By Graham Cunningham (Sportinglife.com)
Our man does the groundwork in meticulous fashion ahead of Saturday’s Cazoo Derby and ultimately settles on a couple of colts who were ‘bred for’ Epsom.
How has the 2022 Derby picture developed?
The shutter has snapped frequently to let in various shafts of light but, as with those old Polaroid instant cameras, the picture has taken a good while to clear.
Royal colt Reach For The Moon left the fray in early May, followed by Irish star Luxembourg, while Guineas principals Coroebus and Native Trail were never likely to be sent on an errand they aren’t bred for.
Aidan O’Brien cleaned up at Chester and Lingfield and upped the ante when STONE AGE surged clear at Leopardstown but the man who preceded him as the ace Derby handler of modern times saw him and raised him when DESERT CROWN demolished his Dante rivals.
So the stage is set for Aidan’s treble against Stoute’s single. The pair have a remarkable thirteen Derby wins between them – and it’s odds-on that it will be a ninth for Aidan or a sixth for Sir Michael on Saturday afternoon.
How much does a Stoute star add to the Epsom mix?
It’s 41 years since I stood in the corner of a Gus Demmy shop saying “please don’t fall off” as the late Walter Swinburn let Shergar roll for home to give SMS his first Derby victory.
The attraction of going all in has dimmed since then but the Derby is always enhanced by the presence of a Stoute star and DESERT CROWN looked very good indeed in dominating the Dante to earn a Timeform mark of 121p on just his second start.
Stoute is in the autumn of a golden career aged 76 and his post-Dante chat with RTV’s Lydia Hislop contained all the familiar old notes – caution, realism, basso profondo chuckle – along with a new hint of vulnerability after the loss of his other half Coral.
It’s sobering to realise that Aidan has saddled 26 British Classic winners since Sir Michael saddled his last one in 2010.
But there won’t be a punter in the land who doesn’t expect Desert Crown to be primed to perfection – and it would be one of the stories of the year if cricket-loving Sir Stoute raised his bat for fifty years as a trainer before raising a glass to celebrate a sixth Derby.
‘It’s rare for a horse to win a Derby after just two runs.’
Yes, it’s only happened twice in the last 25 years – and the bloke who did it in 2010 with runaway winner Workforce was called Stoute.
‘The Dante may not have been that deep a race this year.’
Maybe so, but Desert Crown surged well clear of G2 winner Royal Patronage and those who win the York trial by open lengths – including Derby winners Golden Horn and Authorized – tend to be very good indeed.
‘But a mile and a half at Epsom poses a much sterner test.’
True, but Stoute insists Desert Crown is “beautifully balanced” and it’s hard to think he won’t handle the track. Add in the fact that nearly all of Nathaniel’s best progeny stay very well and Desert Crown has a great deal of what an elite Derby colt requires.
What would the Derby look like without Galileo?
Let’s just say it would have had a very different recent history.
Galileo’s ability to produce high-class horses who combine speed and stamina with balance and bravery has helped him sire five Derby winners, namely New Approach, Ruler Of The World, Australia, Anthony Van Dyck and Serpentine. Add in two more – Masar and Adayar – who are grandsons by New Approach and Frankel and his impact has been colossal.
The old race will feel very different once his lads are no longer part of it but he’s a very short price to write yet another chapter this year with over half the field being either sons or grandsons of the 2001 Derby hero.
NB: And Galileo’s Epsom influence extends well beyond the Derby with four Oaks winners – Was, Minding, Forever Together and Love – as well as Coronation Cup winners Soldier of Fortune and Highland Reel.
How does Aidan’s latest Galileo pack stack up?
Ryan Moore says “we’re only just getting to know what STAR OF INDIA can do.”
What we know from the outside is that he earned a Timeform mark of 110p for being driven out to win the Dee Stakes. That mark suggests he needs to take a major step forward to win a Derby but the way he bowed his head and galloped on the Roodee was encouraging and, despite being from a fast family, a mile and a half looks sure to suit.
CHANGINGOFTHEGUARD (115) laid down an even more persuasive marker at Chester, setting a true pace before bounding clear with relish in the Vase, and he’s clearly a vastly different colt than the one beaten in three maidens last year.
Aidan has already signalled that he will be on the pointy end from the off again but this strong stayer looks far more than a pacemaker – and the chasing pack will need to be very wary of giving him a soft time of it through the first mile.
And what about Stone Age?
I knew you’d ask – and in some ways I’m conflicted.
The concerns include a less-than-stellar juvenile record; the fact that High Chaparral (2002) was the last Leopardstown Trial winner to land the Derby; the general belief that pre-injury Luxembourg was the clear Ballydoyle pick; and the fact that Ryan has ridden the ‘wrong’ O’Brien colt several times in recent years.
But, to borrow a quote more aligned with the Stone Roses than the Stone Age: “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
And Stone Age is at a pivotal point in his career after a runaway Leopardstown success which saw him dominate throughout before gliding almost six lengths clear of useful rivals to earn a Timeform rating of 118p.
Aidan has won the Leopardstown trial a dozen times since High Chaparral with genuine A Listers like Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Fame And Glory and various bit-part players like Recital, Midas Touch, Battle of Marengo, and Douglas Macarthur who came up short in the Derby and never won again.
I still blush when recalling how the File fell for Derby disappointment Bolshoi Ballet after his runaway Leopardstown win last year. But that was then. What Stone Age has done this year suggests he’s improving fast. His long, flowing stride looks made for a top-of-the-ground Derby and, despite those historical red flags, I’d still much rather be with than against him.
What chance of Donnacha thwarting his old man?
You don’t have to look back far to find a stoutly-bred colt to do the Ballysax/Derby double and PIZ BADILE is on the Harzand path as Donnacha O’Brien bids to train the Derby winner at an age (23) when most young bucks are wondering how to pay their student loan off.
It would be fascinating to hear whether Donnacha was fully on board with the decision to bump his stable jockey Gavin Ryan in favour of Frankie for the big day but, internal politics aside, this is a colt with plenty to recommend him.
Granted, he didn’t match Harzand’s Ballysax level – his Timeform rating of 115p is 4lb shy of what Dermot Weld’s colt achieved at Leopardstown – but he showed real tenacity to master Buckaroo and his pedigree offers hope for better again over a mile and a half.
So let’s cut to the chase. Do I think Piz Badile has a mountain climb at Epsom? Far from it. But I don’t think he’s scaled the same heights as Desert Crown and Stone Age thus far and that pair both have similar scope for progress.
What’s happened to the good ship Godolphin?
It’s not been blown out of the water – especially with last year’s 16-1 success for Adayar fresh in the mind – but the skipper has sent to shore for reinforcements.
New London was trounced at 4-11 behind Changingoftheguard in the Chester Vase, while Walk Of Stars hung his chance away as hot favourite behind the O-Brien-trained United Nations at Lingfield and, for all that he’s a brilliant sire, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Dubawi’s Derby record pales into insignificance compared to Galileo.
The Late G leads the Big D 14-0 on sons who have reached the first three and it falls on WALK OF STARS to redress the balance. I suspect there aren’t many to match this muscular Dubawi colt for natural ability but Walk Of Stars wandered all over the shop as United Nations dug in at Lingfield and the fact that Charlie Appleby describes him as “a big playboy still” hardly suggests he’s fully equipped for the intense challenge that Epsom provides.
Frankel broke his Derby duck with Adayar last year and NAHANNI (108p) has already ticked the Epsom box with his front-running Blue Riband Trial win but he had little to spare in a bunched finish there and a Timeform rating of 108p leaves him with loads to find.
Why does Appleby want to supplement Nations Pride?
Some might say it implies a lack of faith in his other two and those same cynics might add that:
Nations Pride isn’t bred to win a Derby
He hasn’t been campaigned like connections believe he’s an elite colt
He didn’t beat much in winning at Lingfield, Chelmsford and Meydan
And his Newmarket Listed win came in a middling time against three rivals
But NATIONS PRIDE knuckles down and runs hard once things get serious. I doubt he’s the cream of the crop – but a Timeform rating of 117p leaves him just 4lb behind top-rated Desert Crown and that fact alone makes the £75,000 late entry fee fully justifiable.
Fourth in the Guineas, first in the Derby?
Popular sayings are all very well but when you need to go back to 1991 and Generous for the last such example then you start to wonder.
Step forward EYDON, who ran a belter to earn a Timeform mark of 116p behind Coroebus at Newmarket and stretched his legs round Epsom last week. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the fact that Roger Varian has been keen to keep the French Derby door open. But it seems he might have reservations about Eydon over a mile and a half. And those concerns could be well founded.
What chance of another boilover?
It’s rare for four out of five renewals of any set weights G1 to go to longshots but, with Wings Of Eagles, Masar, Serpentine and Adayar saluting at 40-1, 16-1, 25-1 and 16s respectively the Derby has been way more bookie friendly than usual since 2017.
Hindsight always helps in assessing why shock results came about – and a soft lead for Serpentine and a couple of non-staying Guineas winners have played their part in recent shocks – but the chances of this year’s main fancies failing for lack of stamina seem remote.
You’ll read cases made for various outsiders, as ever. Ralph Beckett is keen on his Sandown Trial winner WESTOVER (113p) and Simon Crisford warns against underestimating WEST WIND BLOWS (105p). However, most of the others have had their limitations exposed in trials, so maybe this is the year when the form book comes to the fore again.
How will the 2022 Derby shape up tactically?
At this stage it all looks fairly straightforward and, not for the first time, O’Brien holds the key with a trio of colts who seem uncomplicated and blessed with more stamina than most.
West Wind Blows, Nahanni and Royal Patronage have all gone forward but Changingoftheguard has looked very comfortable in front this season and stablemates Stone Age and Star Of India won’t be too far behind him.
Piz Badile and Nations Pride look likely to be settled in midfield with Desert Crown ridden patiently, while the quirky Walk Of Stars is probably going to have to pass a lot of horses from the home turn if he’s to play a notable role.
And what’s the best way to play the 2022 Derby?
Separating the noise from the valuable nuggets seems a good start. The fact that Stoute hasn’t had a British Classic winner for twelve years falls firmly into the noise category, as does the fact that Aidan has missed out in G1 races since last October.
The idea that Nations Pride must be working the Godolphin barn down to earn a late entry will seduce some, while the idea that Frankie being parachuted in is a game changer for Piz Badile is fine until you recall that plenty thought the same about Hazapour, Circus Maximus, English King and John Leeper in the last four renewals until Epsom exposed their flaws.
The fact that I haven’t jumped in yet despite wearing the laptop out watching replays is worth noting at this point but, as with those Polaroids, the picture eventually reveals itself.
And, as Derby week gathers pace, my image of the 2022 Derby revolves around three colts.
Desert Crown has flashed genuine star quality on both his starts but it’s hard to say he’s overpriced at 7/4 and, with that in mind, I’ll take Stone Age and Changingofheguard against the field.
True, they were a combined 0-8 as juveniles in 2021. But the first Saturday in June of their second season is what they were bred for. And, in the first Derby since their peerless sire passed away, both colts are peaking in a way that suggests they can be firmly in the picture.
Picture: Desert Crown clear in the Dante (Sportinglife.com)