Permian enters Derby picture as Cracksman boosted despite Dante no-show
Despite being withdrawn on the morning of the Betfred Dante Stakes, Cracksman had his Investec Derby claims boosted when Permian ran out a clear-cut winner of the notable York trial.
A Group Two race in its own right, Middleham trainer Mark Johnston and owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum had to pay £12,000 to supplement Permian to find out if they had a Derby contender on their hands.
That question was answered in the affirmative and now they will need to stump up £85,000 to run in the blue riband raceat Epsom on June 3, which for the first time in many years has no stand-out contender.
While Aidan O'Brien's 2000 Guineas winner Churchill is thought unlikely to step up in trip, he is nevertheless still 5-1 co-favourite with stablemate Cliffs Of Moher and the John Gosden-trained Cracksman.
The latter failed to turn up with Gosden fearing the ground had gone too soft, but by race time it had dried out to good to soft in the main. However, having beaten Permian in the Epsom trial last month connections will now be feeling confident.
Observers were initially less than impressed with Cracksman at Epsom, but with Permian since winning at Newmarket and now York, the form has taken on a different perspective.
Sent off at 10-1, Franny Norton was spotted sitting motionless two furlongs out before pulling clear to beat Benbatl by three-quarters of a length, with Sir Michael Stoute's pre-race Derby gamble Crystal Ocean staying on nicely for third.
Johnston, winning the race for the first time, said: "I'm delighted to have a live chance in the Derby.
"John Ferguson (Godolphin chief executive) made the decision to supplement him for this, but when the rain came, we thought our chance had gone. We spoke to John and he said we've paid 12 grand to put him in, so we'll run him, even if it's a bog.
"He's clearly progressing, but I can't say we weren't fearing Cracksman coming here. He looks to have come on a lot with each run, but I'm sure Cracksman will have come on for his run, too. We got first run that day and he still beat us.
"I wasn't thinking of the Derby a few weeks ago, but you could see from two out today he was going to win.
"Epsom obviously holds no fears for us and I can't remember my last Derby runner. It seems a long time since Mister Baileys (2000 Guineas winner who was third in the Dante and fourth in the Derby to Erhaab in 1994).
"As John said to me before the race, in the Dante you find out if you're a Derby horse and we've got one."
Ferguson was impressed with the performance and confirmed Permian will be supplemented for Epsom.
He said: "I spoke to Sheikh Mohammed coming down the stairs and he said he'd be happy to supplement.
"It sounds a lot of money, but in terms of what he's won here and from a bloodstock perspective it is worth it.
"Also, we have so many well-bred horses we tend to do it this way rather than enter them all early. When they win like that the decision is easy
"Saeed (Bin Suroor) had Best Solution win the Lingfield Derby Trial and Benbatl finish second in the Dante so we have to sit down, think, decide and talk to Sheikh Mohammed about that and what he thinks is the right thing to do."
Godolphin now appear to hold a strong hand for Epsom, and Ferguson added: "With the way Benbatl has run on there, there's every chance (could go to the Derby). The Epsom Derby is the Epsom Derby.
"If you look at the form leading up into this race, there's a lot of respect for Aidan's horse who won the Dee Stakes (Cliffs Of Moher) and he was followed home by Bay Of Poets, who wasn't far behind this horse and Cracksman at Epsom.
"Luckily there are still cards, not to play, but to analyse. It's just great to be in a season where so many three-year-olds have a live chance and no doubt in time we will find out exactly where they stand.
"If Churchill stays the mile and a half he is going to be a very tough nut to crack, but these horses all deserve to take their chances and it's just great to be going to the party.
"What is great is that Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum will have a live chance in the Derby, he's only young but racing needs youngsters involved."
Stoute expressed doubts about Crystal Ocean's Derby claims before the race and when asked about Epsom, he said: "I wouldn't (run), but he has an owner that might want to."