Murtagh gets go-ahead to steer Vermeer's Derby tilt
Aidan O'Brien finalised his Epsom Derby plans yesterday, with Johnny Murtagh confirmed to ride leading fancy Jan Vermeer.
It has been a pretty traumatic few days at Ballydoyle after the great white hope for the season, St Nicholas Abbey, was ruled out of the premier Classic after a minor setback.
However, O'Brien appears to have a ready-made replacement in Jan Vermeer, which will spearhead his team of three. The betting markets gave some indication of what was about to happen and it came as no surprise when O'Brien released the news that Murtagh would ride the 15/8 favourite in the big one.
What did still need clearing up was the target of Cape Blanco, the impressive winner of the Dante Stakes at York and the only unbeaten entry left at the five-day stage. However, Epsom racegoers will miss out as the Galileo colt heads for the French Derby 24 hours later instead, along with Viscount Nelson.
Joining Jan Vermeer will be Midas Touch, the Derrinstown Derby Trial winner and the mount of Colm O'Donoghue, and likely pacemaker At First Sight, to be ridden by Seamie Heffernan. John Gosden's sole Derby success to date came in the shape of Benny The Dip in 1997 and this year's representative is Azmeel, winner of the Dee Stakes at Chester.
"He's a progressive horse," Gosden stated. "I think the experience of running round Chester helps a horse grow up a lot and we think he has come on mentally since then and his work has been pleasing."
Godolphin moved to book Kieren Fallon for Al Zir on Tuesday and trainer Saeed bin Suroor expects a big improvement from his run in the Guineas. "We're happy to use Kieren, he's a very good jockey," said Bin Suroor. "I've liked this horse since last year. I hope he gets into a nice position and think he will handle the course."
Murtagh, meanwhile, will have the leg-up on impressive Lincoln winner Penitent in tomorrow's Diomed Stakes.
Trainer William Haggas has decided to take the plunge despite the four-year-old having a preference for soft ground. The likes of last year's Lockinge runner-up Alexandros, Luca Cumani's Mabait and Richard Fahey's improving Harrison George are also in the nine-runner line-up.
Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said yesterday that he was preparing to turn off the taps after minor watering maintained good ground.
Following 3.5mm of rain through Tuesday, a further 2mm of water was applied artificially yesterday, when dry weather and warm sunshine set the trend for a week that forecasts suggest could deliver temperatures of 26C on Derby day.
epsom Derby -- William Hill bet: 15/8 Jan Vermeer, 5/1 Workforce, 6/1 Bullet Train, 13/2 Midas Touch, 8/1 Rewilding, 11/1 Azmeel, 20/1 Coordinated Cut, 25/1 Al Zir, 33/1 bar