Classic Action Centre Stage On Saturday

English King is the Derby favourite | Megan Ridgewell

Saturday sees racing continue its measured defiance of the chaos around the globe, with the 241st renewal of one of the beautiful races, the G1 Investec Derby, emanating light as a beacon to the world's audience from its traditional home of Epsom Downs in Surrey. As it is, this will likely be the only post-Royal Ascot one, which adds a fascinating new dimension to a dramatically purse-reduced renewal and also to the stage-sharing G1 Investec Oaks. Due to the vagaries of the current situation, only one of the 24 colts and fillies lining up for the two mile-and-a-half Classics raced pre-lockdown and that is the Laurie Macri colour-bearer Russian Emperor (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}). There has barely been time to draw breath for protagonists and connections alike since the wheels began turning again in England at the start of last month. Russian Emperor, who got the jump on his peers with a maiden win on the season-opening Mar. 23 Naas card that turned out to be a false dawn, ironically has been one of the busiest since racing resumed in his native Ireland. One of three in the Derby who will be having their third start in less than a month, he is also one of four Royal Ascot winners bidding for a unique double, having taken a renewal of the June 17 G3 Hampton Court S. that had the feel of a replacement Dante.

Russian Emperor, who bears a striking resemblance to last year's winner Anthony Van Dyck (Ire) as a Galileo son of an Australasian mare, this time the supremely-talented Atlantic Jewel (Aus) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}), has the able assistance of man-of-the-moment Seamie Heffernan. Due to be confined to two weeks' quarantine when returning to Ireland from Chantilly on Sunday night, the vital cog in the Ballydoyle machine could have at least one more Classic in the bag by then to add to his brace since racing returned. “The decision on what was likely to run wasn't made until late, but I ended up with four rides in four Classics,” he said on Friday.

“I rode Russian Emperor as a 2-year-old and rated him extremely highly, but he got a nick that day and it put him off for the season,” he added. “He won from an impossible position at Naas and was a little bit unlucky [when second in the June 9 G3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial] at Leopardstown. He goes there on the back of a win at Ascot, just like the Irish Derby winner, and he's a proper ride in that he only uses what he has to until you have to go. He's not a horse that wastes any gas. Epsom is a very peculiar track and they have to handle it, but I'm happy to be on him. The Guineas is the best Derby trial and we know the pedigree of Kameko, so I'll be having a bit of a look at him.”

Despite the tight squeeze for most to get here, both the Derby and Oaks look at least up to standard and Qatar Racing's Kameko (Kitten's Joy) and Coolmore's Love (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) add crucial Newmarket Guineas-winning stratum to their respective races. The Derby's age-old quandary is present once again for connections of Kameko. Will he turn out more Sea the Stars (Ire) or Camelot (GB) than Dawn Approach (Ire) or Saxon Warrior (Jpn)? Only the hallowed span of just over two and a half minutes of galloping up and down, across and around the Downs will tell them and us.

Love has more cast-iron credentials to complete the sacred Classic double on pedigree, being by the mighty grass-class donor Galileo and a full-sister to two fillies who stayed even further in Peach Tree (Ire) and Flattering (Ire). Out on her own at the end of the June 7 G1 1000 Guineas, she appears rock-solid as long as the forecast overnight rain does not have too great an impact on the going. Her only achilles heel in 2019 seemed to be ease in the ground, as she floundered when it rode like that in the G2 Debutante S. and G1 Fillies' Mile.

Aidan O'Brien has no concerns about the trip for Love and said, “Everything has been good with her and although it's a big step up in trip, we always thought she'd be comfortable doing that. With a nice bit of ground, hopefully she'll be happy. The gap between the Guineas and the Oaks also gives her a chance, she never missed a beat the whole way. The timing is lovely.”

O'Brien also saddles Evie Stockwell's Ennistymon (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who was second in the G2 Ribblesdale S. ahead of stablemate Passion (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), and Heffernan gets the call-up on the former. “I've been very lucky for Mrs Stockwell and everyone is happy with Ennistymon,” commented the rider, who rode the dam Lahinch (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) and whose high-profile successes in these colours include the 2016 G1 Cheveley Park S. on Brave Anna (War Front). “Her Ascot run was great, the trip and ground are good for her, so she just needs to shake a leg and she could collect.”

Coronation Of A King?

At war with Russian Emperor is English King (Fr) (Camelot), with Bjorn Nielsen's bay looking in physique and performance as if he has been plucked from the mould of an archetypal, made-to-measure Epsom Derby colt. His June 5 Listed Lingfield Derby Trial success satisfied both the eye and the science in a rare symbiosis, but Thursday's draw has to slightly temper the enthusiasm that had been steadily building. It may be that Frankie Dettori will need all of his tactical guile and experience to obtain an ideal spot the other side of the inevitable bunfight to the first left-hand bend. Trainer Ed Walker is only 37, but such is the intensely competitive nature of the sport it is not unrealistic that this could be the best shot at glory he will ever have. It is cruel fate that his great hope should be potentially compromised by post position in a race where the margins were already tight, but to his credit he was unfazed when quizzed on the subject on Friday. “I have to say the draw doesn't worry me,” he stated. “Frankie's not worried and the fact Ryan Moore didn't choose his ride until after the draw and went for Mogul, who is next to us in two, suggests to me neither Frankie nor Ryan feel it is impossible to win from down there. Frankie has seen and done it all before. A few weeks ago I was expecting a smaller field, so it may be more tactical than normal, but then it's always tactical in the Derby. We've got the right man on board to navigate the waters.”

“When you're sent a colt by Bjorn Nielsen, you work back from the Derby,” Walker added. “Bjorn is a great man to train for, as everything is about the Derby–he's either trying to produce fillies to produce him a Derby winner, or raise colts to win the Derby. It's a simple remit. It hasn't worked out too many times for me, but thankfully this time it has. This is the highest level for us, so it's a real privilege to be here. We're trying to contain nerves, but there's a great buzz in the yard and there has been for weeks. There's a buzz around Lambourn as William Muir has a live chance with Pyledriver, Paul and Ollie Cole have a runner and Andrew Balding isn't far away and he's obviously got a leading chance with Kameko, so it's great.”

Dark Horses In Ballydoyle Brigade

Aidan O'Brien opts for safety in numbers once again, but that was also the case when Padraig Beggy delivered the goods on the stable's 40-1 outsider Wings of Eagles (Fr) (Pour Moi {Ire}) three years ago and this is an operation that has no truck with established limitations. No other yard in Europe could saddle a maiden who has yet to achieve a placing in two starts in an Epsom Derby and it be considered anything other than a no-hoper. The colt in question is Amhran Na Bhfiann (Ire), whose form almost fades into insignificance alongside his profile as a 1.3-million gns Galileo full-brother to the 2012 Oaks heroine Was (Ire). He also has William Buick on board and is one of the select few to have a genuine Epsom pedigree, being linked to the 2008 Blue Riband hero New Approach (Ire).

While Amhran Na Bhfiann probably does lack the armoury to make a serious impact this soon in his career, the fact that he cannot be safely discounted despite being bottom of the pile only serves to underline the widespread respect that Ballydoyle command in 2020. One that is a step ahead of him at present is Serpentine (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who also went two starts without making the frame prior to a nine-length destruction in a 10-furlong Curragh maiden on Saturday. There is reportedly a good vibe around him and while O'Brien's maidens customarily improve race-by-race, the four-week period that has preceded this event has witnessed them springing forwards. Tiger Moth (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) made his own figurative leap to nearly win Saturday's Irish equivalent and the Ballydoyle handler is probably in the dark as to how his sextet will end up here.

“Some are making serious progress from their first runs to the second,” commented the seven-times Derby-winning trainer, who with one more notch will leave the legendary trio of Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling behind. “With some horses, especially Mogul (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), we'd have liked two races but it's been unorthodox and we'll find out a lot more on Saturday. Russian Emperor came out of his Ascot win well and he's one we're looking forward to seeing over a mile and a half. Vatican City (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) is by Galileo, but he's related to a lot of quick horses. Padraig rode him that day [when second in the G1 Irish 2000 Guineas] and found it hard to pull him up, so it will be interesting. Often those you are sure of getting the trip might not have enough class. Mythical (Fr) (Camelot {GB}) is a good traveller, a classy horse, and Serpentine ran straight through the line at The Curragh and it's going to be interesting watching him over a mile and a half as he's a seriously well-bred Galileo. Amhran Na Bhfiann is a lovely big horse who we always thought would get the trip well. His one run this year was in a race which has worked out incredibly well. He'll get better with racing.”

It has to be taken as read that Mogul, who was attracting support yesterday, is going to be a different proposition than the burly colt that finished fourth in the G2 King Edward VII S. Despite that, the re-opposing duo that were ahead of him in that 12-furlong Royal Ascot test on June 16 are themselves hardly the finished article. Fairytale candidate Pyledriver (GB) (Harbour Watch {Ire}) has more to give whatever occurs here, while the third-placed Mohican Heights (Ire) (Australia {GB}) produced the kind of trial effort that is impossible to ignore.

Pyledriver's trainer William Muir said, “I said from Ascot that to run here he would have had to come right back to his best at home–that includes putting weight on and he has done that. Because of how the season has turned out, we are able to have a Derby runner which might not have happened in an ordinary year because he would have had to have been supplemented. His time was good at Royal Ascot and he has come out of the race well.”

Andrea Atzeni takes the ride on Sun Bloodstock's Listed Stonehenge S. winner Mohican Heights and he said on Friday, “Mohican Heights ran really well at Ascot and was doing his best work at the end. It was a bit stop-start and he stayed on nicely, so he's definitely going to stay the trip and has come on for that run like all David Simcock's horses do. David is very happy with him and we're very hopeful.  He's got a great mind and that's what you need. It won't be same as every other year, but with the owners being allowed back in it'll be busy enough and it's a long way down to the mile-and-a-half start, so you need to be calm.”

Cole On A High Again

It is 29 years since Generous (Ire) stormed to victory here and his trainer Paul Cole has the opportunity for a belated follow-up as he and son Oliver look to make history as the first training partnership to prevail. Jim and Fitri Hay's Highland Chief (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}) is another Royal Ascot winner to contest the Derby, this time slightly from leftfield having defied topweight in the June 18 Golden Gates H. inaugurated in this year's specially-extended meeting. His performance in that 10-furlong contest puts him within shouting distance of Kameko and jockey Ben Curtis is understandably hopeful. “He was just a frame of a horse last year and his performance at Ascot was very good,” he said. “I was impressed with the way he finished out his race there, still showing greenness, and he'll probably have learnt from that. Connections have given me the opportunity and my confidence is high at the minute. I think it's a very open Derby this year and there are a lot of question marks over a few of them. My lad goes in there with some of the best form and comes out well on the figures.”

Fabulous Five

In the Oaks, Anthony Oppenheimer is looking for his own landmark with the Ribblesdale winner Frankly Darling (GB) (Frankel {GB}). Having bred the winner of all the other four British Classics, the operation started by his late father Sir Philip needs to complete the set. Off the mark at Newcastle on June 1, the homebred created a lasting impression 15 days later at Royal Ascot and her owner-breeder is full of hope. “It's all happened very suddenly with her, but she's absolutely fine–

John Gosden wouldn't dream of running her if she wasn't,” he commented. “Straight after the Ribblesdale, she immediately ate up and then the next day she ate twice as much. He's more than happy she's ready to go.”

Oppenheimer is hoping that her early antics at the Royal meeting do not re-surface here, having over-raced for the first part of that contest. “The fact she was keen early at Ascot is going to be one of the problems, a lot of the Frankels are like that, they do tend to pull and she's very inexperienced,” he added. “Frankie's seen it all and is a quick thinker. With a huge crowd on Tattenham Corner, that might have been a problem, but without it it might suit her. Love is obviously a very good filly and if she can reproduce her Guineas form she'll probably beat us, but we've no idea. I'm not going to go, I'm going to stay and watch it at home with my family. They couldn't all come with me. They were with me for the Derby and other big races I've won and they all want to watch it, so it would be sad if some were on course and others weren't.”

Also at Epsom, the G3 Princess Elizabeth S. which is sandwiched between the two Classics plays host to Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum's June 7 G1 1000 Guineas runner-up Cloak of Spirits (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}). She was reportedly hindered by rain-eased going when fifth in the G1 Coronation S. at Royal Ascot 13 days later and trainer Richard Hannon said, “She ran with credit in the Coronation Stakes–I don't think the soft ground suited her and she was a little bit keen. Hopefully she is not as keen this time. She has been on the Rowley Mile, so I don't think the track will be a problem. She seems pretty adaptable in that sense and she is a good mover. She is probably the class act in the field–there are a few unexposed types in there, but they will have to be pretty good to beat her.”

One of those “unexposed types” that Hannon is referring to is Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum's 'TDN Rising Star' Fooraat (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), who defied a seven-pound penalty to double her tally over a mile at Chelmsford on June 8. Trainer Roger Varian is hoping the full-sister to Benbatl (GB) can measure up switched from the all-weather. “Fooraat is a nice filly. This is a tough track to have her first turf run on, but we are looking forward to running her and seeing how she goes,” he said. “I gave her an entry in the Coronation S., but I wasn't sucked into running her there as I don't think it would have been the right thing to do. This race looks right for her. I have a lot of respect for Cloak of Spirits, as she is the filly clear on ratings and was a good second in the 1000 Guineas, but the other fillies all look very similar. We do think she is a nice filly with a big future.”

Another 'TDN Rising Star', Godolphin's Listed Empress S. winner Summer Romance (Ire) (Kingman {GB}), was eighth in the 1000 Guineas but trainer Charlie Appleby is hopeful the grey will back up her home reputation at some point this season. “She put up a pleasing performance in the 1000 Guineas. She has come out of that well and there is every chance she will come forward for it,” he said. “She brings plenty of experience with her against some more lightly-raced fillies.” Adding ballast to a fascinating contest are last year's G3 Firth of Clyde S. and G3 Oh So Sharp S. winner Rose of Kildare (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}), who was third in the G2 German 1000 Guineas at Dusseldorf on June 21, and John and Tanya Gunther's June 12 Newbury novice scorer Love and Thunder (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}).

Fillies' Sprint Lights Up Naas Card

At Naas, the G3 Coolmore Stud Irish EBF Fillies' Sprint S. features a now-customary clash between three of the country's leading stables, with Ballydoyle's June 19 G3 Albany S. third Mother Earth (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}) taken on by Ger Lyons's June 18 Fairyhouse maiden scorer Luminesce (GB) (Muhaarar {GB}) and Jessie Harrington's June 20 Naas maiden winner Sussex Garden (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}). The card also sees the same trio represented in the Listed Irish Stallion Farms EBF Naas Oaks Trial, with Gary Barber and Team Valor International's Silence Please (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}) having to give three pounds away having maintained her unbeaten record in Navan's Listed Salsabil S. on June 10. One of Jessie Harrington's star cast of 3-year-old fillies, she meets two Susan Magnier representatives in the Ger Lyons-trained June 13 G1 Irish 1000 Guineas fifth Even So (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) and Laburnum (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who hails from Ballydoyle. A full-sister to Roderic O'Connor (Ire), the latter scored on debut at Gowran Park on June 17 and could yet enter the Irish Oaks picture.

Closing the card is the G3 Coolmore Sioux Nation Lacken S., where the visiting Art Power (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) will be a warm order for the Tim Easterby stable after landing a gamble in style in Royal Ascot's Palace of Holyroodhouse H. over five furlongs on June 19. Last year's G1 Cheveley Park S. heroine Millisle (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) looks to get back on track after a fifth in the G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot on June 19 and if back on song will provide a test for the winner despite having a three-pound penalty.

Enable Put To The Test

Friday saw the final declarations for Sunday's G1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, with Juddmonte's star mare Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) making her keenly-anticipated 6-year-old debut against six rivals. Her G1 Prince of Wales's S.-winning stablemate Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) was not declared by John Gosden, but the field is still strong with Godolphin's impressive G1 Coronation Cup hero Ghaiyyath (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Ballydoyle's G1 Juddmonte International winner Japan (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) engaged. The latter is set to carry the colours of his part-owner Masaaki Matsushima, while further Japanese interest is added by the G1 Nassau S. heroine Deirdre (Jpn) (Harbinger {GB}). Restricted this year as a 4-year-olds-and-up race, the 10-furlong contest also features another high-class mare in Magic Wand (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}).

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