A little over a week ago, a report suggested that Aidan O’Brien could send as many as eight colts to Epsom Downs for Saturday’s Derby. Instead, for the first time since 2004, O’Brien will rely on a single runner – Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite – just as he did two decades ago when Galileo, Bolshoi Ballet’s sire, gave him the first of his record eight victories in the Classic.
It could be pointed out that Meath, O’Brien’s only runner 17 years ago, finished last of the 14 runners, was subsequently gelded and then sold to race in Hong Kong. The parallels between Saturday’s market leader and his sire, though, are more compelling, not least the fact that both horses were impressive winners of the Derrinstown Derby Trial in May.
Bolshoi Ballet hammered his stable companion Lough Derg by six lengths at Leopardstown, with Saturday’s opponents Mac Swiney and Southern Lights even further adrift in fourth and fifth. The time was decent and Mac Swiney – who suffered from a nasal discharge for several days afterwards – recovered in time to frank the form with a victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas next time.
Whether the Leopardstown form is good enough to make Bolshoi Ballet a worthy 13-8 favourite on Saturday is a different question, as the Lingfield Derby Trial (won by Third Realm), the Chester Vase (Youth Spirit) and the Dante – won by the unbeaten Hurricane Lane – all had convincing winners and were run in respectable times.
Bolshoi Ballet’s price also implies a fair degree of confidence that he will improve for the step up to 12 furlongs but the style of his trial success – he was in front with well over three furlongs to run and quickened clear two out – means that it is not necessarily a given. The rain at Epsomon Friday, which had changed the going to good-to-soft by mid-afternoon, adds to the uncertainty.
Saturday’s 12-strong field also has some interesting dark horses that are open to any amount of improvement, including John Leeper, the mount of Frankie Dettori, and Mohaafeth. Both are unbeaten this season and likely to improve for the trip, though William Haggas, Mohaafeth’s trainer, has expressed doubts about whether his colt will appreciate cut in the ground.
On balance, and unless his price drifts abruptly, Bolshoi Ballet looks worth opposing with an each-way alternative, and Hurricane Lane and Mac Swiney are the most obvious candidates with the form and potential to make them plausible winners. Mac Swiney’s odds began to contract as the ground eased on Friday but 11-2 is still a fair price for a colt who had enough class to land a Guineas last time but will surely be better still at 12 furlongs.
Marginal preference, though, is for Hurricane Lane (4.30) at around 8-1 – a surprising price for an unbeaten Dante winner who reached top gear only in the closing stages at York. Charlie Appleby’s colt has progressed with every run and could find plenty more improvement for the step up in trip on just the fourth start of his career.
Epsom 2.00 King Frankel ran into a likely Pattern-class performer on his handicap debut in the London Gold Cup last time and while he is up 6lb despite finishing a four-length second there, his new mark still looks workable.
Epsom 2.35 Statement went backwards from her close second in the Fred Darling in April when fading into eighth in the 1,000 Guineas. She switched to front-running tactics at Newmarket, however, and a more patient ride could do the trick against lesser opposition on Saturday.
Epsom 3.10 Century Dream was below his best last time but comes alive over this track and trip and can register a third success in this race in the last four years.
Epsom 3.45 Recon Mission and Ray Dawson were ready winners over track and trip in April and Tony Carroll’s gelding has a fair chance of a follow-up from a 3lb higher mark.