Epsom Derby

Epsom Derby

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


The Investec Derby's field size is much bigger than usual. So, too, could be the starting price of the winner.

The 19-runner turnout is a clear indicator this is a far from vintage Derby.

Well over the half the field is made up of horses trained by Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden. Going into the race it looks unlikely either man believes he is sending a real superstar to Epsom.

I remember John Magnier once saying in relation to a previous Derby that if Coolmore felt they had a standout candidate they wouldn't be bringing a big team from Ireland. Similarly, if John Gosden thought he had another Golden Horn on his hands, I very much doubt he would be saddling five horses.

That doesnt make ir a bad Derby just is really is a wide-open Derby and with 19 horses coming out of the stalls it is almost certain to be a properly rough race. Plenty of the horses appear to have the same sort of chance and plenty of the jockeys will want to be in the same place at the same time.

A horse like Dubai Thunder, who has just one run to his name, won't know what's hit him.

An animal contesting a handicap for the first time often gets stage fright - yet this is a different ball game to that altogether. There are always exceptions to every rule. Lammtarra and Morston won the Derby off the back of a single outing, but those exceptions are few and far between. On top of that, Dubai Thunder came up the centre of the track on his own at Newbury. That was more like a piece of work than a race.

The draw is also going to be a factor. In an ideal world you definitely wouldn't want to be berthed in one or two, the stalls Dubai Thunder and The Anvil have landed. From those boxes you're down in a hole at the bottom of the track, you're on the wrong side for the first bend, which is right-handed, and you also have to climb more of the hill than the horses drawn high.

You would always fancy whatever Ryan Moore selects, so Cliffs Of Moher must have a big chance, and I did like the way he won at Chester. However, it wouldn't shock me at all if the 2017 Derby winner was living next door to us.

I think Sylvester Kirk's Salouen has a great chance. He ran Khalidi to a neck on his reappearance in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket, so if Khalidi has a chance then Salouen has a chance - and following his impressive victory at Goodwood last week I do think Khalidi has a chance.

The fact John Gosden was prepared to let Khalidi be supplemented when he already had four horses in the race suggests to me he must fancy the colt's prospects more than the betting would have us believe. Even so, there is very little between Khalidi and Salouen, a great-moving horse who should stay well. Canford Cliffs' best horses seem to be getting a trip. I reckon Salouen will fit

I wouldn't be certain Eminent will stay 1m4f. Cracksman and Permian's form ties them very closely together, but so does the form of Khalidi and Salouen. At much bigger prices I would prefer to be backing those two.

The Diore Lia saga has been an unwelcome and unnecessary sideshow to the Investec Derby build-up.

I have never felt a total no-hoper should be allowed to run in the top races. There should be a panel of BHA handicappers who decide if a horse is suitably talented for the event in question. That said, with a race like the Derby, you couldn't simply bar a horse because he or she was a twice-raced maiden. In those two runs the horse might have performed to a Racing Post Rating comparable to a horse lining up with winning form. That's why a panel of experts would be the best way of judging matters.

Diore Lia has finished miles behind the principals in her two maidens. The suggestion from Richard Aylward that the filly is going to run "a very good race" is a flight of fancy. Nor should the charity angle be relevant. Mr Aylward would have been better off donating the money he has paid in entry fees.

Gina Mangan should never have been put in the position of being jocked up for Diore Lia. I also wouldn't want to be Paddy Pilley at around 4.30pm.

If I was riding in the Derby and was drawn next to Diore Lia, my intention would be to make sure she didn't get in my way. I'm confident any other rider up against Diore Lia would feel the same. That's because the jockeys will be fearful of the damage she could do. I would be horrified if I was climbing the hill on a fancied runner in fourth or fifth and was sat behind a 1000-1 shot, or a horse who ought to be a 1,000-1 shot.

Don't believe for a second that a horse like Diore Lia could not end up in a prominent position in the early stages. Even if Patrick intends to keep her out of everyone else's way, she could jump fast and run free for the first hundred yards. Then the race is in real trouble because everyone would be trying to eliminate her. That's basic race-riding.

In terms of Gina's situation, I remember when I started riding as an apprentice in Ireland there was a rule about inexperienced jockeys not being permitted to take part in premier handicaps. I was once ruled out of the Irish Lincolnshire for that reason.

The leap from a maiden to handicap is significant in terms of how a race is ridden. From a handicap to a Group 1 there's also a difference, because, generally speaking, all the horses jump quickly and are able to get a position. The importance of every aspect of the rider's job is magnified. Mistakes and misfortune become so much more costly.

People have been saying someone like Gina could have ridden in the Dash without any interference from the BHA. The difference is the whole racing world will not be looking at the Dash. They will be looking at the Derby - and for good reason.

The Derby is more than just a race. It is our pinnacle. It's what the entire sport and industry is built on. There are millions of pounds and people's jobs are at stake. We have to look at the bigger picture. For a horse with no obvious chance to get in the way and potentially ruin the Derby would be unforgivable.

Tuesday was a sad day for the yard as we lost a horse in action for the first time.

Cultured Knight had been with us for nearly two years. He wasn't a superstar, but he was a lovely, kind horse who we valued very much. In 11 races he had only twice finished out of the first four - and even then he was no worse than fifth. We knew him as well as we know any of the lads at Weathercock House.

He would no doubt have run with credit at Lingfield but luck was not on his side as he suffered a terrible injury from which he could not be saved.

I was there to support his owners, Ray Greatorex and Don Churston, who were understandably very upset. So, too, was everyone connected to Culture, including Frankie Ammat, who went down the track to hold him. Frankie drives the horses to the races and then brings them home. Spending so much time with the horses she understandably becomes attached to them. To not bring a horse home is a odd, horrible feeling, as is looking at the empty stable the next day.

I'm afraid to say that is what sometimes happens. We have lost Culture, but he won't be forgotten.