Join the 70,000 or so who wrap themselves around and within a unique helter-skelter course, and soak up the buzz of an occasion that bristles with excitement.
That atmosphere was silenced last year when the first coronavirus lockdown forced the race behind closed doors.
But as restrictions continue to be eased, about 4,000 will be allowed at Epsom for this Saturday’s renewal. And by next year, normality should have resumed, with crowds basking in the tradition of what remains one of the world’s most famous races and what is still the most prestigious Flat race to win in the UK calendar, despite annual attempts to denigrate it.
For now, most of us will be watching on ITV or Racing TV, sat on the sofa, so to help you find the winner, here is my potted guide to all the runners for the £1.125 million Classic, sponsored for the first time by online car retailer Cazoo.
Leading trainer Aidan O’Brien and top owners Coolmore have thrown an 11th hour, bombshell spanner in the works by declaring only one of their intended six runners, namely the hot favourite Bolshoi Ballet.
Maybe it’s in response to the sickening, ludicrous criticism of them for their domination of the race in recent years (six of the last nine winners). Maybe it’s because they have unflinching faith in Bolshoi Ballet and have no need to complicate matters.
But given that four of their last five Derby winners since 2012 have been colts not perceived to be their number one in the race, it is a curious change of policy.
Not since 2004 has O’Brien saddled only one horse. And there is no doubt that the withdrawal of High Definition, Van Gogh and, to a lesser extent, Kyprios, has robbed Saturday’s contest of considerable interest.
Champion trainer John Gosden and champion jockey Oisin Murphy are also conspicuous by their absence, but it is encouraging that ten different yards are represented.
Each horse here is listed in racecard order, together with their odds at the time of going to press and the trainer’s name. Comments are made on the assumption that the ground at Epsom, on the 40th anniversary of Shergar’s demolition Derby in 1981, will be good, bordering on fast. Good luck!
CAZOO DERBY (1m4f, 3yo colts, Saturday, Epsom 4.30)
1 ADAYAR (Charlie Appleby, 40/1)
Big, rangy colt who might be the third string of the Godolphin operation but has finished a solid runner-up in two Derby trials this spring at Sandown and Lingfield. However, he negotiated the descent into the home straight at Lingfield like a crab, which does not augur well for similar contours at Epsom. What’s more, connections have made the bizarre decision to jettison champion jockey Oisin Murphy, who was booked for the ride originally, and replace him with Adam Kirkby, while he’s also been handed the coffin-box draw of one.
2 BOLSHOI BALLET (Aidan O’Brien, 11/10)
Hot favourite bidding to give O’Brien and owners Coolmore their ninth Derby, and master sire Galileo his sixth on the 20th anniversary of his own Epsom success in 2001. This colt was a very ordinary 2yo but propelled himself to the top of Ballydoyle’s middle-distance pecking order by landing Ireland’s two most reliable Derby trials this spring in convincing fashion. The form of those races is of mixed merit, and it’s not entirely certain how he will cope with fast ground on Saturday, but as a full brother to a horse that finished third in the St Leger, he should stay the trip, even though he seemed to wobble a bit after hitting the front last time. Jockey Ryan Moore is seeking his third Derby, but his first since 2013.
3 GEAR UP (Mark Johnston, 50/1)
The flagbearer for feisty Scot Mark Johnston, who is the winning-most trainer in British racing history but has never come close to Derby glory and has not won a Classic of any kind since 2004. This tough, staying colt won a Group One race in France as a juvenile and actually had Saturday’s favourite, Bolshoi Ballet, well beaten that day. But he might have been flattered because it was on heavy ground that many of his rivals couldn’t handle, and he was disappointing on his seasonal reappearance when only fifth in our premier Derby trial, the Dante Stakes at York.
4 HURRICANE LANE (Charlie Appleby, 9/1)
The number one contender for the powerful Godolphin operation, and the same trainer/jockey combination that steered Masar home in the 2018 Derby. No-one is riding better at the moment that William Buick and he seems assured of a good spin on this solid, unbeaten son of the mighty Frankel, who is surely on the verge of producing his first winner of the race. He’s more of a grinder and a galloper than a flashy horse with a turn of foot, but he’s improved with each of his three starts, most notably in a very strong Dante Stakes at York last time. Given that his dam won over 2m, he’s certain to relish the trip, and the only question mark concerns his suitability for fast ground.
5 JOHN LEEPER (Ed Dunlop, 7/1)
Would be a most poignant winner, given that he’s named after the trainer’s late father, who was a brilliant trainer in days gone by, sending out Shirley Heights to take the Derby in 1978 and Erhaab in 1994 among more than 70 Group Ones in an illustrious career. As a son of Frankel and the 2001 Oaks winner Snow Fairy (also trained by Dunlop jnr), few horses in the field are better bred for the job than this talented, progressive colt, and he won’t be lacking assistance in the saddle from the amazing Frankie Dettori, gunning for his third Derby. Stormed to victory in a trial at Newmarket last month but, on this step-up in distance, he must settle better early on than he did that day, and his draw, from the widest berth, will not make that easy.
6 MAC SWINEY (Jim Bolger, 7/1)
Named after Terence MacSwiney, the revered Sinn Fein MP and IRA martyr, who died as a hunger-striker in 1920 during the fight for Irish independence, this colt is also fancied to upset the English establishment. He battled to a most courageous victory in the Irish 2000 Guineas two weeks ago, pipping stablemate and Newmarket Guineas hero Poetic Flare, and would be the first since Grundy in 1975 to double up at Epsom. A son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach, also trained by 79-year-old veteran Bolger, he looks certain to be suited by the rise from 1m to 1m4f on Saturday, but all his best form has been on ground considerably softer than he will encounter.
7 MOHAAFETH (William Haggas, 7/1)
Not for at least 36 years has the Derby been won by a colt that had contested handicaps earlier in the season, but few with the same reserves of class as Haggas’s son of Frankel can have tried. Formerly owned by the globally respected Hamdan Al Maktoum, who died earlier this year, he has climbed the ranks rapidly and was massively impressive when coasting home on the bridle in a Newmarket trial last time. He’s yet to contest a Group race of any description and former champion jockey Jim Crowley has yet to win a Classic of any description, but fast ground will help the colt get the 1m4f trip, and the trainer, who saddled Shaamit to win the Derby back in 1996, is one of the best in the business.
8 MOJO STAR (Richard Hannon, 100/1)
The first three home in last year’s behind-closed-doors Derby returned odds of 25/1, 50/1 and 66/1. But it would arguably be an even bigger shock if Hannon’s son of 2009 winner Sea The Stars finds his way to the winner’s enclosure on Saturday. Still a maiden and the race’s rank outsider after finishing second on a couple of starts at Newbury, he is flying the flag of enthusiastic, new owners’ conglomerate, Amo Racing Ltd. They hope their stay in the sport will be a long one but, on pedigree, this colt is far from sure to stay the Derby distance.
9 ONE RULER (Charlie Appleby, 22/1)
One of three runners for the Newmarket-based Goldolphin powerhouse, and not to be dismissed lightly on his efforts as a smart 2yo last year, which ended in defeat by a whisker at the hands of one of Saturday’s big fancies, Mac Swiney, in a Group One at Doncaster. A son of admirable stallion Dubawi, he ran respectably on his seasonal bow when sixth in the 2000 Guineas, looking as if he’d definitely appreciate further. Whether it’s this far, we will find out at the weekend. Most seem to feel his optimum trip will prove to be 10f, and jockey William Buick has chosen to ride Hurricane Lane ahead of him.
10 SOUTHERN LIGHTS (Joseph O’Brien, 20/1)
Half-brother to a horse called W G Grace, but unlikely to be hitting the Downs for six. Trained by Aidan’s son, who piloted Camelot and Australia to Derby glory in 2012 and 2014, the son of Sea The Stars looked set for a fruitful season when winning convincingly on his first outing this term. But when upped in class last time, he was disappointing behind Saturday’s favourite Bolshoi Ballet. Retains potential, though, and one genuine glimmer of hope is that his dam hails from the family of 2002 Derby hero High Chaparral.
11 THIRD REALM (Roger Varian, 12/1)
For a trainer of his quality, blessed with a yard chock-full of talent, it is remarkable that this is only the second runner in the Derby for Varian – after Kingston Hill, who was second seven years ago. These colours of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum have been here before, though, because they were carried by High-Rise when he swooped on the outside to snatch the 1998 Derby. That colt bagged the Lingfield Derby Trial as his prep, and this son of the great Sea The Stars has taken the same route, quickening off the home turn and then keeping on doggedly. It was a weak renewal and he needs to improve a lot again, but Newmarket gallops watchers say his homework has been sharp.
12 YOUTH SPIRIT (Andrew Balding, 33/1)
Owner Ahmad Al Shaikh will be hoping to go one better than last season when his colt, Khalifa Sat, ran a terrific race to finish second at rewarding each/way odds of 50/1. This gritty and useful son of 2012 Derby winner Camelot won’t be such a big price but he will also be an outsider, even though his stamina is guaranteed after taking an albeit poor renewal of the Chester Vase in May. Trainer Balding has never prevailed in the Derby, but his dad, Ian, was responsible for one of the best winners of them all, Mill Reef, exactly 50 years ago.
MY DERBY 1-2-3
1 HURRICANE LANE
2 BOLSHOI BALLET
TWENTY-four hours earlier, at 4.30 pm on Friday, the Derby’s sister Classic, the Cazoo Oaks, over 1m4f for 3yo fillies, takes place.
The 14 runners include five from the Aidan O’Brien yard, but it’s an attractive, open contest, full of potentially improving sorts.
MY OAKS 1-2-3