Friday 23 March 2018

Churchill set to skip Derby, says O'Brien

Franny Norton and Permian on their way to victory in The Betfred Dante Stakes at York yesterday. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Franny Norton and Permian on their way to victory in The Betfred Dante Stakes at York yesterday. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Johnny Ward

The Irish contenders were out of luck in the last key Investec Derby Trial, the Dante at York, as Permian scored gamely for Franny Norton yesterday.

And in victory, Permian boosted the form claims for Epsom of Cracksman, which beat Permian narrowly in an Epsom trial when last seen. Cracksman did not participate yesterday due to the ground - but that did not stop some bookmakers making the Frankel-bred favourite for the Derby.

And it now appears that Churchill will not be going to Epsom, making the task easier for Cracksman.

Yesterday was not all about Permian, so, but the Mark Johnston-trained horse was impressive in his own right. Norton had to ask him serious questions inside the distance but he stretched out well to score by three-quarters of a length from Benbatl with Crystal Ocean, the ante-post gamble of the race but a big on-course drifter, running a fine race in third for Michael Stoute.

Johnston enthused: "I'm delighted to have a live chance in the Derby. John Ferguson 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.

"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. As John said to me before the race, in the Dante you find out if you're a Derby horse and we have one."


Permian will now be supplemented for the Derby. Rekindling ran a pleasing race for trainer Joseph O'Brien under his brother Donnacha, finishing fourth, while their father Aidan's Exemplar was only eighth.

Joseph O'Brien said: "He ran a good race, but he could have done with better ground. It's a bit early to say whether we'll go for the Derby after that."

Betfair's reaction to the race was noteworthy. Cliffs Of Moher and Cracksman dispute favouritism for the Derby, run tomorrow fortnight, at around 4/1. Churchill, which is now looking an improbable runner, was a 13/2 chance until Aidan O'Brien expressed doubts he would run last night.

"There is a good chance Churchill will run in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas," O'Brien said, "though nothing is set in stone."

John Ferguson, Godolphin chief executive, said of the Dante: "It was a genuinely-run race. William (Buick) was keen to make it on Wolf Country and gave Franny a chance to sit in. Permian finished it off really well, with Benbatl at his girths all the way down the straight.

"If you look at the form leading up into this race, there's a lot of respect for Aidan's (O'Brien) 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."

Somewhat surprisingly, there are no Irish runners in today's feature Betway Yorkshire Cup. Endless Time could go well at around 11/2 for the in-form Godolphin operation. Eight go to post in this Group Two.

Irish Independent

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