Epsom Derby Day Preview and Tips
The first Saturday in June is reserved for, unbelievably, the fourth of the five British Classics, the Investec Derby. The Blue Riband is supported by an excellent card including a Coronation Cup noteworthy for its Gallic invasion, and of course the electrifying sight of the Investec Dash.
After yesterday’s spectacular form (winners at 20/1, 9/1 and 9/2), we start at 2pm with the…
2.00 Investec Private Banking Stakes (Handicap) (Class 2, 1m 2f 18yds)
I’ve been waiting for a horse in this race to come out again for 43 days. His name is Stravagante, and he’s trained by Sir Michael Stoute and owned by those Coolmore boys. As you might expect, he was bred for better things than Class 2 handicaps, being an attractive son of Rip Van Winkle out of a Rock Of Gibraltar mare.
He really (really!) caught my eye when running on from a hopeless position under tender handling behind a certain Jack Hobbs in a Sandown handicap last time. The beaten margin of twelve lengths flatters the winner considerably in my opinion and, if Stravagante hadn’t been sitting so chilly, hadn’t been hampered in his run, and hadn’t conceded a big head start, he might have been beaten three lengths. Off level weights. Against the Derby second favourite.
The fourth and fifth from that race ran 1-2 on their sole subsequent starts, and there were ten lengths and more back to the rest of the field. So the form is solid.
If Stravagante drops himself out again, or gets hampered in his run again, he probably won’t win. But I have little doubt that he’s the best horse in this field, and he’s worth following all season.
There are others on less extreme upwards curves, including Resonant, Dutch Uncle and perhaps most interestingly, Taper Tantrum. The last named is a bit unlucky not to be unbeaten in three, having been beaten a short head on debut. He then won his maiden and a nursery which is working out really well (25% winners, 36% placed from the subsequent runners).
But, for me, this race is all about one horse: Stravagante.
Selection: I think Stravagante (3/1 general) may end up being a good bit better than a Class 2 handicapper. While I’d be worried about the cambers and his late running style, he is a horse to follow this season. Taper Tantrum brings solid form to the table too, and may be the best each way option.
2.35 Woodcote Stakes (Listed, 6f)
A six furlong Listed race for juveniles, this is a real test of speed and balance for young horses. The usual suspects – Messrs. Hannon and Johnston – are well represented with three of the ten intended runners; and it’s Johnston’s Buratino who brings the best early season form to the table.
His second in the National Stakes (5f, Listed) was a good effort, albeit beaten five lengths by the highly impressive King Of Rooks. Buratino was staying on there in the manner of a horse that would appreciate an 20% in distance, a contention that is proven by his prior win over that sixth furlong in a novice stakes at Newmarket. With four runs to his name already, he has less scope for progression than the rest, but he sets a fair bar for them to aim at.
But Johnston himself may have a better option in the race, the unbeaten-in-one Aleko. He made his debut in a six furlong handicap at Haydock and bounded to a two and a quarter length victory. That was a newcomers’ race, and plenty will have been less professional than the winner that day, who travelled notably well throughout before kicking on. They’ll surely go quicker here, but he looks a classy sort.
Richard Hannon took over where his old man left off last year when Baitha Alga bolted up, and he saddles Nelspruit in a bid for a family hat-trick in the race. This son of Makfi was beaten into second in a decent looking Newbury maiden on debut before just about getting home over the minimum at Goodwood last time.
The workmanlike manner of that triumph can be marked up as Nelspruit is bred to be effective over twice as far in time and, with the trainer in good form, and the horse drawn well in two, a bold showing is expected.
Richard Fahey’s Jeanie’s Place won on her debut, but all six subsequent runners from that Thirsk race have been beaten, with none of them even making the frame. That hardly gives the form a boost. Indeed the second horse there, Bond Bombshell, has been beaten four times before and since.
‘Raif’ Beckett’s Miss Moneypenny has the car park draw in ten to overcome and is stepping up to six for the first time. She’s upwardly mobile, but it will be tough from so far out wide.
A handful of other nice types, including Karl Burke’s Be Bop Tango, a maiden winner over five last time. The trainer won this in 2009 with a relatively unconsidered sort, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock if he repeated the dose.
Selection: An open event where Buratino sets a fair bar. Stablemate Aleko could progress past him, but I’ll take a small chance on the prospective Hannon hat-trick horse, Nelspruit (7/2), who will be able to show more of his capabilities over this six furlongs.
3.10 Coronation Cup (Group 1, 1m 4f 10yds)
It’s always a bit of a disappointment that this valuable prize is contested by so few runners – just 23 horses in the last four years – and it has again attracted a short field of six. If that’s the bad news, then the good news is that it can boast two legitimate Group 1 horses, both Channel-hopping, in Dolniya and Flintshire.
The former was a clear cut winner of the Dubai Sheema Classic, a Group 1, last time out when she saw off Flintshire by over two lengths, with another pair back to the third. Her allowance was six pounds that day whereas it is only three here, but such was the margin of victory there, that she would have to be considered the form pick.
However, in Flintshire’s favour, he has seen this strip before, when second to Cirrus Des Aigles in the race last season. His trainer has suggested he might come on a little for the run but, with the sun expected to bake the ground to good to firm, that will play to his known strengths more than Dolniya’s: she has never raced on quicker than good.
I really like Flintshire as a racehorse. But as a betting medium he’s a heart-breaker. Second in seven of his fourteen career starts cannot be just hard luck, so at 7/4, I have to pass him over.
Is there anything else in the race that could conceivably win? No, not really. I think a French un-deux looks probable, with the filly on top for the third time in their three meetings this season, as long as she handles the ground.
Selection: I won’t be betting on this, but for placepot purposes I won’t be nominating a British horse. Dolniya (10/11) will probably beat Flintshire. Again.
3.45 Investec Dash (Class 2, 5f)
Twenty runners. Fast. And furious. Hard luck stories. Lots of late changes. Fine margins between victory and defeat. The fastest five in Britain is the ultimate thrill-seeker’s horse racing wager. It is not for the faint hearted or the hefty of stake. But it is a joyous turbo-charged dash to the lollipop. Hence the name.
I don’t think I’ve ever backed the winner of the Dash, so caveat emptor from here…
High numbers tend to have the best of it, and it’s generally a horse able to stalk the pace without burning itself out that grabs the pot very late in the day. Some potential fitters of that bill are Silvanus, Barnet Fair and, to a lesser extent, Seeking Magic.
Seeking Magic was a close second – there’s probably never been anything other than a close second in the Dash – in this race last year, and he is six pounds lower in the handicap this time around. With a pipe opener under his belt already, this will have been the target, but the worry is the trip. Sure he’ll be staying on, but almost all his good form – that 2014 Dash effort excepted – has been over six furlongs; and that’s enough for me to look elsewhere, talented and capable though he is.
Silvanus is a big price at 20/1. Trainer Paul Midgley is in excellent form and he’s booked Richard Hughes to steer for the first time, which is surely a statement of intent. Third over track and trip on his only previous try (excluding a voided race), he was a winner two starts back. Drawn in 20, and with plenty of tactical toe, I can see him outrunning his odds.
An even bigger price is Barnet Fair, a horse who often looks capable of winning a big race. He was smart enough to snaffle a big field six furlong contest last term, and has also won in big fields over five. Drawn 19 looks good, but his late to the party style means he’ll need plenty of luck in the run.
Last year’s winner, Caspian Prince, has gone on to better things since, winning a nice Meydan handicap and last seen running in the Group 1 Al Quoz. He’s elevated in the weights as a consequence, but the return to these familiar slopes may appeal and he’s not necessarily badly handicapped despite being joint top weight.
To add in a low drawn nag for insurance purposes, Tracey Collins has done really well with her UK forays, and Chiclet comes here on the four-timer. Chris Hayes is one of the best in Ireland so, draw aside, the remaining reservation is whether she’ll go on the quicker ground. Being out of a Captain Rio mare, that’s not a given, but 12/1 might be enough to risk her: she’s certainly a filly in form and, according to the old adage, they should be followed!
Monumental Man is another drawn low, and this one has a perfect two from two record over course and distance. That includes a recent facile fast ground verdict, so he has to be taken seriously, though this is a step up in grade.
And finally, I must mention Clive Cox’s other runner, Perfect Muse. She is spectacularly consistent at five furlongs, having made the frame in nine of her ten runs over the trip. Cam Hardie steals three pounds off her back – and he’s value for that – and she could go well from trap 16. In fact, I think I’ll have a small each way on her.
Selection: Wide open as 7/1 the field attests. Perfect Muse (14/1) is hyper-consistent at this sort of trip, and get the vote – for small change, and each way a pleasure.
4.30 Investec Derby (Group 1, 1m 4f 10yds)
The big one. The Derby. I previewed this back on 11th May, and I’m pretty happy with the selections from a value perspective.
Obviously, Golden Horn is the one to beat, but he has to prove his stamina and also that he can handle the track in the hurly burly of a race. But geegeez readers may already be on Elm Park at 14’s alongside me, and may also already be on Giovanni Canaletto at the same price alongside me.
Selection: I nominated Elm Park and Gio Can previously, and personally added Golden Horn at 3/1 straight after the Dante (as I suggested was a solid play in the pre-Dante preview linked to above). That’s a solid looking hand, but there are others – of course – who can spoil the party.
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5.15 Investec Handicap (Class 2, 1m 4f 10yds)
A handicap over the Derby course and distance, and a huge field will contest it. My eye is immediately drawn to Barwick, a horse that has placed all three times he’s encountered Epsom (and probably ought to have won his last two here). He’ll relish a fast run twelve furlongs, won’t mind the ground, has an excellent pilot in Jim Crowley, and looks tailor made for a bold spin.
Another for whom conditions look spot on is Oasis Fantasy. Although he’s not the easiest with which to win, he has kept estimable company in recent times, and may not quite have seen out the extra quarter mile last time out. He’ll be in tip top shape after three seasonal runs, and Richard Hughes gets the leg up. Definite each way claims.
Tim Clark got a great tune out of Highland Castle last time out at Salisbury, but the winning margin was exaggerated by the way the race was run, and though I’m fond of this horse, I wonder whether he retains the ability to win at Class 2.
One more with an obvious chance is Lungarno Palace, winner of the Great Metropolitan Handicap here in April. Trainer John Gallagher is in very good form just now, and Lungarno’s last run can probably be overlooked as it came soon enough and didn’t really pan out for his late running style (first seven home were all no worse than midfield through the race).
In any case, the form of that Newmarket race is working out really well, with Highland Castle, Fire Fighting, Quest For More and Watersmeet all having won their only subsequent starts.
At least ten more with chances, and I’ll be hoping to claim a slice of the placepot only in this fiendishly competitive heat.
Selection: Too tricky for a bet most likely, but I do like Barwick (12/1 Skybet) and Lungarno Palace (18/1). Perhaps half a quid on each will reward the more ambitious amongst the readership…!
5.50 Handicap (Class 2, 6f)
And we round out the fourteen race Epsom extravaganza with a fourteen runner six furlong sprint handicap.
Swiss Cross has course and distance form of 14221, and is trained by the under-rated Phil McEntee. He won the race in 2011, was fourth in 2012, and was second to Ashpan Sam last year. Now eight, he’s not getting younger, but he’s dropped to a mark of 82, which gives him a chance. David Probert may be the most under-rated rider in the weighing room, and this looks a compelling combination from trap one in the get out stakes.
Ashpan Sam bids to repeat last year’s dose, and might appreciate a return to this scene off a mark three pounds lower than that win. He’s been out of form since last summer but has dropped down the ratings accordingly. Ryan Moore rides Pearl Blue this time, a switch that is mitigated somewhat by the booking of Richard Hughes to take his place.
Pearl Blue is very interesting. Picked up from Jamie Osborne’s yard after winning the second of two claimers, he ran fourth in a Chester handicap on debut for David O’Meara. He didn’t get the run of it at all that day, but this set up means he’ll be closing all the way to the line. Whether he’s good enough is another question entirely, and I think he’ll be overbet due to connections who are feared and respected, but offer no value.
Again, loads more with chances but you’re guess is as good as – and likely better than – mine in such a wide open contest. Good luck!
Selection: Swiss Cross is a compelling each way prospect, as is Ashpan Sam, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they were again both involved at the death. Sentimentality dictates a small win/place wager on Swiss Cross (13/2).