The Epsom Derby is, in most people’s eyes, the pinnacle of flat racing in the UK.
It is certainly the richest, with the first horse home securing their connections a payday of just shy of £1 million, and of course there is the lure of having your name carved into the history books in a renewal which has played host to some of the finest thoroughbreds to ever take to turf.
Run over 1m 4f on the famous Epsom Downs, The Derby is the second ‘classic’ of the calendar year, and also serves as the meat in the Triple Crown sandwich should the 2000 Guineas winner, Saxon Warrior, triumph on Saturday and subsequently be entered into the St Leger.
The three-year-old was hugely impressive in landing the 2000 Guineas earlier in the year, where he clipped through the field ominously before powering to victory by a length-and-a-bit. That followed a Group 1 win last season, and so it appears that Aiden O’Brien has a classy operator on his hands.
Indeed, having won four of the last six renewals of The Derby, O’Brien will be looking for a slice of his own history this weekend. He also trained the last dual 2000 Guineas-Derby winner in Camelot back in 2012, and the Irishman has similarly high hopes for Saxon Warrior.
But here lies the rub. Saxon Warrior has been drawn in stall one, which has only ever delivered three winners in more than two centuries of the race! In the past decade the horse in box one hasn’t finished any higher than fifth, so his odds have drifted from comfortably odds-on to something around the 6/5 mark accordingly.
And take heed of the weather forecast, too. Soft ground will not aid O’Brien’s cause here, and with a ‘chance of showers’ forecast rather cagily by the weathermen and women on Friday, it could be that the famous old course softens yet further in the next 24 hours.
“We’d like nice ground for our Derby horses as soft ground wouldn’t be ideal for any of them, but it does drain well at Epsom.” was the Irish trainer’s comment on that.
And so punters have to decide whether Saxon Warrior is a horse that can defy the history books, and the weather gods, to force a memorable victory for his camp. My thoughts? At a shade over even money, it is perhaps not worth taking the risk with your hard-earned given that many outstanding talents have gone to Epsom with big dreams and left with their tails between their legs shortly thereafter.
There is simply too much risk in backing the Saxon, so is there any punting value elsewhere?
Lion Set to Roar in Surrey
Given that he has twice been beaten by Saxon Warrior, you can forgive punters for giving Roaring Lion the cold shoulder in the market.
But one of those defeats was by a narrow neck after the John Gosden trained colt had been held up at the rear of the field.
He has since bounced back by taking the high quality Dante Stakes at York, and while this will be the grey’s first outing over 12f, the sense is that there is plenty of gas in the tank whenever Roaring Lion takes to the track.
At 9/1, he is a very likeable each way proposition in a 12-horse race where the top three will earn a return for their backers.
Young Rascal Dizzy with Success?
One horse who is proven over the trip is Young Rascal, and after winning the Chester Vase over 12f last time out his odds have been slashed to the 7/1 mark.
That came after the William Haggas trained youngster won on softish ground in a maiden stakes at Newbury in April, and while he is underexposed in quality company there is a feeling that if the rain does come, Young Rascal’s price will tumble yet further.
Drawn in stall nine, he will need to keep up a good pace to tackle those inside him, however.
Hazapour Ready to Rain Down Derby Joy?
In his last start in a Group 3 Derby Trial, Dermot Weld’s Hazapour was rated as a 16/1 jolly, nothing more.
But an eye-catching win that day at Leopardstown sees him head to Epsom as a 9/1 third favourite for a Classic.
It was a strong victory, for sure, and any horse that has a win to their name on soft ground at the age of three has to be taken seriously.
Weld has been effusive in his praise for the colt – “Hazapour is in great form, Frankie Dettori came and rode him and I’m glad to say he has was very pleased with him” – and now punters are left to decide whether they think he can make the step up in class to overcome Group 1 company.