The two days of the Investec Derby meeting are among my favourites. I’ve been lucky enough to ride in the Derby in the past and it was a brilliant experience – the carnival atmosphere of the day brings the racecourse alive.
The first day of action features two Group Ones in the Investec Oaks (1630 BST) and the Coronation Cup (1510 BST), both over the famous 2400m trip across the Downs.
Rhodedendron heads the betting for the big one and I can see why, because she did look unlucky when second to her stablemate Winter in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. That form has been upheld since by the winner, and on pedigree, you would expect Rhodedendron to appreciate going up in trip to a mile and a half here.
That said, at the prices I’d probably be looking elsewhere and one I particularly like is Horseplay, who comes into the race on the back of a good win in a Listed race at Newmarket. She was a little bit keen early there, but she was fresh because it was her first start for a while and she will have come on for that.
She’s got a high cruising speed, but when her jockey went for her, she just took a little bit of time to really pick up and I hope that means the step up in trip will suit her here.
Enable is one that we don’t have to worry about stamina with, having won well at Chester last time. She looked a bit lethargic when she was third behind Shutter Speed previously at Newbury, but had taken a step forward mentally and physically.
My concern with her is that she can be a bit free and at Chester nothing really took her on from the start which enabled Frankie Dettori to switch her off and race evenly – I’d just hope that she doesn’t get too keen if she’s in among horses at Epsom.
The Roger Charlton-trained Natavia was a very comfortable winner at Newbury under hands and heels. I can only see the trip suiting her and although it was soft when she won there, I don’t think quicker ground will trouble her, so she’s another to consider.
The American-trained runners Daddy’s Lil Darling will obviously attract some attention and her presence adds to the colour of this year’s race. However, this will be a very different experience for her from that which she has enjoyed on the racecourse so far and I think it’s asking a lot to see her involved at the finish even if she has the benefit of the experienced Olivier Peslier in the saddle.
Hayley’s Oaks verdict: 1 Horseplay 2 Natavia 3 Rhodedendron
The one thing we can say for sure about this year’s Investec Derby is that with quite a big field, it has the potential to be a bit of a messy race. Thankfully, there is no short-priced favourite and so punters will be rewarded with decent odds, whichever horse runs out the winner.
Clearly, Aidan O’Brien’s record in the race means that his team from Ballydoyle have to be respected and the fact that Ryan Moore has chosen Cliffs Of Moher very much confirms that he is the stable’s number one contender.
They have been making noises about this colt for a while, but he will need to step up again on what he showed in the Dee Stakes at Chester.
York’s Dante Stakes is always a good trial for the Derby and it was a decent renewal won by the Mark Johnston-trained Permian. The last horse to win a handicap, as Permian did last season, and go on and win the Derby was back in 1952 so he’s got a bit of history to defy, but although he is more exposed than the rest of the field, his experience could come into play if it’s a bit of a rough race.
Mark Johnston’s horses always have a bit of speed coming out of the stalls and that ought to enable William Buick to get a decent position in the early stages, and he switches off very easily too – in the Dante, he was switched right off when everything else was taking a bit of a pull.
I think it’s a bit of a shame that Franny Norton, who rode him so well in the Derby, isn’t on him again, but the owners have decided to go for the big jockey on the big race and that’s understandable.
At a really big price, Rekindling takes the eye, despite having finished behind Permian in the Dante. He had some excellent form as a two-year-old and didn’t get the clearest of runs at York – I think they might have kept a bit up their sleeves for the big one too.
If I had to come down on one horse for the Derby though, I think it would have to be Cracksman for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. Frankie waited years to win the Derby for the first time but he’s such a brilliant all-round jockey and there’s nobody you would want on your side more than him for in a race like this.
He got messed about repeatedly in his last race at Epsom, the slow pace didn’t suit him and he was held in by the winner and had to switch, but he still got up to win and the experience he gained that day with respect to what he will have learned about racing is going to be so important.
He needed every yard of the trip there and moving up to a mile and a half looks as if it’s going to suit. The messages coming out from the Gosden yard are also really positive in terms of how he has come on from that race,
Another son of Frankel in the race is the Martyn Meade-trained Eminent, the winner of the Craven Stakes. He looked a real galloper at Newmarket in the 2000 Guineas and although I really like him, I’m not sure he’ll quite have the turn of foot that might be needed to win the Derby.