2.00 Epsom – Investec Private Banking Stakes (Handicap)
Sir Michael Stoute’s Stravagante has not done a great deal wrong in his short career to date and had the misfortune of running into Derby contender Jack Hobbs on his most recent start. He got off the mark at the second time of asking over a mile in October, keeping on well in the closing stages to win by one and three-quarter lengths at the line. Last time he suffered interference on the bend at Sandown and he got shuffled back but he ran on to the line and did enough to suggest he is worth keeping on side going forward. He looks to have strong claims again here if he can overcome an inconvenient draw out in stall 11.
Also of interest is Marcus Tregoning’s Shaakis who won on his seasonal debut at Chelmsford in April before chasing home a smart rival at Sandown later that month. He shaped on that latest outing as though a step up on trip would suit even though on paper he is far from guaranteed to stay any further. He is clearly progressive and had he not run into Mutarakez at Sandown last time he would have been two from two this season. He is drawn well in stall 3 and looks likely to be thereabouts at the business end of the race.
However, it might be best to side with Ed Dunlop’s DUTCH UNCLE who was third in the London Gold Cup last time, a race that historically has thrown up smart performers. He ran well for a long way but was probably beaten by a couple of Group performers in Time Test and Dissolution on the day. He looks likely to go well again this time and Frankie Dettori has been booked to ride the colt. This is only his seventh start and he is entitled to still be improving, so looks the one to side with.
2.35 Epsom – Investec Woodcote Stakes (Listed Race)
Mark Johnston won this race four years ago with Fulbright and he fires two darts at it this year, with preference for Buratino. He made a taking debut at Chelmsford at the end of March where he beat a well-regarded member of the Richard Fahey yard by three and a half lengths. He was no match for Log Out Island on his next start before getting the better of Hugo Palmer’s Gifted Master at Newmarket. He chased home King Of Rooks in Listed company last week and although he is one of the more exposed members of the field, he has the best form to date and should be respected.
Ralph Beckett may not be known for training precocious two-year-olds but he looks to have one on his hands here in the shape of Miss Moneypenny. She was third on debut at Newmarket behind Martyn Meade’s Kurland and took a big step forward next time to win with a bit in hand at Windsor. The form has already been franked with the third having come out and won since and receiving the fillies allowance, she looks a major player. In truth I would fancy her more had she not been drawn in stall 10, which looks likely to be a major inconvenience but nevertheless she should still go close.
Therefore it might be best to go with Richard Hannon’s NELSPRUIT who was beaten by a rare Ed Dunlop first time out winner on debut at Newbury. The Hannon team have won that particular race with some smart performers in the past including Canford Cliffs and he looked a little more forward than the yard’s horses have been this season. He justified a short price at Goodwood next time where he made hard work of things but the drop back to five furlongs would not have been in his favour on that occasion. He has a plum draw in stall two and back over six furlongs he looks the one they all have to beat.
3.10 Epsom – Investec Coronation Cup (Group 1)
Well this race promises to be a good one to watch but for me there isn’t much to be gained in having a bet here.
In terms of the likely outcome, this promises to be a two-horse race on the ratings between the two French raiders DOLNIYA and Flintshire. The pair have faced each other on their last two starts with Alain De Royer-Dupre’s filly coming out on top on both occasions. If anything the filly widened the gap at Meydan last time and in truth it is hard to see Flintshire reversing the placings. He does have the advantage of being around here before as he chased home Cirrus Des Aigles in this race twelve months ago but I am struggling to see why he will finish in front of his rival.
Of the rest, they are probably not up to Group 1 level and will likely chase this pair home with Pether’s Moon possibly my pick to finish third. But as I said originally, I think this is a watching brief as there isn’t much to be gained by taking a short price in a race in which is not guaranteed to be run at a true gallop.
3.45 Epsom – Investec Dash
One of the strongest trends associated with the Investec Dash is that winners of this race often arrive here in good form. In fact, nine of the last ten winners had finished in the top five on their most recent outing, so it is worth looking for horses who have been running well. The seven members of this year’s field to boast such credentials are Monsieur Joe, Boom The Groom, Monumental Man, Chiclet, Perfect Muse, Desert Law and Secret Missile.
Draw bias is a subject of some conjecture in flat racing and whilst there are a variety of reasons why there may be an advantage, we are only interested in the facts here. In the Dash, nine winners in the last decade came from stall 8 or higher which is worth taking notice of. The fact that only Stone Of Folca has managed to defy this trend would have to be a concern for supporters of Desert Law, Smoothtalkinrascal, Monumental Man, Chiclet, Steps, Secret Missile and Monsieur Joe.
In terms of age, six-year-olds have ruled the roost in recent years, having accounted for half of the last ten winners. This is good news for the quartet representing that group this year, Caspian Prince, Duke Of Firenze, Monumental Man and Free Zone. I would also issue a word of caution when looking at older sprinters as the nine-year-old Indian Trial in 2009 remains the only recent winner to have won aged older than six. There are nine horses which fall into this bracket this time around including ten-year-old Silvanus.
Weight can often play a big part in sprint handicaps and this race is no different. The benchmark looks to be 9st because of the last ten winners, only three have carried more than that. In this year’s field this means that the top five on the racecard all miss out, with Normal Equilibrium finding himself on the correct side thanks to Edward Greatrex’s 7lb claim.
Whilst a low weight is important, horses tend to have achieved a certain level of form before they run here. When examining the official rating of winners in the last decade, we can see that seven winners had a rating of 92 or above. This would suggest that the bottom seven as they appear on the card including the likes of Desert Law, Free Zone and Smoothtalkinrascal all have something to find here.
The final factor worthy of a mention is the betting and this certainly isn’t a race that favourite backers will remember fondly. Duke Of Firenze was the last market leader to oblige two years ago and I would be reluctant to side with this year’s likely favourite Caspian Prince, despite having won the race last year. In fact there are few races better than this to take a chance on an outsider with two recent winners having gone off at 20/1 or upwards.
BOOM THE GROOM – 5/6
Monumental Man – 5/6
Chiclet – 4/6
BOOM THE GROOM gets the narrow verdict having missed only one of our trends, as he carries 9st 2lb, just above the desired threshold. Apart from that he looks to have strong claims having progressed well over the winter and showed enough last time to suggest he may be able to transfer that ability to turf. Luke Morris has been booked to take the ride for Tony Carroll and with such a strong trends profile, it would be no surprise to see him go very close.
Narrowly missing out on the top spot is James Unett’s Monumental Man who completed his preparations with an impressive display over course and distance in April. That race was not as strong as the race at the weekend but it is valuable form over a unique course and it needs respecting. The only trend that he misses is the draw having been allocated stall 3 but if he can overcome that unfavourable draw, he looks a lively contender.
The final member of the shortlist is Tracey Collins’ Irish raider Chiclet who has won her last three starts under rules, the last two coming at Dundalk in April. This race has long been a target for her as connections feel the track will suit her but she will also have to overcome a low draw out of stall 4. As a four-year-old, she can take heart from the fact that they have landed two of the last three renewals and despite missing two of the key trends, she shouldn’t be discounted lightly.
4.30 Epsom – Investec Derby (Group 1)
So we move onto the Derby and I think for the first time in a couple of years we have a wide open renewal of the Classic.
The best place to start is with the favourite Golden Horn and for me he looks likely to be the best horse in the race but that is not to say that he will win. His performance in the Dante was mightily impressive and one thing you do need in the Derby is a turn of foot which this colt certainly has. His owner previously expressed concerns about him seeing out the 1m4f trip and looking at his pedigree those concerns seem to be valid. One thing that time has told us is that horses need to stay to win the Derby and if he stays I think he will win but there is enough to doubt there to be taking him on at around 7/4.
His stablemate Jack Hobbs looks likely to stay and still showed enough greenness in the Dante to suggest that there is plenty more to come from him. Pieces of work shouldn’t be taken too much notice of as a rule but he was impressive at Breakfast With The Stars and looks as though he is rapidly improving. His draw in 10 should be fine and if he can improve on his Dante run, he should go close.
The only one I haven’t mentioned in the Dante was Elm Park and whilst I think he will stay, I just don’t think he is up to this sort of level. I think that there are holes in his juvenile form and the way he changed his legs at Breakfast with the Stars raises serious concerns about his ability to handle the track. He should step forward from his York run but I would be surprised if he was able to go close.
It is interesting that following the Dante, two of Aidan O’Brien’s prospective Derby runners were ruled out of contention and it is now felt that his three runners are outsiders. However, it is worth bearing in mind that all three of his horses are bred to stay and they may offer some each-way value in the race.
I have backed HANS HOLBEIN for the St Leger as he is a strong stayer and looked to need every yard of the trip when winning the Chester Vase. He has improved enormously since being fitted with cheekpieces and whilst I think he will be better over further, in a race in which there are doubts about a few of these getting home, I fancy him to hit the frame. He offers some solid each-way value at around 16/1 I think he looks worth a bet despite Moore appearing to favour his stablemate.
As I have mentioned Ryan Moore has sided with his stablemate Giovanni Canaletto who was due to take part in the Chester Vase but was ruled out because of a bad scope. He instead ran in the Gallinule Stakes a couple of weeks ago and was turned over and still looked very inexperienced on just his third start. The step up in trip should suit him and it is interesting that he has been fitted with cheekpieces for the first time, the same equipment that his brother Ruler Of The World wore to victory a couple of years ago. He should stay, is open to improvement and could also go close if he steps forward from his latest run.
5.15 Epsom – Investec Out Of The Ordinary Handicap
Amanda Perrett’s BLACK SHADOW ran on this day last year when he finished second to What About Carlo in the opening contest. That was just the fourth start of his career and he didn’t go on from that during the rest of the season. However on his reappearance three weeks ago he shaped much better but got a little tired in the closing stages to finish fourth. The winner has since come out and won a Listed race and that run should have put Perrett’s gelding spot on for this. He races here off 4lb lower than the mark he was second off last year and with the yard having won this twice in recent years, he looks well-placed to go well again here.
Another horse with course form is the Graham Mays-trained Barwick who was last seen finishing third over course and distance in April. On three visits to Epsom he has never finished outside of the first three and the way he was staying on last time suggests he may have got a little nearer had he been fitter on his return to action. He comes here on a career high mark but has already shown he can be effective around here and with the excellent Jim Crowley on board, he could offer some each-way value.
Andrew Balding’s Montaly should also be straighter for his seasonal reappearance where he failed to get involved in a conditions race at Chelmsford at the beginning of May. The race has already thrown up one winner in the shape of Lycidas and the runner-up has also run well since then. He took a keen hold last time which sees connections reach for the hood in a bid to settle him down and there is definitely more to come from this four-year-old. He is likely to get a truer run race than he did last time and looks to have solid each-way claims.
5.50 Epsom – Investec Asset Management Stakes (Handicap)
Brian Ellison’s Polski Max was having just his third start for this yard when finishing fifth at Ripon on Wednesday evening. At the peak of his powers a couple of years ago he was a winner off a mark of 97 but made a winning start for this yard in October. There should be plenty more to come from a mark of 83 and drawn pretty well in eight, he should be thereabouts once again.
Another runner who has recently changed yards is PEARL BLUE who was claimed out of the Jamie Osborne yard in May and has his second start for David O’Meara on Saturday. He was ridden tentatively on his last start, making late ground to take fourth at Chester and he should be cherry ripe for this assignment. He won a Newmarket handicap off 1lb higher last season and with Ryan Moore booked to ride, he looks primed to give a big showing for a trainer who has made his name with such horses.
The final one of most interest could be last year’s winner Ashpan Sam who returns in search of a second win in the race off a 3lb lower mark. The concern would be that he hasn’t shown much form since then and that he would need to be right back to his best to go close again here. This is likely to have been the plan for a while and having had a pipeopener at Goodwood the other week, he should be fit enough to do himself justice.