The Epsom Conundrum
May 25th, 2023 | Marten's Current Racing Diary
Given the open shape of the market before the Dante Stakes at York last Thursday – they ended up 9/2 the field – there was always the prospect of the race adding little clarity to an already opaque Derby picture.
As you were aware from last week’s preview I was very keen on The Foxes for this race. Andrew Balding had told anyone who listened that this had been a prime target for the colt, possibly mindful that the son of Churchill might struggle to stay the Derby trip.
The colt’s Royal Lodge form tied in favourably with subsequent Group 1 winner and creditable Guineas fifth Dubai Mile, while his runner-up placing in the Craven Stakes over an inadequate mile would have put an edge on him.
Yet trying, as always, to be impartial I have to concede that the dead-heat third home Passenger looked unlucky not to win. Richard Kingscote never saw daylight in the final quarter mile and once clear his mount stayed on to finish third, coming home well in a strongly-run race.
I think that I discerned just a hint of a change of gear when he found space, but he was not given a hard time once it was clear that the race was lost.
The son of Ulysses looked as if he would stay further and there is encouragement in that regard to be found from his pedigree, being the second foal of a half-sister to a 1m 4f winner with a full brother who over 1m 3f in Italy.
This was only his second race and given his trainer’s customary patient approach in his handling of such types we can expect significant improvement at Epsom subject, of course, to the payment of the £85,000 supplementary fee required to enable him to run in the Derby.
As an aside, it is not like Sir Michael Stoute to get caught unawares by an unexposed horse of this calibre. This bolsters the argument that this is a colt of hidden potential.
If Passenger is supplemented, and the reports from the Heath remain positive, then it would not surprise me to see his odds halve from the current 7/1, especially if Auguste Rodin proves weak. He could become the gamble of the race.
Moving along to the winner, there seems to be a view held by some that The Foxes may not stay the trip at Epsom.
Oisin Murphy said after the race that the colt “has a lot of speed” – a phrase that is often cryptically employed to raise doubts on the score of stamina – but I believe he will last home. Whether he stays on as well as others depends on a number of factors.
We know a lot about his family – he is the 13th foal of his dam, who stayed a mile and a half, and his full sister Perotan won a Listed race over 1m 6f. Bangkok, his three-parts brother, compromised his potential over that trip due to an excitable temperament.
Of more concern to those, like me, who have backed The Foxes for Epsom is that Passenger has every chance of making up the deficit with the winner – a neck and a length and a quarter, which equates to just 2lbs over a mile and a half.
Looking over the water, the other day I described Aidan O’Brien as a ‘sleeping giant’.
He is quietly getting a line to the strength of the three-year-old middle-distance division and his customary policy in such open years is to go into the Derby mob-handed.
He left eight colts in the race at the latest declaration stage but remains adamant that Auguste Rodin is his prime candidate, and it would be inconceivable for Ryan Moore to undermine his employer by deserting him.
Yet the colt’s form is rocky. Apart from that flop in the Guineas, his Futurity Stakes form through Epictetus is now flawed and his position in the market is owed primarily to his reputation.
I cannot see Military Order forfeiting his status as favourite – proven over the trip and a full brother to Derby winner Adayar – while an easing of the ground, together with the ‘Frankie factor’, could see market strength building up behind Arrest, who apparently pleased connections when working around Epsom on Monday.
With good judges keen on Irish challengers Sprewell and White Birch, this year’s Derby poses one of the greatest puzzles of recent times. It could be a race of fine margins, with luck in running and jockeyship having a greater bearing than usual.
Looking to the fillies, I was most impressed with the manner in which Soul Sister travelled and then quickened – ‘twice’, in the view of Frankie Dettori – in the Musidora Stakes. She is bred to stay the trip at Epsom and I expect her to usurp Savethelastdance as favourite.
Infinite Cosmos had plenty of use made of her given her inexperience but even under more patient tactics I am not sure she can reduce the virtual five-lengths’ deficit with the winner, while Running Lion may go to France.
It’s possible that the winner of the Oaks may prove superior to the Derby winner but that will be revealed in the fullness of time.
There is much to ponder upon in this great conundrum and you can read my final analysis of the two Classics next Thursday evening as part of the Daily Bulletin service. I’ve been in good form lately and you can join this service just for Epsom, the month of June (which will obviously incorporate Royal Ascot) or any dates of your choosing.
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Bye for now