ENGLISH KING (4.55) can conquer a formidable Aidan O’Brien raiding party to keep the Investec Derby on home soil at Epsom.
Victory over the big battalions would be a tremendous feather in the cap of Lambourn trainer Ed Walker and English King seems best served by the anticipated fast ground. He fairly glided his way through the Lingfield Derby Trial, being held up early by Tom Marquand before edging out to make his challenge and immediately quickening past Berkshire Roco.
Frankie Dettori takes over the reins today and that is a significant plus factor as English King must overcome the ‘coffin box’ in stall one. Henry Cecil’s Oath under Kieren Fallon in 1999 was the last winner to emerge from the inside berth but Dettori will be alive to the danger of getting trapped on the rail behind weakening rivals and being shuffled back on the run down to Tattenham Corner.
English King’s high cruising speed should enable him to escape from a pocket, although the Derby is often a rough race. English King is a son of the O’Brien-trained Camelot, the last horse to complete the Guineas-Derby double in 2012, and looks a worthy favourite.
Kameko, the mount of champion jockey Oisin Murphy, is trying to emulate that Classic feat on the back of his stirring Qipco 2000 Guineas success over Wichita and Pinatubo. Whether Andrew Balding’s colt possesses the necessary stamina to see out this demanding examination over an extra four furlongs is the puzzle confronting punters. Balding trains from the Kingsclere yard made famous by the majestic Mill Reef, trained by his father Ian, so Kameko would be making his own slice of history.
O’Brien, seeking a record eighth victory in the premier Classic, sends six challengers across the water but is missing probably his best three-year-old, Santiago, winner of last weekend’s Irish Derby after romping home at Royal Ascot.
The fact he is so heavily represented suggests there is not a ‘superstar’ in his team. Indeed, when he saddled six in 2017 it was his 40-1 outsider Wings Of Eagles which caused something of a sensation.
Ryan Moore had the pick of the O’Brien sextet and has plumped for Mogul, always the apple of O’Brien’s eye, but the colt is on a recovery mission after a tame effort at Royal Ascot. O’Brien insists Mogul was in dire need of that run and will strip much fitter this afternoon.
Ballydoyle’s best chance may rest with Royal Ascot winner Russian Emperor, the mount of Seamie Heffernan, successful last year on O’Brien’s Anthony Van Dyck. Russian Emperor seems sure to appreciate this extra stamina test, having landed the Hampton Court Stakes over two furlongs shorter, beating First Receiver and Berlin Tango. He is on the upgrade.
Padraig Beggy bids to emulate his Wings Of Eagles shock by riding Vatican City to victory. Vatican City remains relatively unexposed having picked off a Dundalk maiden last season before acquitting himself well in a bruising Irish 2000 Guineas, chasing home talented Shiskin. Stamina may be an issue.
Best of the O’Brien-trained outsiders could be Amhran Na Bhfiann, with William Buick a notable booking, while Pyledriver, a surprise winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, would be a fairytale success for trainer William Muir. Third-placed Mohican Heights takes his chance for David Simcock.
The Investec Oaks looks a match between FRANKLY DARLING (3.40) and Love. John Gosden’s daughter of Frankel was given a textbook ride from that man Dettori when scooping the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and wins the vote over O’Brien’s clear-cut 1000 Guineas heroine Love. The ground is probably livelier than ideal for Frankly Darling but she wouldn’t be risked if her connections considered the track posed any danger. The market could prove very informative if the Ballydoyle boys don their betting boots.
O’Brien’s ‘second-string’ Ennistymon is no slouch and was given a lot of ground to make up in the Ribblesdale before running on stoutly into second spot. If all eight runners go to post she is a rock-solid each-way alternative at around 13-2.
SAFE VOYAGE (2.25) would ideally prefer a soft surface but is the class act in the Investec Surrey Stakes. A real 7f specialist, Safe Voyage handled quick ground in a Group 2 at the Curragh last July when third to Romanised and is preferred to Shine So Bright, taken off his feet over six furlongs when last to finish at Royal Ascot. He is better than that effort.
Sixteen runners are declared for the 1m 2f handicap, with several firms offering five places each-way. DESERT ICON (3.00) is unlikely to be sent off an each-way price, however, following his demolition job at Newmarket six days ago, making all to score by more than eight lengths. Despite carrying a 6lb penalty, Desert Icon remains ahead of the assessor on that evidence.
Caradoc had You’re Fired back in fourth in the Dubai Duty Free Handicap at Newbury last September and they meet again on the same terms. Caradoc enjoys a slick surface and holds claims if fully wound up for his seasonal debut. The betting should offer a clue on that score.
FOORAAT (4.15) moves up in class in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes but is improving leaps and bounds. Roger Varian’s filly scored effortlessly at Chelmsford City and fast ground will make her hard to catch.
The form book points to 1000 Guineas runner-up Cloak Of Spirits, especially if her Newmarket conqueror Love runs a big race in the Oaks. On official figures she is rated 9lb superior to Fooraat and holds another of her rivals, Summer Romance, on Guineas form.