Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Wells running deep in Ballydoyle's Derby talent pool

There's a non-vintage feel to this year's Derby, writes Ian McClean

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that every institution is the extension of one man's shadow. Well, there is no greater institution in racing than The Derby -- the one (of now over 350 worldwide) where the definite article suffices without the need for 'Epsom' as a precursor.

This year's renewal has one shadow cast all over it. Sadler's Wells. He may be 29. He may not be as virile as he once was. He may never even have run in the race himself, but he is responsible, directly or indirectly, for seven of the first eight in the betting. Put another way, if Sadler's Wells didn't exist, then Azmeel would be odds-on for this year's edition of the most famous Flat race on the first Saturday in June.

And if the thoroughbred pre-eminence of the Sadler's Wells (and by further extension the Northern Dancer) dynasty is heavily underlined yet again in The Derby 2010, then the dominance is only slightly more predictable than the ownership pedigree of the major contenders -- with Azmeel once again being the interloper as the only candidate not owned by either Coolmore or Prince Abdullah.

It is a mercy for the opposition that Aidan O'Brien has been caught cold this spring and not made it out of the blocks too smartly. But for that he may have been responsible for even more than five of the first eight in the market, and have conquered more than two of the recognised trials (Derrinstown and Dante). God forbid he sets his alarm clock a little earlier next season.

Derby representation aside, there is something of a non-vintage feel to the 2010 line-up which will only be truly verified in the fullness of time. I mean, when you consider that at this stage last year we were tossing up Derby favouritism between brilliant 2,000 Guineas winner Sea The Stars, and a fairly invincible looking, unbeaten and highly touted Derrinstown-winning Fame And Glory -- with Johnny Murtagh's preferred Rip Van Winkle lurking appetisingly in the wings.

This year Murtagh appears again to be siding with a Guineas also-ran, arguing (after he had just run away with the Dante) that if the St Nicholas Abbey which won the Racing Post Trophy turns up in Surrey on June 5, then "the others will only be playing for place money."

As a Derby trial, the 2,000 Guineas has yielded three Derby winners in the last decade (Sir Percy, New Approach and Sea The Stars) and the logic that St Nicholas Abbey will be far better suited to the extra half mile is irrefutable given his sire Montjeu has never produced a top-class miler. Mind you, this is at odds with reports that St Nicholas had been clocking faster sectionals than Ballydoyle's best milers in recent years and makes the Guineas performance all the more perplexing, or indeed forgivable.

The Derby favourite's supporters will reasonably argue that the pedestrian early pace at Newmarket did for his chances, but if anything the pace at Doncaster -- where St Nic sat last for most of the journey -- was even more funereal and it didn't stop the son of Montjeu from blinding his opponents for speed there. So the jury's out then, while Murtagh's keeping faith even if, by his own admission, "I've not got it right the last couple of years."

Murtagh spoke well of Dante winner Cape Blanco, liking his temperament and his versatility ground-wise as well as his turn of foot, but even the jockey has reservations about a colt whose dam was an out-and-out five furlong specialist. Even though the Dante has thrown up three subsequent Derby winners this last decade (Authorized, Motivator and North Light), it has also had its turkeys -- none more recent than Black Bear Island from Ballydoyle last year which could manage only tenth at Epsom and failed to win again afterwards. However, whatever about Dante winners, no horse beaten in the Dante has ever gone on to Epsom glory. In that breath, Workforce struck me as a horse which would be ill at ease on the Epsom gradients -- especially on

faster ground. I would be little surprised if the maiden winner is held in abeyance in favour of fellow Prince Abdullah owned Bullet Train which won an uncompetitive Lingfield Derby Trial off an easy lead. Bullet Train is progressing along the right lines but his form (beaten previously by a filly unplaced in a fillies listed contest at Newbury on Friday) leaves him plenty to find.

It is hard to rate the four-runner Derrinstown form with O'Brien's Midas Touch just prevailing from Dermot Weld's Address Unknown off a blistering pace. While the lingering doubt over Cape Blanco is stamina, it is the opposite issue with Midas Touch. He was twice beaten last season by stablemate Jan Vermeer, which is struggling to make the gig and is unlikely to be asked to debut in the Surrey cauldron.

Ironically, Simon de Montford, the only horse quoted by Tom Segal (Pricewise) which "could just be a class above the O'Brien battalions" is not even entered at Epsom at this stage and therefore would need to be supplemented. He is owned by Godolphin, trained in France by Andre Fabre and has won four of his five races to date, ridden each time by that household name (in his own household, that is) Mickael Barzalona. He may never line up. He may never land a blow.

But you'd nearly whip round yourself for the supplement just to hear the commentator get his knickers knotted up with Messi Micky Barcelona ending in amongst the carousels round Tattenham Corner on Derby Day and comfort yourself that Sadler's Wells didn't, after all, dominate the headlines.

Sunday Independent

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