English King Gets the Hoodoo Stall in the Derby

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English King | Megan Ridgewell

There was an unwelcome twist on Thursday for connections of the Listed Lingfield Derby Trial winner English King (Fr) (Camelot) as the draw for Saturday's £500,000 G1 241st Investec Derby imposed a widely-perceived “hoodoo” on Bjorn Nielsen's bay. Ante-post favourite for Epsom's Blue Riband, he will have to depart from the dreaded stall one after heading a field of 16 declarations. Qatar Racing's G1 2000 Guineas hero Kameko (Kitten's Joy) has been allocated gate 11, historically a far more favourable position which gives Oisin Murphy options from the break. Aidan O'Brien's team of six includes the 'TDN Rising Star' Mogul (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), who is the choice of Ryan Moore and that G2 Champion Juvenile scorer is drawn next door to English King in two.

In another unexpected turn of events, last year's winning rider Seamie Heffernan will be at Epsom along with the 2017 hero Padraig Beggy and also Emmet McNamara which could result in a 14-day quarantine for them as they re-enter Ireland. Heffernan has live prospects of a repeat of his red-letter day on Anthony Van Dyck (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) 12 months ago on the G3 Hampton Court S. winner Russian Emperor (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who will exit from stall six. Beggy, who got up late on the 40-1 outsider Wings of Eagles (Fr) (Pour Moi {Ire}), comes in for the ride on the fascinating G1 Irish 2000 Guineas runner-up Vatican City (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and he is ideally drawn in the middle in eight. McNamara is on Saturday's impressive nine-length Curragh maiden winner Serpentine (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and he could be the pace angle from stall 12.

English King and Mogul have statistical history against them, with no winner having come from stall two and only three from stall one since 1969. They are Blakeney (GB), Roberto and Oath (Ire) (Fairy King) and the latter came as long ago as 1999. Bare statistics don't tell the whole story, however. Since 1990, nine horses drawn one or two have been in the frame, with one winning, which was the aforementioned well-backed 13-2 shot Oath in 1999. He was housed next to Dubai Millennium (GB) that day and the fact that the Godolphin megastar finished ninth had nothing to do with his draw. There have been only 11 runners to trade under 10-1 to come out of the first two stalls in that period and it is impossible to make a case that any of them would have won had they been positioned more towards the middle or in the high numbers.

Perhaps the experience of the unhappy trip of Saxon Warrior (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) from stall one in 2018 has been overplayed. Only fourth as the 4-5 favourite, the apparent wunderkind went on to show that he didn't truly stay a mile and a half. The only other truly short-priced contender in the last three decades was Telecaster (GB) (New Approach {Ire}), who traded at 5-1 last year coming from stall two and he was tailed off last not because he had that post position but because he refused to settle. In 1998, when there were 15 runners, the 12-1 shot City Honours (Darshaan {GB}) exited from stall one and was beaten just a head by High-Rise (Ire) (High Estate {GB}). In 2009, Masterofthehorse (Ire) (Sadler's Wells) was drawn two and at 16-1 got into the frame just behind Sea the Stars (Ire), so a low draw is by no means disastrous.

What being drawn there does mean is that the horse has to have natural speed to gain an advantageous position heading to the right and then back down to the left. An ability to cruise from the start without over-racing, which Roberto exemplified in 1972 under Lester Piggott. We know that English King has gears, having registered impressive sectionals at Lingfield, and that he has the kind of calm and composed nature which will aid Frankie as he looks for that early pitch.

Kameko will be joined by stablemate Khalifa Sat (Ire) (Free Eagle {Ire}), who is re-opposed by Juddmonte's Emissary (GB) (Kingman {GB}) having beaten that half-brother to Workforce (GB) in Goodwood's Listed Cocked Hat S. June 14. Ahmad Al Shaikh's bay is drawn 14 and is another likely to be pressing the pace under Tom Marquand who was jocked off English King.

Andrew Balding is aware of the magnitude of the occasion, coming 49 years after father Ian saddled Mill Reef to glory. “Both horses did their last bits of work on Wednesday morning and I'm very happy with both of them,” he said. “As the race draws closer I see more dangers every day but, fingers crossed, everything has gone well in the build-up.”

“There is obviously the stamina doubt over Kameko, but he's very relaxed and that's why we are inclined to give it a go,” Balding added of the June 6 Newmarket Classic winner who will be the 13th to attempt the unique double since 1990 and if successful only the third to do so. “There's a genetic question mark and it will be answered on Saturday. If he was a keen horse and difficult to settle, we would not be attempting this. It's a combination of mentality and genetic make-up as to how far horses can stay. Any horse that wins the Vertem Futurity, as he did, is considered a potential Derby horse. He stayed the mile well as a 2-year-old and also hit the line strong in the Guineas.”

Of Khalifa Sat, he said, “He had a slight setback in late winter and that certainly held us back a little bit, but he's made up for lost time and I thought he won really well at Goodwood. He's in great nick and deserves to take his chance.”

Earlier on Saturday, eight fillies will head postward for the £250,000 G1 Investec Oaks, with Anthony Oppenheimer's G2 Ribblesdale S. winner Frankly Darling (GB) (Frankel {GB}) leading the home defence from stall three. Ballydoyle's contingent is again numerically strongest, with a trio headed by the impressive G1 1000 Guineas heroine Love (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who has drawn in stall five. Stablemates and Ribblesdale place-getters Ennistymon (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Passion (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) will break from four and one respectively.

Away from the Aidan O'Brien-Gosden rivalry, Roger Varian has captured the imagination by declaring the duo Queen Daenerys (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and Gold Wand (Ire) (Golden Horn {GB}). Mohamed Khalid Abdulrahim's Gold Wand beat Enable's half-sister Portrush (GB) (Frankel {GB}) in a mile-and-a-quarter maiden at Newbury June 11, while Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa's Queen Daenerys was runner-up in the Listed Pretty Polly S. also over that distance at Newmarket June 7.

“My two are nice fillies and we feel they deserve to take their chance,” their trainer explained. “Gold Wand's a filly we've always thought the world of. She's probably a touch unfortunate that in this unusual year she's not had time to run twice before the Oaks. She would have been a filly to go on to an Oaks trial, but we didn't have time to do that and I didn't think she was one to have three quick runs. Everything has gone smoothly since she won at Newbury. She's obviously got to take a big step forward, but I think she's very talented and I'm hoping that she can overcome her inexperience and show what she's capable of. She shows a high level of ability at home and we wouldn't be running her in an Oaks unless we saw that from her. There's only one Oaks and it's very exciting for her owner.”

“Queen Daenerys has not done much wrong in her career and I thought she ran a nice Oaks trial in the Pretty Polly, when she needed the run and looked to be crying out for an extra two furlongs,” he added. “She had to dig in there after getting outpaced mid-race and could have easily dropped out, but she did her best work late on. She's going to get better the further she goes. She's quite uncomplicated and the drying ground will suit her. I think she will outrun her odds.”

Despite there being no crowds at Epsom in 2020, there is no time to relax for racecourse officials who have to impose a 24-hour exclusion zone around the track. Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said, “There will be a 24-hour exclusion zone in force and we'll have a stewarding presence around the perimeter. We'd ask everyone to do us a huge favour and stay away this year.” Cooper also had news about the likely going, adding, “The greatest likelihood is that we'll be at or near good on Saturday. We'd need really heavy showers to soften it beyond the slow side of good. Friday looks basically dry and on Saturday morning there is the chance of light, patchy rain as a frontal system moves down from the north west.”

Final declarations for Sunday's equivalent Classics at Chantilly were also announced on Thursday, with Godolphin's G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains winner Victor Ludorum (GB) (Shamardal) ideally drawn in stall one in the 17-runner €900,000 G1 Prix du Jockey Club and the Niarchos Family's G1 Coronation S. heroine Alpine Star (Ire) (Sea the Moon {Ger}) getting the same post as she heads a field of 11 for the €600,000 G1 Prix de Diane Longines. Michael Tabor's G1 Irish 1000 Guineas victress Peaceful (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) sidesteps Epsom to line up in stall four for the 10 1/2-furlong test and Seamie Heffernan will make the trip to France from England to partner her. He also takes the ride on Saturday's G1 Irish Derby fourth Order of Australia (Ire) (Australia {GB}) in the Jockey Club, one of a trio of Coolmore-owned colts in the 10 1/2-furlong Classic. They include the Listed Prix de Suresnes-winning 'TDN Rising Star' Ocean Atlantique (American Pharoah), who fared worst of the fancied runners from the draw in stall 14.

One of the Jockey Club's fairytale stories is Team Valor International and Andre Brakha's unbeaten  Hurricane Dream (Fr) (Hurricane Cat), who will break from 11 under Jean-Bernard Eyquem as he provides jumps trainer Mikael Mescam with a day to remember. His sole horse in training was impressive when earning his tilt in a course-and-distance conditions event June 14 and Mescam is full of hope. “He has had a good preparation, coming up slowly through the ranks and he hasn't had a tough race,” he commented. “Having a recent run over 2100 meters at Chantilly was ideal. In the mornings, you can see that he is a good horse, but then we're always amazed at how impressively he wins. I only have one flat horse and having a runner in this race was highly unlikely! We are fortunate to have him at the stable and the whole team has taken great care of him.”

Jean-Claude Rouget has opted to leave Shadwell's impressive G1 Prix Saint Alary heroine Tawkeel (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}) out of the equation for the Diane and rely solely on the operation's Raabihah (Sea the Stars {Ire}). The May 14 Listed Prix de la Seine winner is drawn nine, while the same stable's Listed Prix Finlande runner-up Vadsena (Fr) (Makfi {GB}) has fared worse in 11. Christophe Soumillon has decided to partner Vadsena over the other Aga Khan representative Ebaiyra (Distorted Humor), the June 10 G3 Prix de Royaumont scorer who will be providing Olivier Peslier with another opportunity of a first Diane victory.

Shadwell's racing manager Angus Gold said, “We entered both Raabihah and Tawkeel in the Prix de Diane Longines, but Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum didn't want to run them against each other. Raabihah was chosen, as Tawkeel has already won a Group 1 and she should run later in the month in Goodwood's Nassau S.”

Alain de Royer Dupre is a master of winning this Classic, having done so on six occasions and is bidding to provide The Aga Khan with an eighth renewal. “Ebaiyra won the Prix de Royaumont very nicely and we are running because we think that she is talented,” he said. “We have followed our usual method to bring her to the race, bringing her up in condition just to the race day. The question is whether she is talented enough to be competitive in this race. There are a number of fillies who have never met on the track before, so it is difficult to compare them.”

Chantilly are also expecting good ground on Sunday. “The weather has been very unstable all week,” explained Matthieu Vincent, the racecourse and training centre's director. “We will make a decision on Friday at 4 p.m. with Marin Le Cour Grandmaison, the track manager, on whether or not to water. The aim is to have good-to-soft ground at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, heading towards good ground for the start of the meeting. Temperatures of 22 to 24c are predicted for Sunday with no rain forecast. The grass has been mowed to 10cm and there will be 10 metres of fresh ground on the inside. The last time that we used this ground with the rail at zero was on the 14th June. We have spent a lot of time cultivating the track during the lockdown, so there is a great grass cover.”

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