The Derby and Oaks Picture

May 16th, 2016 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

It seems that any three-year-old colt that wins a maiden over a mile or more impressively at the moment has done enough to warrant a Derby interest. Mind you, this may not surprise those of you who bought my Dark Horses Annual, in which you may recall the closing line of the Derby Preview reads:

‘As you may gather I have an open mind about this year’s Derby …. but it would not surprise me in the least if one of the unraced colts carried the day.’

A decision has not yet been made for a few of the leading contenders, although I think we can safely assume US Army Ranger will be one of Ballydoyle’s representatives. It would be most unusual for Aidan O’Brien to talk in such glowing terms about a colt for it not to take its chance in the race that matters so much to them.

The Gurkha was visually most impressive in winning Sunday’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains by five and a half lengths from First Selection, with just over a length covering the next six home. That performance suggests the winner was in a different class to his rivals, but to balance the case the time was almost a second slower than the fillies took in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches just 35 minutes earlier.

Of more concern is the colt’s pedigree. There are different ways of looking at this, but for me the colt runs like a miler – perhaps stretching to a mile and a quarter – and his pedigree suggests the Derby trip may prove beyond him. His two brothers were winners at two over seven furlongs and his dam, although related to an Arc winner, won a Group 3 over seven furlongs. Aidan O’Brien has stressed how much speed the colt has, adding that it was ‘always’ the idea to tackle the French Guineas and then the French Derby, over an extended mile and a quarter.

Between them Ryan Moore and Aidan O’Brien should have a very clear idea of the pecking order among the middle-distance colts. US Army Ranger was not convincing when beating the tenderly-ridden Port Douglas in the Chester Vase, in receipt of 4lb to boot, but there was much to like about the way the winner travelled and he left the impression there was plenty more improvement to come. Also this race was over an extended mile and a half.

I cannot imagine US Army Ranger missing the race, while Port Douglas surely has to take his chance as well.

Looking back to York’s Dante Stakes, it was no surprise to see Wings Of Desire prevail. Frankie Dettori was probably aware that Foundation was not going to run in the Derby so there was nothing to lose by getting a feel from Wings Of Desire. This extended mile and a quarter was the bare minimum for the winner, who looks to me like a strong galloper rather than a colt with a gear. As for the runner-up Deauville, he will have given Messrs Moore and O’Brien a guide to the quality of the Dante form.

I think it most unlikely that Minding will take her chance. If she does, then that would suggest O’Brien and his team don’t rate any of the traditional colts’ trials. Cloth of Stars, Moonlight Magic and Linguistic give Godolphin a strong hand – the last-named is the one I like the most – but the one that has rather crept up on us is Ulysses, who hacked up by eight lengths in a 1m 2f maiden at Newbury on Friday.

The ease of that victory did not surprise me in the least. As indicated in the Dark Horses I have known about the high regard in which the colt is held since last autumn, and my only surprise was that he was beaten by the exposed 83-rated Imperial Aviator in a Leicester maiden last month. That winner went a long way to enhancing the form when winning the competitive London Gold Cup by four and a half lengths off 85 on Saturday, suggesting that Ulysses will be rated in the high 90s when the new marks come out.

That is still a long way behind the level required to win a Derby, but the colt’s owners do not appear to have anything else to run for them and I expect him to stay the trip. It goes without saying that if Ryan Moore were to ride him then the colt would immediately be made favourite, but that is most unlikely to happen.

My view is that Sir Michael will assess things after the colt does another piece of work, probably at the weekend. I gather the colt has not been without his problems but whatever the plan, Ulysses is one of the most interesting prospects around at the moment.

As regards the Oaks, I still harbour doubts about Minding staying the trip. Her full sister Kissed By Angels was tailed off in the Irish Oaks on her sole attempt at a mile and a half, and her dam was best at trips from six furlongs to a mile.

News Monday evening: So Mi Dar is lame and misses the Oaks.

John Gosden is on record as saying he thinks the filly is ‘beyond exceptional’ – high praise indeed – but in So Mi Dar he has a filly that is bred to stay a mile and a half provided, and this is a major concern, that she learns to settle. There was much to like about the way she powered away in the closing stages of the Musidora, beating Fireglow by four lengths. That filly had finished four and a quarter lengths behind Minding in the Guineas just 10 days earlier, so on paper there is little between the two market leaders.

Ballydoyle is reported an unlikely runner if Minding goes to post. I loved the way she battled at Newmarket and expect her to take very high rank this summer, especially on the fast ground she relishes. I believe she should be running at Epsom.

Even Song remains interesting after a promising return to action at Newmarket while Turret Rocks is bred to stay more than most but has ground to find with the leading contenders.

At this stage I am with So Mi Dar in the Oaks and probably US Army Ranger for the Derby.

Bye for now