The recognised trials for the Epsom Derby are usually a chance for the leading contenders to stamp their credentials for the big race itself. This year, though, many of the fancied Derby hopefuls failed to fire as new Classic candidates pushed themselves to the fore.
Golden Horn (2/1 with betfair at the time of writing) was an impressive winner of the Dante Stakes at York, which is traditionally regarded as the best and most informative trial.
It certainly appeared beforehand that it would be informative as many of those horses which had been near the head of the Derby betting featured in the seven-runner field.
But, ultimately, the race was won in impressive fashion by a horse which headed into the Dante with the target of then going for the French Derby at Chantilly. Such was the nature of Golden Horn’s stylish victory, trainer John Gosden has confirmed the son of Cape Cross will be supplemented for the Derby.
Gosden also saddled the second home in the Dante – Jack Hobbs – and that horse had been ante-post favourite prior to being beaten by his stablemate. Jack Hobbs ran soundly enough after stepping up from a facile handicap win, but the Derby doesn’t look the sort of race that will see him reverse form with Golden Horn.
A fascinating runner to take from the Dante is Elm Park. Andrew Balding’s horse missed the 2000 Guineas on account of the ground and he probably wasn’t at peak condition for his first run of the season. He should benefit from stepping up in distance further to 1m4f and his sire Phoenix Reach was a top-class middle-distance performer, winning Group One races in three different countries. Longer term, it will be interesting to see if Elm Park will follow in his father’s footsteps as Phoenix Reach won the Canadian International as a three-year-old in 2003.
The major disappointments in the Dante were the Aidan O’Brien-trained duo John F Kennedy and Ol’ Man River. During the winter, that pair had appeared to be the leading Derby candidates from the O’Brien yard, but they will now miss the race on the back of a second below-par run this season.
It has left the powerful Coolmore operation, which has bought the stud rights for Triple Crown contender American Pharoah, looking elsewhere for a viable Derby alternatives.
The trials did throw up a couple of Coolmore possibilities, with Hans Holbein looking a horse full of potential when winning the Chester Vase. In the Lingfield Derby Trial, Kilimanjaro stayed on well to suggest he will appreciate the Derby trip. His victory also pricked the Derby bubble of another Gosden-trained horse Christophermarlowe. Coolmore’s current chief Derby hope appears to be Giovanni Canaletto, who ran just twice as a juvenile and may head to Epsom without a run this season.
The uncertainty about which Coolmore horses will line up on Saturday June 6 has led to Dermot Weld’s Zawraq currently being the most fancied of the Irish-trained runners. Zawraq is unbeaten in two runs and was an eye-catching winner of the 2000 Guineas Trial over a mile on his sole start this year. He will be going up half a mile in distance, but he has to be respected.
However, while there may initially have been a sense of dissatisfaction about the Derby trials, they could still have unearthed a potential superstar in the form of the unbeaten Golden Horn and he’s going to take a lot of beating at Epsom.