By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
Unfortunately, there is no royal representative in the Derby in 2022, the year of the Platinum Jubilee, and the Queen will not be making the pilgrimage to Epsom to watch the most coveted British Classic. This year, the race is named after one of the greatest jockeys off all time, Lester Piggott, who sadly passed away earlier in the week.
Recent Derby winners have had mixed fortunes since landing this prestigious contest. Ruler Of The World has already sired a Derby winner, Wings Of Eagles, who has already been pigeon-holed as a National Hunt sire. Serpentine has even been denied a place at stud after being gelded in Australia earlier on in the year. Last year’s winner, Adayar, pictured above, went on to win the King George and remains an exciting prospect for this season. It seems like the motivation for Derby glory is still there and seventeen runners are set to head to post for this year’s renewal to honour Lester’s memory and it looks to be a cracker for Her Majesty to enjoy from the comfort of Windsor Castle.
The Fielden Stakes at Newmarket in April could potentially be a good hint to the chances of Masakela and Sonny Liston. They raced at a dawdling pace and it was won by Eydon, who is a sad absentee from the Derby and had a turn of foot that the other runners couldn’t cope with. Masakela hung right, finishing second, and Sonny Liston dropped out tamely. It is going to be interesting to see how these two horses handle a mile and a half. Masakela will be more suited to this trip. He is out of a winner at this distance by Doyen, who is known for his National Hunt progeny. His sire is El Kabeir, an American miler, and, currently, he is the best of his progeny. It is a big deal for him to have a Derby runner from his first crop. Masakela has some excellent two-year-old form, having finished behind Native Trail, Royal Patronage and Coroebus and beat Bayside Boy. He was upset in the stalls, leading to him being withdrawn before the Dante so he comes into this race off the back of an absence of fifty-one days.
Sonny Liston showed much more in his next race, the Dee Stakes at Epsom. He was drawn wide in six and, from this particular start, it meant that he was locked on the outside with no cover down the home straight. He scuttled around the first bend after Marco Ghiani managed to anchor him at the back of the field. He was snatched off heels a couple of times on the way round and he was pushed wide, once again, in the straight. He finished off the race well and there’s plenty of stamina in his pedigree to suggest he will get further. Tom Marquand gets on the horse for the first time and he has a record of five winners from twenty-eight rides for Charlie Hills.
The Dee Stakes was won by Star Of India. He seems a really straightforward individual. He was nestled on the inside rail and Ryan stretched him out and he – head bowed – galloped strongly through the line. He started his career in October at Leopardstown over seven furlongs and he had to be ever so slightly encouraged to pick up the bridle in fourth place. But, when he got daylight, he gradually progressed into the lead, putting it to bed in a matter of strides to be an eased down, two and a half-length winner. The only blip on his record is the Craven on his second start where he was encouraged to make the pace and he was first to be pushed along, dropping out to be fifth. His chilled-out attitude could be an asset at Epsom. He isn’t particularly fast and the trip looks ideal.
Star Of India’s stablemate Changingoftheguard (who would be a fitting winner for the Jubilee) struggled in maidens, well-fancied on all three starts. River Thames beat him on his third outing and that horse has since been well-beaten by Westover, albeit getting upset in the stalls beforehand. Changingoftheguard has looked much improved as a three-year-old, stepped up in trip and being raced more prominently. He won at Dundalk by six lengths in a six-runner event in April and that earned him a place in the Chester Vase field. There were only four runners with 4/11 favourite New London holding many people’s hopes. However, Changingoftheguard bounded into the lead. Ryan Moore gave him a momentary breather and allowed the chasing pack to move closer to his tail, before kicking him on at the five-furlong pole and, in the end, asserting by well over six lengths. This horse is a gorgeous, bold galloper and seemingly stays all day. 14/1 for the St Leger is not the worst price in the world and it will be significantly shorter if he puts in a positive showing at Epsom, with cheekpieces applied first time.
The pace of this race is a fascinating conundrum with Changingoftheguard seemingly benefitting from being ridden more prominently but this is also the position that stablemate Stone Age has assumed through his career. Placed on his first two starts in maidens, he was dropped into group two company and only beaten a neck in September, before finishing sixth of nine behind Angel Bleu on Arc weekend. He was second in a group one at Saint-Cloud and, for those three races, he didn’t lead. He went to Navan at the end of March to get a win under his belt and he did so by nine lengths, popping out of the stalls and straight into the lead. He was sweaty that day and enthusiastic in the lead. It was simple as simple can be and he won by nine lengths. In the Leopardstown Derby Trial, he led and it looked like they could never be going quite fast enough for Ryan Moore. Glory Daze raced comfortably disputing third until the three furlong pole when he started to be pushed along. Stone Age asserted dominantly for a scintillating performance, confirming himself as a lead Derby player.
However, in behind, Glory Daze ran with great credit after looking out-paced to claw back second place from French Claim. Andrew Oliver has had group two and group three winners and he has sent over fifteen runners to England, but none since 2013 and only one winner. It must be so exciting for the team to have a runner in the Derby. He was purchased for just £3000 at the Goffs Sportsman Yearling Sale at Doncaster in 2020. Oliver had bought his brother in the previous year’s sales season and there is plenty of black-type on his page, but his dam never won a race. He is from the first crop of Cotai Glory, who was an extremely fast sprinter. Only one of his progeny has raced at one mile four to date and that is Myriad for Richard Hughes, placing on one of two starts at the trip. Glory Daze ran at a decent level as a two-year-old and was extremely unlucky in the Eyrefield Stakes in October. His maiden win in the Curragh was good and hopefully he puts up a good performance for connections.
On the other end of the spectrum, Derby favourite Desert Crown cost a massive £280,000 at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale (Book 2) in 2020. He made a perfect start when visually impressive at Nottingham in November. They went a fast gallop and he raced on the outside of the leader, enthusiastic rather than keen. He dropped back to third and was slightly urged along for a small section of the race, green more than anything. They came down the middle of the track, with Richard Kingscote keeping him buried behind the leaders. He switched out before the two-furlong pole and was momentarily locked into a battle with Schmillsson, who has convincingly won a maiden at Bath since, before asserting to a five-length victory, albeit looking green.
A son of Nathaniel, he is already the second-best flat progeny behind Enable for the stallion, who produces all kinds of horses and gives a healthy dose of stamina, siring the likes of Kitty’s Light and Kaizer, who stay well over three miles. His dam, Dream Berry, won a Lingfield maiden and produced Sha Tin group three winner Flying Thunder, earning his connections a cool £185,435, just short of double what Desert Crown received for landing the Dante stakes, a group two and well-respected Derby trial. He was buried amongst horses in that race, but Kingscote kept his hands off his neck and had to urge him to an extent to keep his position. He cruised into the lead but Royal Patronage wouldn’t lie down easily. Kingscote gave him a couple of taps around the tale and slaps down the neck, before switching his whip into the other hand. The horse hung under the drive and that would be a concern at Epsom because of the camber of the track – any shifts in either direction will just be accentuated. His form from only his two races has not been the strongest. Workforce won the Derby on his third start for Sir Michael Stoute and he was not even unbeaten.
Royal Patronage looks to emulate recent winners Masar and Anthony Van Dyck by winning on his ninth start, having been purchased from Tattersalls October Yearling Sale (Book 1) in 2020 for £62,000. Highclere won the 1000 Guineas with Cachet, but Royal Patronage has been a real flagbearer for the team over the last twelve months. On his third start, he made all around Epsom over seven furlongs and followed that up with wins in the Acomb and Royal Lodge. In the latter event, he beat 2000 Guineas winner Coroebus and he is the only horse to ever do so. He was struck into at Doncaster in the Vertem Futurity Trophy when he came last. He began his season in the 2000 Guineas when he ran much better than his eighth place suggested. He was bang there until about three quarters of a furlong from home before fading when the top four accelerated. It suggested he would benefit from a step up in trip and that was evidenced in the Dante too. He just couldn’t cope with the change of gear Desert Crown showed. His dam is a half sibling to an Irish Derby third. Royal Patronage has a wonderful attitude and is sure to try his best.
Hoo Ya Mal also came out of the Book 2 Sale for £60,000. He has been remarkably consistent for connections and has some strong form. He was third to group one winner El Bodegon on debut, before winning comfortably at York. He ran in the Flying Scotsman Stakes, only beaten a nose by Noble Truth after starting poorly. Since then, Noble Truth has finished four and quarter lengths ahead of Stone Age at Longchamp. As a three-year-old, Hoo Ya Mal has been beaten five lengths by Native Trail and he was seven lengths behind Nations Pride in the Newmarket Stakes. He was held up and raced enthusiastically in his green hood, unable to quicken when Nations Pride asserted. Marco Ghiani has ridden this horse – and Sonny Liston – all season so it is a tough blow for him to be displaced by other riders. Hoo Ya Mal is a half sibling to grade three winning chaser Really Super so stamina shouldn’t be a problem.
Nations Pride heads the Goldolphin trio. Out of a listed winner and from the same cross (Teofilo x Oasis Dream) as Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment, he has only even been beaten by one horse: Millennium Moon at Yarmouth when he hung left throughout. After this, he absolutely bolted up at Lingfield and Chelmsford in October and November. In the winter, he went to Meydan and won over one mile two by three and a quarter lengths. In the Newmarket Stakes, he quickened instantaneously under hands and heels. He went clearly into the lead and dawdled somewhat once he was there. A lovely big horse, he is the pick of William Buick. Charlie Appleby has had only nine runners since Native Trail won the Irish 2000 Guineas two weeks ago and his filly in the 1000 Guineas was last.
Adam Kirby rode the winner in 2021 for Charlie Appleby on Adayar and he partners Nahanni this year. This chestnut son of Frankel only made his debut in January and cheekpieces were on first time, when second to his stablemate over the Derby trip. He won next time under Kirby, making all, before hacking up at Leicester by nine lengths. He stays absolutely all day but connections dropped him to one mile and two furlongs for the Blue Ribband Trial, where he became acquainted with Grand Alliance, who runs in this.
Nahanni was a step slow away, but William Buick rousted him into the lead and Grand Alliance was pushed along to get his position. He basically slipstreamed the Godolphin colt a few lengths behind on the rail. This became something of an issue when James Doyle had to sit and suffer in behind Nahanni, until a gap opened on the rail and Grand Alliance sneaked up his inner. He didn’t have the substance to pass and Nahanni was never headed, winning cosily.
Grand Alliance is from the first crop of Churchill, who did not quite stay one mile two himself. A suggestion of stamina is that his dam is a half sibling to a two-mile winner under National Hunt rules. Charlie Fellowes’ colt only started out in December and he did not have the pace for a mile at Wolverhampton and Newcastle. He went on to win at Chelmsford and Doncaster in February and March. Grand Alliance is partnered by Danny Tudhope, who is in flying form, and the fact that he has competed at the track is a massive advantage.
In the Blue Ribband Trial, United Nations was fourth and he went on to win the Lingfield Derby Trial. This puts the final Godolphin horse to mention, Walk Of Stars, with ground to make up on Nahanni and Grand Alliance. On literal form, he has two and three quarter lengths to make up with Nahanni and two and a quarter lengths with Grand Alliance. However, he is the pick of James Doyle, who rode Coroebus and Cachet to Guineas success earlier in the year, and I have heard plenty of interesting whispers about this horse. He was second in the Lingfield Derby Trial just like Adayar, but the fact that O’Brien is not running United Nations does reduce the attractiveness of this horse’s chances. He ran an odd race in the trial – he dwelt coming out of the stalls; was keen; hung right and even swerved over the line. He will need to be much more professional at Epsom as he will not get away with it there.
The start went wrong for Frankie Dettori in the Oaks and connections of Piz Badile will be hoping he can be seen to better effect after they asked him to ride the horse. He is an exciting runner for Donnacha O’Brien and the Narchios Family have owned his family for generations. His granddam, Shiva, won the Earl Of Sefton and Tattersalls Gold Cup in 1999 and Brigadier Gerard in 2000 for Sir Henry Cecil. His dam was a listed winner and he managed to win at Killarney over a mile on debut. Next time, he was second to Duke De Sessa by half a length, when suffering interference. At Leopardstown in early April, he was mid division and nipped through the inner into the lead. However, Buckaroo, a subsequent listed winner, did nose ahead of him, but he fought back. Since then, Buckaroo has won a listed race and Duke De Sessa has been over nine lengths behind Stone Age and well-beaten by Native Trial, which translates to Piz Badile having a bit to find.
The last main trial to mention is the Sandown bet365 Classic Trial, which was won by Westover. It was this trial that Adayar, who is by Frankel as well, raced in on his penultimate start before the Derby. Westover won on debut as a two-year-old, looking a bit fiddly off a slow pace, but he battled really smartly. Strangely, next time he was keen and sweaty, seemingly remembering the exciting experience from last time and wanting to get on with the job. In the closing stages, his head was quite high and he seemed to be grabbing at the ground, hanging in behind the winner. He got hot and was buried amongst horses next time at Pontefract. The ground was pretty terrible that day and he was all over the place down the straight. He actually fought back to only go down a neck, but the horse who beat him has not won since. Westover is a battler, that is for sure. He hung left when making his challenge and but powered past the third horse and Cash was running on for second. His pedigree suggests he wants further.
West Wind Blows would be a fairy tale winner for local boy Jack Mitchell, who had a great spin round on Rogue Millenium in the Oaks on Friday. His mount in this is unbeaten and made his debut on the 28th December, winning by half a length. One winner has come out of the race. West Wind Blows wore a hood that day, suggesting he is buzzy. He was intended to run for the first time as a three-year-old in April at Newbury against Walk Of Stars with both horses wearing red hoods to post. However, he decided to throw off Ryan Moore and gallop off around the track, so he was withdrawn. He ran brilliantly next time out, though. He led from pillar to post and remained strong and tenacious at the end. He is unexposed.
The most unexposed of the field is El Habeeb to be partnered by the oldest jockey in the race, John Egan. This horse has raced just once and was supplemented into the race. He is drawn in number 13 with Star Of India, Changingoftheguard and Grand Alliance the only ones wider. El Habeeb is the only horse to have run in Britain for the sire Al Rafai. This stallion only won a Kempton maiden as a three-year-old in 2015. His son debuted in the listed Fairway Stakes, where he was keen when restrained in the early stages. In all fairness to him, he stayed in contention and a made a run for it on the outside before dropping out when the others quickened. He managed to beat one rival home and, although there was a 300/1 winner in Ireland last week, it will be a surprise if he plays a part in proceedings at 250/1.
The race is fascinating in terms of pace angles for the race. As mentioned earlier, the O’Brien pair of Changingoftheguard and Stone Age benefitting from racing prominently. They are drawn on opposite sides of the track in sixteen and four respectively. Masakela has been ridden prominently in the past; he jumps from eight. One of the Godolphin trio could be sent into the lead, most likely Nahanni, drawn in 6, as he will most definitely stay. Grand Alliance will probably drop out from his position but it will be a fierce pace from the outset.
As the above graphic shows, the draw of five has cropped up most in the top four finishers from the Oaks and last three Derbies. This is Nations Pride’s birth for the contest and William Buick will partner him. He managed to win the first two races of the meeting. Royal Patronage has the plum draw with Tuesday and Adayar coming out of stall one and winning. However, on Friday’s Oaks card, they came up the middle, meaning that every horse, regardless of draw would be given a live chance. It would not be ideal if West Wind Blows, Westover or Walk Of Stars were caught out wide as they’re buzzy and could probably do with some cover.
I expect Nahanni to stay on for a place as his stamina is completely assured. Adam Kirby has had 11 winners from 92 rides at Epsom and has a 26% strike rate for Charlie Appleby on turf and 33% on the All Weather (all time). He has ridden seven times for Appleby this year, winning two. He calls on him for the big occasions and Nahanni could run better than a seemingly third-string. Grand Alliance looks considerably over-priced, too, after finishing second to him last time.
Desert Crown is a horse that has had so much hype about him in the lead up to and since the Dante. The fact he hung at York is not ideal at Epsom. His form has not stacked up to much yet and I fear there has been a massive over exaggeration with some things relating to him. For example, he has the same official rating as what Lady Bowthorpe finished her career with after winning and placing in group ones. He looks to be a very talented horse and we could do with a superstar. I think he could possibly run into one.
I am keen on STAR OF INDIA for the race under Seamie Heffernan, but all of the Aidan O’Brien horses have excellent chances in their own right. I like the way this horse goes about his job – he is so relaxed and willing and I think that is important at a track like Epsom with all the excitement going on within the track. O’Brien and Galileo have such a sensational record in the race and, whilst he is not drawn particularly favourably, I think Star Of India will be bang there at the finish.