Frankie Dettori aims to lift Epsom gloom with win on farewell ride in the Derby
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The build-up to the race has been dogged by worries. For instance, train strikes are certain to have a damaging impact on the attendance. Thousands normally flock to the Downs by train, but the three nearby stations, Epsom, Epsom Downs and Tattenham Corner, will all be closed.
The numbers watching on TV are also sure to be down because the Derby falls on the same day as the FA Cup final. And not just any other FA Cup final. Rather, the eagerly-awaited crunch clash between champions Manchester City and their envious arch rivals, Manchester United.
To guarantee the race is shown on ITV’s main channel, instead of being consigned to ITV4, Epsom has agreed to it being hauled forward from its usual slot to as early as 1.30 pm.
To add even more gloom to one of racing’s biggest days, the threat of protests by the Animal Rising action group lingers, even though The Jockey Club, owners of Epsom, have won a High Court injunction, forbidding disruption. The group says it still plans to try and stop the race, so similar scenes to those which delayed the Grand National are likely.
Amid all the foreboding, the Derby needs a feelgood fairytale to lift the spirits – and there would be few more fitting than victory for the country’s favourite jockey, Dettori, on his last ride in the Betfred-sponsored £1.5 million contest.
The 52-year-old’s farewell season, before he retires, has already started in grand style with success in the first Classic of the season, the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month, on Chaldean.
Now he is gunning for this third triumph in the Derby, triggering another of his trademark flying dismounts, after glory on Authorized in 2007 and subsequent Arc winner Golden Horn in 2015.
The good news is that he has a fine chance aboard a son of the mighty Frankel, ARREST, trained by his faithful ‘guvnor’ John Gosden and winner of one of the key trials, the Boodles Chester Vase. What’s more, it is an appropriate name, given that Animal Rising arrests are likely to hog the post-race headlines.
The bad news is that both Dettori and Gosden have expressed their fears that Arrest won’t be suited to Epsom’s unique camber and undulations, especially if the ground is quickish, as looks likely, while a wide draw of 13 from 14 could be debilitating.
Nevertheless, his form stacks up in relation to many of his main rivals. As a two-year-old last season, he was only just touched off at Group One level in the French mud by DUBAI MILE, who finished a highly creditable fifth in the Guineas and is sure to improve for Saturday’s extra distance.
Before his duel with Arrest, Dubai Mile had finished just behind another of the Epsom contenders, THE FOXES, who was brought back this term to win the most important Derby trial of all, the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante at York, last month.
Two of those who finished just behind The Foxes that day re-oppose in the Derby. PASSENGER is trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who saddled last year’s Derby hero, Desert Crown, and WHITE BIRCH is one of two Irish challengers in the race. He is trained by John Joseph Murphy, better known as a Jumps handler and responsible for Newmill, winner of the 2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Foxes will not go down without a fight, unlike the football team he is named after, and is sure to stay Saturday’s 1m4f trip. In contrast, stamina doubts surround the progressive Passenger, who was unlucky at York but lacks experience after only two runs, and the big grey, White Birch, who is talented but is another who may struggle with the track.
As far as all the aforementioned principals are concerned, there is a distinct much-of-a-muchness feel to the form, so it might be wise to look elsewhere for Saturday’s winner.
The other Irish raider, SPREWELL, might hold the answer for veteran trainer Jessica Harrington. But does his overall profile scream Derby horse? Do the nuts and bolts of his Group Three win last time stand up to scrutiny?
I am more tempted by the credentials of the Fitzdares Lingfield Derby Trial, which has produced two of the last four Derby victors. OK, it had to be switched this time to the course’s all-weather surface, but the finish was fought out by two rapidly improving colts, seemingly devoid of doubts about stamina, pace, ground, attitude and track craft for Saturday.
Charlie Appleby’s winner, MILITARY ORDER, was following up a demolition on his seasonal re-appearance of two horses who have since gone on to impress immensely in good handicaps. Another son of Frankel, he is the mount of champion jockey William Buick, who is riding out of his skin at the moment. He also flies the flag for the Godolphin operation, who sent out his brother, Adayar, to land the Derby spoils in 2021. Not for 123 years have full siblings won the Blue Riband event.
Wherever Military Order finishes, the Lingfield runner-up WAIPIRO can’t be far behind because he was little more than a length in arrears that day and clear of the rest, despite having to come wide round the home turn while the winner got a clean run up the inner. Ed Walker’s colt, a son of 2014 Derby winner Australia, bagged a striking success on his previous outing at Newmarket.
Australia was trained by Aidan O’Brien who, weirdly, I have not mentioned once in 21 paragraphs of this preview. Weirdly, because he has saddled eight winners of the Derby this century, going back to Galileo in 2001.
The master of Ballydoyle has the favourite again for Saturday, AUGUSTE RODIN, whom he speaks of in glowing terms. But while he was a Group One winner as a juvenile, it’s hard to forgive a shocking performance in the Guineas. He will improve for middle distances, and other high-profile O’Brien horses, such as Luxembourg and Little Big Bear, have bounced back this season from below-par first efforts. But fast ground would be another unknown quantity for this son of Japanese superstar Deep Impact.
At more of a working man’s price, I prefer the credentials of stablemate SAN ANTONIO, whose taking victory in the Boodles Dee Stakes at Chester three weeks ago has been under-rated in most quarters. O’Brien three-year-olds can improve dramatically from run to run and, providing he’s not sacrificed as a pacemaker for the favourite (which I fear), this superbly bred colt, with Galileo blood on the dam’s side, looks the pick of the each/way candidates.
MY DERBY VERDICT
1 Military Order
3 San Antonio
4 The Foxes