Bullet on right track
Cecil's colt should not be ignored in a Derby lacking genuine class
While St Nicholas Abbey's withdrawal from this afternoon's Epsom Derby is lamentable given that he was the most heavily supported horse in the race since October, it also leaves a dearth of any meaningful Classic form.
It is extremely rare that none of the main protagonists from the Irish or English 2,000 Guineas would challenge for the most prestigious three-year-old event of the season.
In St Nicholas Abbey's absence, Al Zir, ninth at Newmarket, is left to carry the flag. Notwithstanding Kieren Fallon's booking, it's hard to make a case for the American-bred colt, and the likelihood is that the Classic form will be rendered insignificant.
In light of the fact that Cape Blanco, the impressive Dante Stakes winner, also misses the race in favour of the French equivalent tomorrow, this looks a weak Derby. During the past 10 years, the five Irish winners of the mile-and-a-half Group One were exceptional and, if there is one of their ilk in the race, it has to be Jan Vermeer.
A winner of the Grand Criterium at two, he was flawless at the Curragh a fortnight ago. However, we learnt nothing new about the Montjeu colt then, yet he is as low as 7/4 from 20/1. Any value about Jan Vermeer is long gone, even if Aidan O'Brien's decision to send Cape Blanco to France does reflect well on the favourite.
In an ordinary year, Derrinstown winner Midas Touch might make the frame, but worth a look for the win market is Bullet Train. Henry Cecil has had just one runner in the race over the past nine years, and this son of Sadler's Wells is his best chance since Beat Hollow finished third in 2000.
A winner of his sole outing as a juvenile, Bullet Train was robbed on his reappearance at Newbury, when the eventual winner, which he was conceding 10lbs to, swooped too late and too fast to give him any chance to respond.
Tom Queally's mount subsequently put that reversal behind him by easily taking the Lingfield Derby Trial.
On that occasion, Bullet Train had to make his own running, and he had everything in trouble turning for home, before then asserting up the straight. He undoubtedly will need to improve again if he is to win here, but Cecil's decision to run is itself of note. A likeable and uncomplicated sort, at 8/1 Bullet Train looks too big to ignore.
In the five-furlong handicap that precedes the showpiece, sprint king Dandy Nicholls saddles five of the 19 runners as he goes in search of his fifth win in the race since 2000.
This race is always hugely competitive, and Fallon's hat-trick seeking Hawkeyethenoo will be hard to beat. Preferred, though, is a Nicholls' 20/1 shot City Dancer. Despite having run 15 times, the four-year-old Elusive City filly has competed in only three handicaps.
In May last year, she was third off 95 at Chester, before being beaten by just a length and a half off the same mark at Ayr. She subsequently ran well to be placed in a number of conditions races.
On her first handicap outing since Ayr, and just her second start of the new season, City Dancer caught the eye when running on stoutly to be fifth off a new mark of 88 last week. She won't need to progress much more to score off that now.
In the Investec Surefooted Handicap, Aurorian is just preferred to Perpetually. The latter will attract plenty of interest in first-time blinkers under Fallon, but Aurorian looks more reliable.
Beaten by half a length at Windsor a month ago, the Fantastic Light gelding had previously won its first two starts over today's trip. Slow ground won't have helped last time, so the return to a quicker surface may see him regain the winning thread.
Earlier, Antara, a new Godolphin recruit, could start favourite in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes. On her first run since October, she can be opposed with Reggane, a classy filly that will be better for this return to a mile.
Best bet: City Dancer