The Epsom Derby Preview

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An enthralling Epsom Derby is expected in Surrey on Saturday, but who will be first past the post?

Epsom Racecourse

Much has been made of the decision by Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore partners to run only one horse, warm favourite Bolshoi Ballet, in this year’s Derby. It is the first time since 2004 that O’Brien has gone solo and the first time since 2001 that Coolmore have.

Few have got to the follow-up question: who might dominate the race instead? Part of the reason Serpentine was let loose last year was because people expect to see an O’Brien runner setting the fractions at Epsom.

Appleby Has High Derby Hopes

There is not much early pace in this year’s Derby – I would probably make Gear Up a narrow favourite to cut out the early running. There is however one operation with a large cohort: Godolphin, and specifically Charlie Appleby, will saddle a quarter of the field.

His first string is the unbeaten Dante winner Hurricane Lane, who is 7/1 to claim the spoils. He is stoutly bred and exactly the type who would benefit from a strong gallop, as he did at York when Roman Empire did the legwork for the laboured High Definition.

Stablemate One Ruler would be a logical choice to play the hare. He is quite speedily bred by Derby standards being by Dubawi out of a top miler. He was able to lay up in the 2,000 Guineas, before hanging into the Dip and finishing sixth. Finally, he is drawn in stall 11, which gives rider James Doyle the option to nab the early lead.

Mac Swiney to Benefit From Testing Conditions

The rain will not have harmed Hurricane Lane’s chances, given his dam won a Listed race in France on heavy ground. However, the main market move as a result of the testing conditions viewers saw on Friday is expected to be Mac Swiney. He has won both of his Group 1s on testing ground – the Vertem Futurity last autumn and the Irish 2,000 Guineas two weeks ago. The caveat is that the latter made for a notably hard race.

Few other trials look to match the Dante (or, in fairness, the Irish Guineas) for depth. Mohaafeth beat a plainly out-of-sorts Secret Protector on the bridle at Newmarket last time, John Leeper won in spite of himself over the same course and distance two weeks later. The data suggests Third Realm outspeeded the third Godolphin representative, Adayar, at Lingfield last time.

Gear Up Worth a Look?

There was plenty of evidence that the front runners were not coming back on Friday and that may work not only for Hurricane Lane and Mac Swiney, but also Gear Up. He beat Bolshoi Ballet in France last year after cutting out the running on soft ground. He shaped as though he will come on for the run in the Dante, when he tired into fifth, and is perhaps being underestimated at odds of around 22/1.

But he is only an each-way play in the Derby. The selection to put Bolshoi Ballet in the shade is Hurricane Lane, whose chances are increased with every drop of rain beforehand, and even cranking up of the pace in the race itself.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Keith Melrose writes on horse racing for the MansionBet Blog as well as the Racing Post.

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