Bonfire a good alternative
STUDENTS of American politics may be familiar with the life and times of Richard 'Boss' Croker, who was born in Blackrock, Cork, in 1843.
Croker's family left for America when he was a small child, so he grew up in New York where he later became head of Tammany Hall, a hugely influential political organisation, which regularly assisted the massive immigrant population in the city.
But it's fair to say that not all members of Tammany Hall were upstanding pillars of society, and the colourful Croker was known to receive large bribes from the owners of saloons, brothels and illegal gambling dens.
His interest in gambling, however, was not confined to the backstreet bookies of Brooklyn and in 1907, a horse he owned named Orby won Britain's most prestigious race, the Epsom Derby.
Croker died in his native Ireland in 1922 leaving behind a $4m fortune and the pall-bearers included Arthur Griffith and Oliver St John Gogarty.
The reason I mention Croker is because this year's Derby (4.0 Epsom) will have just nine runners and the last time we had a field that small was when Orby was ridden to victory in the colours of Croker 105 years ago.
Interestingly, Orby was actually the first Irish-trained winner of the race, which was a major achievement at the time, considering the Derby had been on the go since 1780.
Of course, we are well accustomed to Irish trained victories these days with numerous winners this century alone -- and it's no surprise to see the Aidan O'Brien-trained Camelot head the market at 8/15 following an impressive victory in the Guineas.
I must admit that I wasn't that keen on the three-year-old for that race, opting to back Caspar Netscher instead, but I've since jumped on the bandwagon (albeit a little late) and I don't think there's much point in opposing today, especially considering the size of the field.
His breeding suggests he'll show yet more improvement over a mile and a half and this one could go on to become a real star.
For each-way backers, Bonfire could be a good 'bet to nothing' around 4/1 and he's the one most likely to breathe down the favourite's neck. He should also get the trip and if the assessor has it right, the Andrew Balding-trained colt only has two pounds to make up on the favourite.
But backing horses at those prices won't pay for many Bank Holiday pints of plain, so attention is turned to Haydock, where Pastoral Player makes appeal at 6/1 in the Group Three Timeform Jury stakes (2.35).
This very smart handicapper confirmed his ability when winning a valuable handicap at Ascot in October, following on from a few tricky contests where things just didn't go his way.
The handicapper put him up 6lbs for his efforts, but that didn't seem to hamper him too much on his return to racing this season when finishing sixth of 24 runners in the Betfred Victoria Cup.
Expect the five-year-old to rattle the cage of likely favourite Red Jazz today.
AT 12/1, Desert Law is overpriced for the Investec Specialist Bank 'dash' Handicap at Epsom (3.15). He almost always races at six furlongs, but, having watched a few replays of him in action, I get the impression that he'll enjoy the minimum distance today.
2.35 Haydock: Pastoral Player
2.40 Epsom: St Nicholas Abbey
3.10 Haydock: Mohedian Lady (e/w)
3.15 Epsom: Desert Law (e/w)
4.00 Epsom: Camelot