EPSOM DERBY PREVIEW
Find him here https://twitter.com/littledarkone11 by Ciaran Taylor
Today is Epsom Derby Day and if it goes anything like yesterday’s Oaks meeting, I’m expecting some fireworks! Snowfall won the Oaks by a record 16 lengths and gave me my biggest day in the sun to date... Now it’s all about finding the winner to what is widely considered the most prestigious race in the world: The Derby.
Bolshoi Ballet heads the market for what it looks a fascinating contest, with the winners of the Dante, Lingfield Derby Trial, Irish 2,000 Guineas and Chester Vase all arriving with strong claims. The Aidan O’Brien representative is the only Ballydoyle contender this year, which caused a stir mid-week but if anything, it’s a sign of how much faith they have in this colt. Bolshoi Ballet was a smart two-year-old but has taken his form to a new level this season with two decisive wins in the Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Derby Trial, over the same course and distance, at Leopardstown. If he looked good in the Ballysax, then he looked pure quality in the Derrinstown, streaking clear to win by six lengths and in doing so, made a very good case for himself to go well here.
However, I don’t think the Derrinstown Derby Trial has produced a winner of the Derby since 2002 when High Chaparral followed in the footsteps of the great Galileo the year before. In addition to this, the Ballysax has only produced one winner since High Chapparal took the honours, with Harzand taking both back in 2016. Obviously, this colt could prove much better than this field but having beaten virtually the same field the last twice and only the well-beaten Mac Swiney and Southern Lights being deemed good enough to reoppose here, 6/4 looks pretty skinny for me.
Mac Swiney entered Derby calculations as a two-year-old when producing a battling performance to take the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster and re-affirmed that promise with a win in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh two weeks ago. He was put in his place by Bolshoi Ballet on his seasonal reappearance but a drop back in trip seemed to suit when landing the Guineas from the Newmarket Guineas winner and stablemate Poetic Flare. Being by a Derby winner in New Approach and out of a sibling to multiple middle-distance performers, there’s every chance he’ll get the trip but having looked so strong in the finish over a mile, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the very limit and given how few manage the Irish Guineas/Derby double, or even attempt the feat, it makes him opposable in my book.
One horse who has taken my eye, for all he fails to fill the profile for your typical Derby type, is the big outsider Mojo Star. Mojo Star is yet to win in two starts to date but has shown plenty of ability in both defeats and as much as this might not be considered his forte, you’d struggle to find too many better judges of a decent animal than Richard Hannon. The son of Sea The Stars went down by a nose in a mile maiden at Newbury last October to a very smart individual in Scope, with a handful of winners finishing well behind. Then, stepped up to a mile and a quarter, he was a warm order to go one better at the same course but couldn’t quite live with the pace of the exciting talent Manobo, who followed up by streaking clear to win impressively again at Kempton on Thursday. Mojo Star cantered into contention on that occasion and halfway up the straight it looked like a matter of how far he might win by before Manobo realised what his job was all about and rocketed to the front, but the pair pulled a long way clear of the rest that day and looked a very useful performance. He’ll have to improve over a stone to get competitive here but they clearly regard him highly and it wouldn’t surprise me if he can get involved, particularly if a few of these underperform.
Hurricane Lane has a direct form line with Bolshoi Ballet, having thumped Flying Visit by almost 10 lengths in the Dante after Bolshoi Ballet only beat the Bolger gelding by two and a quarter lengths in the Ballysax. Bolshoi Ballet obviously improved for that start and Flying Visit didn’t run to the same level in the Dante but Hurricane Lane is open to any amount of improvement. The striking chestnut looks a proper galloper and, arriving here unbeaten, he looks a real contender for following in the footsteps of Masar in notching another Derby for the boys in royal blue. I am a bit concerned about whether he’ll have the gears to fend off some of these, but I expect him to be running right to the line.
Third Realm and Youth Spirit both also enter the fray following impressive trial wins. Third Realm seeks to replicate the feat of the late Anthony Van Dyck who won the Lingfield Derby Trial before getting up in a thrilling renewal of the Epsom Derby. Third Realm landed the spoils the last day in emphatic fashion and the Sea The Stars colt proved he could handle the twists and turns of Lingfield, so should be able to replicate that form here. However, the form isn’t all that strong in comparison to a number of the other trials, and unless he improves plenty, I’d be surprised if he took this.
Youth Spirit ran in good company as a two-year-old over 7-furlongs, winning a decent Newmarket Maiden before not disgracing himself behind Battleground in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood. He returned to racing with an average performance in the Fielden Stakes but seemingly needed the run and seemed to be crying out for another step up in trip. He then won the Chester Vase stylishly, but a bit like Third Realm, there can be questions asked over the depth of that race and despite passing that unique test with flying colours, a typically good trial for this event, I’m not sure he’s going to be good enough to live with a few of these.
My selection is actually the ultra-progressive, and very exciting, JOHN LEEPER, named after the late great trainer John Dunlop. As far as breeding goes, he’s near perfection, by the brilliant Frankel and out of the exceptional race-mare Snow Fairy, who won a combined total of 3 Classics and 16 Group 1’s between them. Snow Fairy won both the English and Irish Oaks over this trip before going onto even bigger and better things all over the world, and Frankel provides the pedigree with plenty of speed which should equip John Leeper with the right stuff to give today’s test a proper crack.
So far, he’s only had the three starts and has improved markedly with each one, starting off by putting up an eye-catching display on debut when running into a promising fourth at Doncaster in September. He then put that experience to good use when bolting up on his return to racing at Newcastle, looking better the further he went and hitting the line with four lengths back to the second, and the form got a big boost with the distant third scoring next time up. And in the next chapter of this fabulous story, John Leeper was thrown into Listed company in the Fairway Stakes at Newmarket, to put his Epsom credentials to the test. The colt took the step up in his stride, settling really well off of a slow place and quickening up smartly to split between rivals and extend a lead into the dip. It was by no means the strongest test, but it was a major step in the right direction, and he retains plenty of potential going into the Derby. Here’s to hoping he can follow in his Dam’s footsteps and hose up here!
Selection: JOHN LEEPER 10/1
One To Note: Mojo Star 150/1