on the basis that Ed Dunlop’s colt will just love the step up to a mile-and-a-half on a sound surface. For me, he’s the one to take out of the 2,000 Guineas behind runaway Frankel and appears to have had a perfect build up to Saturday’s race.
Elsewhere, the best supported of Ballydoyle’s runners, Recital, looks a right handful and isn’t certain to take kindly to Epsom’s (frankly ridiculous) banks, cambers and bends. There’s a doubt about him staying this trip too. But it’s Coolmore’s French raider (how easily this tabloid drivel spews from my keyboard) Pour Moi that I fear the most. His win in the Prix Greffulhe is the best piece of form outside the Dante.
Kicking off the Festival is the Princess Elizabeth Stakes tomorrow at 1.40pm. Antarra won this last year and has been competing, not without credit, at Group 1 level since. So this, without a penalty, looks much easier. Timepiece looked great behind Midday in the Yorkshire Cup. But I’m looking at Clinical at 13-2 to step up on her decent two-year-old form and spring a surprise in the opener.
The Coronation Cup at 2.45 is a very special race. The Derby for older horses. This year a depleted field of five looks to be a match between back to form former two-year-old wonder horse St Nicholas Abbey and brilliant middle distance filly Midday. I could have kicked myself for not backing the former at Chester when he routed an average field in the Ormonde Stakes. So often O’Brien can rekindle the magic in these horses when seemingly it has gone. The horse is probably still on the upgrade and if so, Midday even at her superb best may not get close enough. I can’t see anything else getting into it.
The Oaks at 4.05 has a bit of strength in depth to it: Wonder of Wonders slapped down some strong form in the Dee Stakes at Chester last month; another other O’Brien contender Misty For Me landed the Irish 1,000 guineas; Godolphin’s Blue Bunting won Newmarket’s strangely run 1,000 Guineas last month and is bred for this trip; and Mickey Channon’s unfashionable Zain Al Boidan ran away with a weakish Lingfield Oaks trial. Pick the bones out of that lot. Well I’m sticking with my 20-to-follow filly Havant, from Stoute’s yard. She ran well enough in the 1,000 Guineas and if she settles better, could be seen to her best over this trip.
I’ve another list horse running in the Surrey Stakes at 4.50. Hooray was found out at the trip in the 1,000 Guineas and so reverts to 7f here. I like this filly and backed her plenty last year. But here she’ll be odds-on most likely and so I’ll be looking to double up…maybe with St Nicholas Abbey!
Moving back to Saturday, the Diomed Stakes at 2.40pm features St Moritz who has come on leaps and bounds since moving to David Nicholls two years ago. He’s progressed from handicaps to pick up a listed prize earlier this year and now moves into pattern company over his best distance of a mile. Here he’s up against some seasoned Group performers, though I’m happy to give him a shot at likely good each way prices.
The Dash at 3.15 is the fasted 5 furlongs in the World. So says the PR blurb. Its true as well. This is a searing fast sprint, down hill all the way and starting from somewhere just outside Tattenham Corner station car park. This race is a great spectacle. I saw Falasteen smash down the track on this trip/track back in April to win as he pleased. He was breathtaking. So I’ll be all over him on Saturday at about 8-1. I’m boosted by the knowledge that my mate and untouchable Sprint King, Bacchy has also put him up. What can go wrong? I’ll likely split my stake with an old mate in a current rich vein of form, Masamah, who similarly loves to dominate. Don’t you just love front runners? This one falls into that class of beast that is simply beyond reproach: DNOMAP.
In the Surefooted Handicap at 4.50 I’m on yet another of my 20-to-follow beast, Bourne, from the Luca Cumani yard. He should have a good enough chance and is already being talked of as an Ebor horse.
That’s it for now. Sadly, I won’t be adding to my tally of Oaks Day appearances tomorrow. Logistical nightmare: last season’s crew are scattered to the four winds - Aldeburgh, La Coruna, Rugby and Tring Park. But we’ll be back next year.