Dawn must rise to Epsom endurance test
Doubts remain whether Bolger's favourite can last Derby trip.
Portentous or not, as a prelude to the 2000 Guineas earlier this month a TV network chose to broadcast the climax to the 1984 edition of the opening colts' classic – reason being that that race (as well as the 1971 victory of Brigadier Gerard over Mill Reef) is generally regarded as its historical gold standard.
In 1984, El Gran Senor silkily disposed of Lear Fan and Chief Singer and teed himself up for a visit to Epsom four weeks later. In the Derby, the odds-on favourite loomed up alongside the heavily encouraged Secreto pulling a cart, but when it mattered the needle went to empty and El Gran Senor was worried out of it in a thrilling climax.
Stamina, you see, is like an elastic. And El Gran Senor's just snapped. Scintillating Guineas winner Dawn Approach faces a similar dilemma. We all know he has been utterly peerless amongst his generation for over a year now as his seven-from-seven proudly demonstrates. His domination has sustained from the very opening two-year-old contest of 2012 to Newmarket's first classic earlier this month. His sizzling speed at up to a mile has made him indomitable until now but his stamina has a limit, and a week next Saturday we will discover whether the New Approach colt can extend a half mile further than he has ever gone before the elastic snaps.
The truth is that we will only discover whether Dawn Approach gets the trip on the day itself. However, the two most potent advance indicators are pedigree and the temperament of how a horse travels in his races. Strictly on breeding – in spite of the fact his sire New Approach won the Derby – you couldn't be confident Dawn Approach would be as effective at a mile and a half. His style of racing would offer more confidence given how strongly he finishes his races off. Kevin Manning confirmed the view after the Guineas when he said: "He has a fantastic temperament. If any horse is gonna get the trip, this horse has got the temperament."
With the conclusions of the trials last week and the latest forfeit reducing entries to 24, it was most significant to hear Jim Bolger's prickly suggestion on Dante day that "the only trials that matter were run in Coolcullen".
It was a poke in the eye, in particular, for his former pupil Aidan O'Brien, who had won four of those five recognised trials. The old cliché that 'if you think you have four or five Derby horses then you probably don't have any' has been supplanted in recent years at Ballydoyle by the idea of strength and safety in numbers on Derby day. After a 10-year drought O'Brien finally added to his two previous Derby wins (2001 and 2002) with Camelot last year and still has seven of the remaining entries. In spite of the injury to the yard's number one hope Kingsbarns, stablemates Ruler of the World, Magician and Nevis have all won recognised trials at Chester and Lingfield, and Mars, son of Galileo, ran respectably to finish sixth in the Guineas. However, at this stage the most significant Ballydoyle player appears to be Battle of Marengo, workmanlike winner of the Derrinstown at odds of 2/13.
It is remarkable to think that a blue-blooded Coolmore colt that has won five of six contested races has gone as un-hyped as he has. Camelot he ain't. Yet with stamina virtually assured, he is an obvious ready alternative to the favourite should his elastic snap.
An intriguing international dimension to the race has emerged now Andre Fabre has committed Ocovango and Sheikh Fahad recently purchased exciting German prospect Chopin. Ocovango, bidding to give Fabre only his second ever Epsom Derby, is following the same path as Pour Moi (Prix Greffulhe at Saint Cloud) before his win in 2011. The son of Monsun is now unbeaten in three.
German colt Chopin is about to be supplemented into the race following Jamie Spencer's trip over last Monday for a racecourse gallop at Dusseldorf. Sheikh Fahad's racing manager David Redvers said afterwards: "It was a good way to see how balanced he was and he pleased us enormously. It's all systems go. He's a big scopey colt and looks like a Galileo."
The nation with the least to contribute to the international jamboree at this stage is host England. The only horse trained there to appear at single-figure odds is September maiden winner Telescope. The Michael Stoute son of Galileo gallops today in an effort to help assess his readiness for the race. Aside from that, the Dante – traditionally the most reliable domestic guide to the Derby, with three winners since 2000 and eight since 1978 – threw up a shock local winner in Libertarian, whose size and tactical speed are very unlikely to be suited to Epsom's tricky contours.
Libertarian is the exact contrast to Dawn Approach – we know he has the stamina but question his speed. The winner of the Epsom Derby ultimately needs the perfect blend of both.