THE 2020 Derby is fascinating on any number of levels.
And this year’s race is a particularly open-looking one, which makes for a cracking betting heat. Our man Jack Keene has taken a close look at the key contenders.
English King (5-2f)
Newcastle’s Tapeta track has become a hotbed for future Flat racing stars and Ed Walker’s colt could be the latest off the conveyor belt.
He opened his account in the north east in November and made a huge impression on the first start of his three-year-old campaign when winning the Lingfield Derby Trial with ease.
The form has a solid look to it, with Berkshire Rocco, the only horse able to get anywhere near the son of Camelot, going on to finish second at Royal Ascot to the subsequent Irish Derby winner Santiago.
Lingfield’s trial had been something of a poor relation in the Classic trial world until Anthony Van Dyck bucked the trend when completing the double last term, and English King displayed one of the attributes needed for a Derby when handling the track’s downhill bend with aplomb 24 days ago.
He takes on proven Group 1 horses for the first time, but the booking of Frankie Dettori, while tough on Tom Marquand, is a huge plus.
There is some rain in the forecast and it remains to be seen if he will handle ease underfoot, with a debut seventh on soft ground at Newmarket inconclusive, while he has a terrible draw in stall one.
Trainer quotes: “Frankie came down and rode him from his stable and back to his stable – he really wanted to get inside the horse’s head and understand him, which is a mark of Frankie’s professionalism. He rode him for well over an hour, and they got on great.
“I’m massively excited. It sounds mad that I wouldn’t swap him for a Guineas winner, but I wouldn’t – I think he’s got everything it takes.”
Pros: On a sharp upward curve and looked well-balanced when winning the Lingfield Derby Trial
Cons: Lacks experience at the top level and it’s unclear if he will handle a slow surface if the rain arrives
Andrew Balding’s three-year-old made a triumphant return in the 2000 Guineas earlier this month.
That was his second Group 1 victory, having also won the Vertem Futurity Trophy last winter, so his credentials for this race are outstanding.
He was given a peach of a ride to win at Newmarket three weeks ago, with champion jockey Oisin Murphy the last of the big guns to play their hand.
The result was a neck defeat of Wichita, with Pinatubo a close third, and that pair have since run well in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He brings the strongest form to the table, but there has to be a big question mark over the 1m4f trip.
Offspring of his sire Kitten’s Joy, including Roaring Lion and Hawkbill, have a mixed record over the distance.
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Kitten’s Joy’s has sired 48 Group-race winners so far, and the vast majority of them produced their peak form over 1m-1m2f. Only 10 of them registered a win over 1m4f or further, and the majority of those came around tight US turf tracks.
His dam Sweeter Still was a sprinter-miler and is related similar types, with her half-brother Kingsbarns a well-held fifth in the Group 2 Prix Foy on his only outing over 1m4f. The trip is a definite conundrum.
There’s little doubt in my mind he could get 1m2f standing on his head, but when he tackles that final 2f he will be stepping into the unknown, while any rainfall would further confuse matters.
Trainer quotes: “You’d like to think he’s my best chance of winning it, but we’ve had five runners in it in the past and five disappointments.
“We’ve been really pleased with him, he had a gallop at Kempton last week. He’s a pleasure to train, a real professional.
“The figures show he’s very talented. The whole point of the Guineas and the Derby is that one is a test of speed and the other a test of temperament, stamina and agility. We’ve passed the speed test, now we’ve to pass the other.”
Pros: Brings top level of form to the table and already a dual Group 1 winner
Cons: Stamina doubts stepping up to 1m4f and rain would be a worry
Russian Emperor (13-2)
This colt has improved with each visit to the racecourse for his all-conquering connections.
He was a shade unlucky not to win on his reappearance in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown, but he made amends when keeping on strongly to win the Hampton Court at Ascot.
He did well to win that day from off the pace, and he ran hard through the line once hitting top gear under Ryan Moore in a time which, compared to the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on the same card, was pretty tasty.
He looks all over the type to improve for the step up to 1m4f, on run style and breeding. His sire Galileo has produced four Derby winners, and his sons or grandsons filled the first four places in last year’s race.
He doesn’t look to have push-button acceleration, but he is clearly going in the right direction and has a decent engine when engaging overdrive.
Ryan Moore quotes: “He is a lovely horse that is straightforward and has a great attitude. He has got a very good attitude and his dam was exceptional in Australia. I think he will be a nice horse going forward for the rest of the year.
“He is very professional and has had the benefit of a couple of runs this year.”
Pros: Improved with each start and won nicely in a good time at Royal Ascot
Cons: Takes a bit of winding up so will be best suited by an end-to-end gallop
Vatican City (7-1)
Aidan O’Brien’s beautifully-bred colt is one to consider very closely.
He is the sixth foal to race out of the broodmare sensation You’resothrilling, and each of his five siblings have all ended up Group winners.
He opened his account at the second attempt in pleasing fashion at Dundalk last year, and he took a huge step forward to finish second in the Irish 2000 Guineas last time.
The son of Galileo was briefly outpaced before finishing with a wet sail to grab the silver medal. That finishing effort, combined with his big, loping stride, suggest he is more than ready for a stiffer test of stamina.
He is a very exciting prospect, but he is still a little light on experience and significant rainfall could harm his chances.
Ryan Moore quotes: “Vatican City is a beautiful horse, he’s only had three runs and put in some good work in the last furlong to finish second in the Irish 2000 Guineas. That is solid form.”
Pros: Bred to be a superstar and stormed home to finish second in Irish 2000 Guineas
Cons: A little light on experience and wouldn’t want to ground to come up too testing
The neutrals out there will be cheering on William Muir’s stable star.
And there was no fluke about his 18-1 King Edward VII Stakes victory at Royal Ascot. The race was run at a steady-enough pace and he showed heart and gears to get himself out of a tricky position and gallop clear in the straight.
The hot favourite Mogul flopped that day and the second Arthur’s Kingdom ran well below expectations in the Irish Derby at the weekend, so he will need to take another step forward on the bare form – but it would take a brave man to rule out further progress.
He is a big horse who will only improve with time and racing and he has won on ground ranging from Firm to Soft.
Trainer quotes: “He’s going to keep getting stronger and stronger and he just keeps thriving.
“I’d always said, if he’s a miler he’s going to be a nice horse, if he gets a mile-and-a-quarter he’ll be a Group 3 horse, if he gets a mile-and-a-half he could be anything.
“And that’s what we’ve found. He’s got the temperament for it and is a pleasure to deal with.”
Pros: Improved physically from two to three and relished the step up to 1m4f at Ascot
Cons: Form of that race looks a little suspect so he needs to progress again
Many had high hopes for Mogul this season – and those hopes may yet be realised.
He was a smart two-year-old, winning a Group 2 on Irish Champions weekend before a solid fourth behind Kameko in the Futurity.
He shaped as if he needed the run in the King Edward at Ascot, but he checked out very tamely and he now has questions to answer.
The son of Galileo is bred to excel over 1m4f; his brother Japan is a Group 1 winner at the trip, his sister Secret Gesture was second in an Oaks and his dam is a half-sister to the Arc winner Sagamix.
There is a temptation to put a line through his comeback run, as he looked to be carrying plenty of condition, but he went out like a light and the runner-up has already let the form down.
It would be no surprise to see a much improved performance this time around, but he has definitely slipped down the Ballydoyle pecking order.
Trainer quotes: “Mogul who seems to have come out of Ascot well.
“We wanted two races before the Derby for him which is why he went there, we were trying to squeeze two races into one – we’ve been very happy with him since.”
Pros: Bred to excel over this trip and is entitled to improve for comeback run
Cons: Checked out tamely at Ascot and there are doubts about the strength of that form
Best of the rest…
HIGHLAND CHIEF (12-1) has been nibbled in the betting in recent days and he was hugely impressive winner at Royal Ascot.
He produced a sustained surge from the home bend to the line and looks to have improved significantly for the step up to 1m2f.
He did wander around in the closing stages which would be a concern and he ideally needs slow ground, but he is a lively outsider with the extra 2f unlikely to be an issue.
ARMORY (20-1) looks ready for a step up in trip following his keeping-on fourth in the Irish 2000 Guineas, where he never looked like landing a serious blow at any stage.
The French Derby has also been mooted for him, though, so he may not turn up. One entry for Ballydoyle which did catch the eye was SERPENTINE (33-1).
The Galileo colt opened his account by nine lengths at the weekend and his dam, who is closely related to Arc hero Dylan Thomas, was second in the Oaks in 2010.
Andrew Balding’s KHALIFA SAT (16-1) was a gutsy winner of the Cocked Hat Stakes and is well worth a crack at this race.
He did get a soft lead that day and will need to take a big step forward, but he handled the contours of Goodwood well and would have an each-way squeak.
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English King was undeniably impressive at Lingfield, he looks a very classy customer and the booking of Frankie Dettori is a plus.
But this demands another step forward and he is skinny enough at the head of the betting now.
Guineas hero Kameko is the best horse in the race on ratings and if he stays the trip he will be hard to beat. That is a big ‘if’ though.
Aidan O’Brien has a sensational record in this race, and his RUSSIAN EMPEROR and VATICAN CITY are particularly interesting.
The former won in a good time at Royal Ascot while the lightly-raced latter caught the eye when flashing home in the Irish 2000 Guineas.
They look the value against the field with significant improvement expected on the step up to 1m4f.