Tuesday 25 October 2016

Dante looks like key to open Derby

Jack Hobbs (Frankie Dettori) powers to victory in the 1m 2f handicap
Sandown 24.4.15
Jack Hobbs (Frankie Dettori) powers to victory in the 1m 2f handicap Sandown 24.4.15

When horses safely at home in their snug stables are getting shortened in the betting without even leaving their yard, you know there’s something missing.

You don’t associate such market moves with a race as prestigious as the Epsom Derby but in a busy week of recognised trials for one of the most sought after races in our sport, it is two horses who never appeared in front of the public eye that got shorter at the head of the betting.

Every winter we anticipate the prospect of witnessing the Classic generation of three-year-olds fulfil their juvenile potential and wow us from Newmarket to Epsom and the trials in between.

But this year’s Derby looks all set to be one of the most wide-open in many years and while that is certainly an intriguing prospect, it probably doesn’t say much for the current crop of three-year-olds that reside either side of the Irish Sea.

It’s unfair and frankly wrong to judge the current group of three-year-olds just yet. After all, we did see a very impressive 2,000 Guineas winner in Gleneagles, but he doesn’t appear to have the stamina required for the Derby and the Ballydoyle/Coolmore maestros will plot a path elsewhere for him.

That same axis were responsible for eight of the top 10 in the betting for the Epsom Derby on New Year’s Day, but assuming Ryan Moore will have the pick of the Ballydoyle bunch, you’d have to feel if you were to stick him for his choice this evening he’d do a lot of head scratching.

Yesterday’s Derrinstown Derby Trial turned into a straightforward formality for Success Days with Ballydoyle’s Order Of St George ruled out in the morning. If we get a rare heavy ground Classic at Epsom, Ken Condon’s colt will be supplemented and could prove a major player but he’s most likely to get his ground at the Curragh and he’ll add plenty to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

After Aidan O’Brien’s Highland Reel failed to win the French 2,000 Guineas, he was pushed out dramatically in the Derby betting.

But given he hadn’t run since July and the Derby is half a mile longer than yesterday that might be a slight overreaction. He’s still not an obvious Derby winner, though.

Chester can often throw a spanner in the works and while Ballydoyle claimed a trial with Hans Holbein, there wasn’t exactly a long queue of punters wishing to back him afterwards.

After a busy week of trials it now looks like Thursday’s Dante Stakes at York is going determine just how open this year’s Derby will be.

Jack Hobbs, Elm Park, John F Kennedy and possibly even Ol’ Man River are set to clash as the clock ticks down for connections to see what they have in reserve.

Both John Gosden’s Jack Hobbs and Dermot Weld’s Zawraq were cut for the Derby yesterday despite not running.

Jack Hobbs heads the betting for the race after winning a handicap at Sandown, albeit extremely impressively, but you’d imagine that the Dante will provide a sterner test.

While the vibes from Rosewell House could hardly be better for Zawraq, he too has to step up to mark with the horses finishing second, third and fourth behind him on both his wins failing to find a success between them.

Elm Park missed the Guineas and didn’t inspire when galloping publicly before that and John F Kennedy was well beaten by Success Days in the Ballysax Stakes and Giovanni Canaletto missed Chester.

Maybe a star will emerge from all of this, but at the moment you’d be a brave one to pick him out with honest confidence.

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