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O'Brien omits Santiago but still sends seven to Derby

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Strong hand: Aidan O’Brien

Strong hand: Aidan O’Brien

Strong hand: Aidan O’Brien

Aidan O'Brien will throw seven darts at Saturday's English Derby at Epsom, but Irish Derby winner Santiago is not one of them.

It had been mooted that Santiago would be turned out again seven days after his Curragh victory last Saturday but the Ascot winner's name was not entered by the Ballydoyle maestro who is bidding to claim an eighth success in the classic, which would set him apart on his own as the race's most succesful trainer.

Instead, O'Brien's seven possible runners are another Ascot winner in Russian Emperor, Irish Guineas runner-up Vatican City, Mogul, Amhran Na Bhfiann, Armory, Mythical and Serpentine.

English King and Kameko, first and second favourite respectively, head a field of 17 on a day when owners, restricted to two per horse, will be allowed on a racecourse for the first time this season.

Andrew Balding's Kameko was a clear-cut winner of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and he takes a leap up in trip, with stablemate and Goodwood winner Khalifa Sat also set to take his chance.

Pyledriver was one of the more popular winners during Royal Ascot for William Muir and he will aim to give Martin Dwyer a second win in the race following on from Sir Percy in 2006.

Highland Chief, Emissary, Gold Maze, Max Vega, Mohican Heights and Worthily complete the contenders.

English King's trainer Ed Walker admits it would be the culmination of a childhood ambition.

"Anyone who says they don't think about winning the Derby is surely lying," said Walker.

"I've been thinking about it since I discovered horseracing when I was 13 years old, so of course you think about it in this position. It would be a great day if it happened.

"It's been quite nice that we booked our ticket very early - it was only the fifth day of the season. It's been nice watching all the other trials and seeing who else is putting their hands up as Derby contenders.

"I always vowed I wouldn't run a horse in the Derby who didn't deserve his place, because we've all seen nice horses get ruined in the race.

Hopeful

"I'm very hopeful and confident he genuinely deserves to take his chance. Whether he's good enough, we'll find out, but I think he ticks a lot of boxes - and I think that's why he's at the top of the market."

Meanwhile, Ben Curtis, who is riding out of his skin in the north of England, will make his Derby debut on the Ascot winner Highland Chief.

Trained by Paul and Oliver Cole, the colt was ridden to victory at Ascot by Rossa Ryan but was due to be partnered by Andrea Atzeni at Epsom.

However, with Atzeni claimed to ride David Simcock's Mohican Heights, Curtis has been called up after a brilliant start to the season.

"The call came out of the blue but it was a nice call to get," said Curtis who also rode his first Royal Ascot winner earlier this month.

"I know the place well enough, I've watched the Derby often enough and it's an exciting ride to get particularly in a year like this. He couldn't have been more impressive in the last two furlongs at Ascot."

There will be two test fixtures at Southwell and Kempton tomorrow to pilot the re-introduction of owners to the racecourse.

They will have to undertake an online Covid-19 training module, answer a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken on arrival. They will then be restricted to a 'owner zone' - separate from the professionals - and have to arrive no sooner.

Irish Independent