“There Is Only One Place To Find Out” – Can City Of Troy Gain Derby Redemption?

City Of Troy | Getty Images


In it seems no time at all, Coolmore's big horse City Of Troy (Justify) has gone from “our Frankel” to a colt carrying a huge symbolic question mark over a head that appeared poised to carry racing's crown. There have been few greater anti-climaxes in the history of Ballydoyle than that which accompanied his abject 2,000 Guineas performance and, following the roller-coaster experience of last year's Derby, we are unexpectedly back in familiar territory. What occurred at Epsom last June was heralded as a feat of training without equal as Auguste Rodin (Ire) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) pulled himself back from a tame effort at Newmarket, but 12 months on Aidan O'Brien has had to do it all over again.

Studying the pioneer of Rosegreen over a seismic last four weeks, it is hard to recall him engaging in a more passionate defence of a reputation since he began there in the 90s. The colt that he describes as “vital” has come under an intense scrutiny from the media that is both understandable and reasonable given his blow-out in the Guineas and he has answered the probing with ardent faith. We have had the reasons for his eclipse; the winter preparation that was in hindsight too soft and the stalls panic at Newmarket and heart-rate issues. O'Brien has railed against critics of the colt's physique, of which there are many, but at 4.30 on Saturday afternoon it is all out of his hands and up to City Of Troy and Ryan Moore who has given up a Derby ride on Los Angeles (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) that any jockey would give his right arm for.

The rider in question is in no doubt he is on the best horse in the line-up, but also aware that there is some ground to make up after the Guineas. “We were clearly all a touch bemused by that performance at the time, but hopefully Aidan has got him back to somewhere near his brilliant two-year-old best at home and if he has then he will take all the beating,” he said. “We always thought this trip would suit him at three, but he has to go out and prove it now and even more so after Newmarket. But there is only one place to find out and we are here.”

Where there were valid reasons for believing that Auguste Rodin could turn around his fortunes 12 months ago, with more suitable ground conditions and a favourable draw to help as well as the obvious pedigree credentials and striding data, City Of Troy has many more factors against him. From stall one, Moore will have to use up energy from the outset which contributed to the colt's downfall at Newmarket, while the surface is also likely to ride on the dead side. What is in his favour is the fact that his dam's full-sister won a soft-ground Oaks and his full-brother Bertinelli was a mile-and-a-quarter and mile-and-a-half slogger. Oh, and the fact that up until the start of last month he looked a phenomenon in the making.


The Danger Within…

Where City Of Troy is a quandary wrapped up in an enigma, the yard's second-string Los Angeles is a case of what you see is what you get. Ideally positioned as a Derby prospect given his stats and form, the G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud and G3 Leopardstown Derby Trial winner comes here via a tried-and-trusted route with Euphoric (GB) (Frankel {GB}) presumably here to aid his cause in front. As if he didn't have enough in his favour, his family features Urban Sea (Miswaki) so he has Epsom in the veins. If he is on City Of Troy's case in the closing stages, we could well be in for another High Chaparral-Hawk Wing scenario.


Best Of The Brits?

Given the forecast earlier his week, Charlie Appleby must have been thinking that the pieces were falling into place for last year's G1 Futurity Trophy hero Ancient Wisdom (Fr) (Dubawi {Ire}) but the expected rain has failed to materialise as expected and his prospects have diminished as a result. There was a time, pre-Workforce when defeat in the Dante was the kiss of death here and, given he was beaten six lengths in York's time-honoured trial, it is hard to enthuse about the Godolphin runner. That cannot be said about the leading British contender Ambiente Friendly (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}), who dominated a Listed Lingfield Derby Trial that has received a subsequent boost and he is charged with bringing more Epsom Classic glory to the Gredley Family who 32 years ago celebrated an Oaks victory courtesy of User Friendly (GB).

James Fanshawe will be a welcome sight in the paddock beforehand and he is keeping typically cool ahead of a big day for his longstanding Pegasus Stables. “Of course there is a real buzz in the yard about having a Derby contender. There seems to be a real interest in Ambiente Friendly and that's great,” he said. “We've had plenty of Group 1 successes, but we haven't had too many runners in the Classics. We've had a second in the 1,000 Guineas with Spacious and Soviet Song wasn't quite right when she was fourth, but the Derby is the Derby and a lot of things are judged on the result of it.”

“All I can say is Ambiente Friendly has done it and won his trial in a good time and seems to have come out of the race in good shape,” he added. “Over the winter and even since the Feilden S., he has grown up a lot. He was a little bit fresh at Newmarket, but at Lingfield he went round a bend as good as any horse went round there.”


To War Again…

Perhaps such an open Derby provides the heavy investors King Power Racing and Amo Racing their breakthrough opportunity after continued trying with the likeable Listed Blue Riband Trial winner Bellum Justum (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and G3 Ballysax S. winner Dallas Star (Fr) by Sea The Stars's son Cloth Of Stars (Ire) respectively. Dallas Star, who hails from the family of Friday's G1 Coronation Cup hero Luxembourg (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), was another soundly beaten by Arabian Crown in last year's G3 Zetland S., but his comeback effort for Adrian Murray marked him as a middle-distance colt to take seriously.

Interestingly, Bellum Justum had the pace to beat a certain Inisherin (GB) (Shamardal) in his Newmarket maiden in September, while the Blue Riband Trial third Chief Little Rock (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) did much to enhance his credentials in Sunday's Gallinule. He also descends from the excellent producer Lucayan Princess (GB) (High Line {GB}), whose son Warrsan (Ire) (Caerleon) captured two Coronation Cups and loved this place.


Other Parts Of The Puzzle…

There are genuine stamina doubts surrounding the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains runner-up Dancing Gemini (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), despite his pedigree suggesting the step up to a mile and a half should suit, while a win for Juddmonte's Macduff (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) would serve to stir up a what-might-have-been moment for Charlie Appleby given how readily he was beaten by the sidelined Arabian Crown (Fr) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the G3 Sandown Classic Trial.

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