Horse Racing: Epsom Derby Preview

Paul HanaganBacking a horse priced longer than 7/1 in the Epsom Derby has been a complete waste of money for donkey’s years but this is an extremely unusual renewal crying out for a different Derby strategy (4.30pm Saturday live on Channel 4).

Many of the horses at the top of the Derby market are easy to oppose. The 9/2 favourite, the Dante winner Wings Of Desire, is not only inexperienced but, according to his trainer John Gosden, would benefit from good ground. The times at Epsom on Friday suggested that the going was pretty testing for ‘good to soft’.

The second favourite, Aidan O’Brien’s US Army Ranger (5/1), is even less experienced and looked awkward and unbalanced last time. He started as the hot favourite but only just scraped home in the Chester Vase under Ryan Moore. Seamie Heffernan virtually stopped riding his more convincing stablemate, Port Douglas (16/1), to let him get his head in front.

Ballydoyle are hitting the race hard in terms of quantity but, if US Army Ranger is their leading hope of victory, quality is distinctly lacking. Deauville (10/1), a close second for the yard in the Dante, has the highest handicap mark but Aidan O’Brien has stressed that he must have good ground too. The same theory may apply to Port Douglas.

It tells you plenty that Red Verdon (25/1), a 102 rated handicapper, has been supplemented for this race. His cautious trainer, Ed Dunlop, has a pretty impressive record when asking owners to fork out for late entries. Red Verdon would definitely not be lining up if there were potential superstars to overhaul.

It is easy to make a case for Red Verdon each-way at his current price. He has never been put into Group company before but we know that he copes with cut in the ground, he is proven over the distance and was untroubled by the agility test posed by Chester. Chester is a pretty good practice ground for the demands of Epsom. Red Verdon demonstrated his wellbeing a fortnight ago by winning easily at Haydock.

Humphrey Bogart (33/1) is another supplemented runner. He placed in Group company as a juvenile and always put in his best work at the end of the race, looking to need further. He was only beaten a neck by the ultra talented So Mi Dar here on soft ground in a Derby trial in April.

We last saw Humphrey Bogart winning another Derby trial at Lingfield a month ago with Across The Stars (33/1) a length and a half behind him. Richard Hannon is happy with this colt but hopeful rather than expectant about his chances.

Humphrey Bogart’s ability to handle this unique course is a massive positive but, usually held up, traffic problems are a risk in a field of this size.

A horse with a very different profile that has slipped under the radar is Massaat (18/1). He is the highest rated colt in the line-up and proved he can perform on good to soft when finishing second, beaten a length and a half in the 2,000 Guineas.

As a juvenile Massaat was runner-up in the Dewhurst after winning his maiden on his second run. This stunning colt is a son of Teofilo out of an Acclamation mare. His pedigree does not exactly scream out for this distance but his jockey Paul Hanagan (pictured) is quietly confident that he will stay.

Massaat’s trainer Owen Burrows seems to know what he is doing. He ought to. Burrows was assistant trainer at Sir Michael Stoute’s yard for years. If Sir Michael trained this colt he would probably be half the price.

This could be a Derby that defies the usual trends. The obvious lack of a top class performer coupled with potentially testing ground provides opportunities for colts that would otherwise be also-rans.

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