By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
Epsom. Where champions are crowned. Where dreams are achieved.
Twelve colts will contest the prestigious Cazoo Derby at 4:30 on Saturday 5th June 2021. One will win. One will join some of the greatest thoroughbreds in the Derby’s illustrious role of honour.
We need to see a superstar.
Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore only have one representative – Bolshoi Ballet. Last year, they had six and, in 2019, they had seven. Coolmore has been one of the Derby’s biggest supporters. The tide in the bloodstock world seems to be turning towards speedier pedigrees and horses that will be out contesting the best races at two. The coronavirus pandemic will have contributed to this attitude shift as many people have taken a huge financial hit and very few establishments can afford to be as patient as Coolmore with their stock.
It appears that they aren’t firing unnecessary darts at the board. However, many people would probably have considered recent winners Wings Of Eagles and Serpentine as ‘unnecessary darts’ before the race. Instead, they are seeking out alternative races. High Definition was extremely well-fancied for the Derby but goes to the Irish equivalent.
Prize money could be a factor. The winner’s prize for the Derby is £637,988, which is excellent, much more than 2020. St Mark’s Basilica and Van Gogh are heading to the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly, which offers a whopping £736,536 (converted from euros) to the winning connections. If anything, a winner of the one mile, two and a half furlong Prix Du Jockey Club might be a more attractive stallion prospect than a Derby winner. Wings Of Eagles has already been pigeon-holed as a national hunt sire.
Maybe, simply, Bolshoi Ballet is just too good to need any other representatives. He’s a brilliant looking colt, by Galileo and out of Alta Anna. She’s unraced but the dam of two-mile hurdle winner Palm Beach and one mile six group winner, Southern France. Bolshoi Ballet started his career in October finishing third when very green. At Leopardstown next time, he won by four lengths with four subsequent winners in the race. He finished fifth in a Saint-Cloud group one, following in Gear Up, on heavy ground. This season, he returned to Leopardstown with an excellent reappearance, winning by two and a quarter lengths. Unfortunately, the form of that race hasn’t worked out especially well but, contrastingly, his Derrinstown Derby Trial success has thrown up Mac Swiney, who won the Irish 2000 Guineas, and Fernando Vichi, who won the listed Nijinsky Stakes on Thursday. It takes a tough horse with stamina to win this and Bolshoi Ballet has a brilliant chance for Aidan O’Brien.
Just one runner from Ballydoyle has led to a shake up in jockey bookings. It’s believed that Frankie Dettori turned down the ride on John Leeper in favour of the Aidan O’Brien second string (High Definition). As a result, Adam Kirby was called up to partner John Leeper. He did multiple interviews outlining his chances on the colt and his excitement at having live chances in both the Oaks and the Derby. When Aidan O’Brien announced that he was just going to run Bolshoi Ballet, connections of John Leeper replaced Kirby with Dettori.
It’s a bit like déjá vu – Tom Marquand was taken off English King in favour of Frankie Dettori with Marquand going on to finish second and English King fifth. I’m not going to pretend I know how this was handled by connections personally but on face value it seems unfair. Connections want to give their horse the best chance so they booked Dettori. However, I strongly believe that Adam Kirby is one of the best jockeys riding but doesn’t get the opportunities.
The saga doesn’t finish there. At declarations on Thursday, Kirby was called up to ride Adayar, who was meant to be ridden by Oisin Murphy. Kirby has a roughly 30% strike rate for Charlie Appleby and does a bit of pre-training for the team. Now, Murphy, the Champion Jockey, has to sit out.
Horse racing is a competitive, elite sport. However, this changing around of jockeys does create the impression that there is very little loyalty within this industry. It doesn’t present flat racing in a particularly good light to a youngster wanting to get involved with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities being snatched away like that – all jockeys dream of riding a single-figure priced horse in the Derby.
So, is John Leeper’s chance worth all of the fuss? Being out of the English and Irish Oaks winner Snow Fairy and by Frankel, he’s the exciting unknown quantity in the race and his name relates to the trainer’s father John Dunlop. After one start at two, finishing fourth, he went to Newcastle and won by four lengths. The run that launched him into the Derby picture was at Newmarket in the Fairway Stakes. He was enthusiastic and verging on keen but managed to dictate a small, inferior field. Ideally, he wouldn’t be as keen in the Derby and he has had an experience of the track under Kirby at the gallops morning last week. He’s yet to tackle a group race environment and he will have to make a step forward from last time.
Kirby now rides Godolphin third-string Adayar. By Frankel and out of a group three winning Dubawi mare, he was beaten six and three quarter lengths to be fourth on debut when a lot of things went wrong. Two weeks later, he absolutely romped in by nine lengths at Nottingham on soft ground. On his three-year-old debut, he was second, staying on, in the Sandown Classic Trial over one mile two and he finished second yet again in the Lingfield Derby Trial to Third Realm. He stayed well that day but he has been slowly away on three of his four starts and he definitely doesn’t want to get caught too far back. The cut in the ground will benefit him.
One Ruler is another of the Godolphin challengers. He was well-fancied in the lead up to the 2000 Guineas but William Buick chose Master Of The Seas and then One Ruler was beaten five lengths with everything happening too quickly. He was a good two-year-old, winning the Autumn Stakes and finishing three quarters of a length behind Mac Swiney in the group one Vertem Futurity. He’s stepping up half a mile in trip and, as his dam was a talented miler, the trip is a slight concern, even though he will love the ground.
William Buick picked Hurricane Lane out of the Godolphin trio. This colt is unbeaten after winning by two lengths on his debut in a ‘future stayers’ novice stakes. Then, in mid-April, he won by a hard-fought length in a conditions race over one mile two at Newbury. He kept on really strongly to win the Dante and showed an excellent attitude. On pedigree, there are no doubts that he will stay – his full brother has won over one mile four and their dam is a three times winner over two miles.
Gear Up was fifth, beaten five and a half lengths, in the Dante, which is his only three-year old outing so far. He won his first two starts: one in novice company and the next in the Acomb. He was fourth on good ground over a mile after that. In October, he went to Saint-Cloud for a group one. He made the running on the heavy surface with Bolshoi Ballet racing in second. Bolshoi Ballet ended up fifth but Gear Up won in game style. He will love it if it keeps raining but last time out is a slight concern on the stamina front.
Jim Bolger bred Gear Up out of a mare who never won with Teofilo. His half-brother Guaranteed was fifth in the 2019 Irish Derby. Bolger’s actual representative is Mac Swiney, who he bred, trains and owns. Mac Swiney has an illustrious CV and has his ninth career start. This horse intrigues me – his form figures are 51918141. He never backs up a win. His best performances at two were in the group two Futurity Stakes on soft ground at the Curragh, and he was something of a surprise winner at Doncaster in the Vertem Futurity where he won strongly beating One Ruler. On his first start this season, he was suffering from a respiratory issue when finishing fourth to Bolshoi Ballet in the Derrinstown. He’d obviously got over it next time when he was an incredibly brave winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas on heavy ground. The rain will make conditions perfect for him. He should stay as his half brother by a Dewhurst winner stays just further than one mile four. It would be great if Jim Bolger could get another classic winner with this son of New Approach, who Bolger and Kevin Manning teamed up with to win the Derby in 2008.
The last of the three Irish runners to mention is Sea The Stars colt Southern Lights for Joseph O’Brien, who won the race twice as a jockey. He was only beaten a head on debut and managed to win stepped up in trip in April by two and a bit lengths, beating two subsequent winners. Last time out, he was sixth in the Derrinstown and he got checked in the straight so the jockey eased him down. He’s out of a once-raced Kingmambo mare. There isn’t a large representation of stamina on the dam’s side but Sea The Stars won the Derby himself.
Southern Lights is one of three Sea The Stars colts with Third Realm the pick of them. He started his career by finishing fifth but, this season, won by one and a quarter lengths in a class five maiden at Nottingham. He handled the step up to listed company in the Lingfield Derby Trial, beating Adayar. He was a great winner. It has been reported that he isn’t the flashiest worker at home but the run at Lingfield suggests he will stay. He’s related to multiple black-type performers at a range of distances.
David Egan rode Third Realm to win the Lingfield Derby Trial but Andrea Atzeni gets back on board. As a result, he partners rank-outsider Mojo Star. This horse has had just two starts for Amo Racing and Richard Hannon. In October, he had his first start when beaten a nose at Newbury. He was beaten half a length at the same track next time, keeping on over the one mile two trip. He’s related to two listed winners at one mile two so the stamina for that extra two furlongs is an unknown. He has the best draw of them all in 10 and you have to feel for Rossa Ryan, who is the retained rider for the owners but recovering from a broken collar bone.
Youth Spirit is a massive price and he probably shouldn’t be. He made his debut over seven furlongs at Haydock before winning over the same trip on soft ground at the Newmarket July course. The form of that race is as strong as it possibly could be with the eight runners in behind winning nine races between them. Next time, he was three and a quarter lengths behind Battleground and, for his seasonal reappearance, he was fourth in the Fielden Stakes. Connections pushed him up three furlongs in trip to run in the group three Chester Vase and he absolutely relished the test. There are no doubts about his stamina and this son of Camelot has an excellent each-way chance.
Last to mention is Mohaafeth, whose participation is in jeopardy as the rain fell in bucket-loads at Epsom on Oaks Day. He wants rattling quick ground. He was beaten by Belloccio on debut. This horse was subsequently eight lengths behind Adayar and eleven lengths behind Hurricane Lane in the Dante. The form gives him a bit to find but he won a novice and a handicap at the start of the season. Last time, he won a listed race over one mile two furlongs on good to firm. His ability to stay one mile four has to be questioned if the ground is testing.
In conclusion, Youth Spirit is my each way fancy as he will definitely stay and Hurricane Lane and Adayar will hopefully run well too. However, my main selection is BOLSHOI BALLET. I know he’s the favourite and, if anything, he’s probably too short but I really like this horse. He’s very versatile and will stay well. We need a superstar and he has the potential. One horse that can mix it with the top middle-distance performers. As much as I adore Serpentine, he hasn’t backed up the brilliant Epsom success. The division is for the taking.