The Derby Reflections

June 8th, 2016 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Even after going to great lengths to acquire an accurate appraisal of the ground at Epsom I have to concede that I probably got it wrong.

There is heavy ground, soft ground, good to soft ground, holding ground and, perhaps the hardest to assess of all, ‘tacky’ ground. The official description for Derby day was good to soft, with a penetrometer reading of 6.4, but the times for most of the races suggested it was slower than that.

I have not had sight of the sectional readings – unfortunately I missed James Willoughby’s discussion of his findings on RUK – but my conclusion based on a combination of factors, mostly from my visual reading of the race, is that the ground was tacky and suited to only a handful of horses.

The time of the race was 2m 40.09, which was the slowest since Teenoso clocked 2m 49.07 back in 1983. Since the first post-war Derby in 1946, only eight other horses have run slower than 2m 40sec.

Harzand went into Saturday’s race as one of just four colts to have won a race with the word ‘heavy’ in the going description, with both his victories run in such conditions. But for the rain and easing of the ground he would not have been in the field – something that was again in doubt a few hours before the race when he spread a plate and needed his front hoof iced.

Given this late scare I was surprised to see the market support for him – he was probably the best-backed horse in the race – but having relished the heavy ground in his maiden, beating the subsequent winner Sword Fighter by 16 lengths, and then his dour defeat of Idaho in the Ballysax Stakes, again on heavy ground, the softer the ground the more it was going to suit him.

In the race itself he was noticeably still green, wanting to lug right when switched to challenge, but he visibly found more when US Army Ranger reached his quarters and was the worthy winner at the line.

After winning the Ballysax, Pat Smullen was quoted as saying he thought Harzand would be “too big and heavy to go round Epsom.” To some extent that could have been the case, but the colt’s tenacity and stamina won the day.

In my view US Army Ranger will, on good ground, prove the superior of the two. He came from last turning for home and had to be switched for a run approaching the two furlong pole, eventually coming wide and passing almost every rival in the race bar the winner. The colt revealed genuine class and a turn of foot, which will see him to far greater effect on a flatter track and better ground.

Of the others Algometer still looked very green while Ulysses was travelling well for a long way before receiving a hefty bump, after which his rider was very easy on him. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him dropped to a mile and a quarter from now on. Expect him to thrive on quicker ground, when the turn of foot I believe he possesses will be seen as its potent best.

I have just published Part One of the Royal Ascot Bulletin Book, covering the first two days of the meeting. The book also includes notes on a dozen unraced two-year-olds to watch for and a handful of progressive handicappers, a few of them down to run on the support card.

Part Two will be published next Tuesday, covering days three, four and five and also including an update on my Premier List horses.

Bye for now