Donn's Articles » Derby Trials

Derby Trials

“Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T.S. Eliot wrote. “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?”

“Where is the Derby winner we have lost in wisdom?” he did not write. But he could have. All the recognised Derby trials have now been run, and just about all the information is available. The conversion to wisdom is the tricky part.

Sandown Classic Trial, Sandown, 28th April

The Sandown Classic Trial was a strangely-run race this year, with Joseph O’Brien charting a wide path on Imperial Monarch all the way around the home turn and up the home straight in an effort to race on the best of the desperately soft ground.

It is impossible to know whether the magnitude of Imperial Monarch’s superiority over his three rivals was accentuated or diminished as a result of the manoeuvre, but it is difficult to argue that he was not the best horse in the race on the day. A son of Galileo, the Ballydoyle colt is now unbeaten in two runs, he is certain to come on for his Sandown run, he should improve for the step up to a mile and a half, and he is a player.

2000 Guineas, Newmarket, 5th May

The main question before the 2000 Guineas was whether warm favourite Camelot would have the pace to win a Classic over a mile. By middle-distance sire Montjeu and with an abundance of stamina on his dam’s side, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt won the Racing Post Trophy on his final run as a juvenile last season, a race that is traditionally a pointer to the following year’s Derby, not the following year’s Guineas.

The answer was quickly forthcoming. Settled in rear by his fresh-faced accomplice Joseph O’Brien through the early throes of the Guineas, Camelot picked up impressively two furlongs out, bravely went through a closing gap a furlong from home and stayed on really well to get up and beat French Fifteen by a neck.

No horse in the 20 years that flowed under the bridge between Nashwan in 1989 and Sea The Stars in 2009 won the Derby and the Guineas. There is every chance that Camelot can make it two in three years, and deep murmurings of a Triple Crown tilt are not wholly premature.

Chester Vase, Chester, 10th May

Some high-class horses have won the Chester Vase in the past, like Old Vic, Belmez and Soldier Of Fortune, and last year’s Chester Vase hero Treasure Beach went down by just a head to Pour Moi in the Blue Riband. However, you have to go back to Shergar in 1981 to find the last Chester Vase winner to follow up at Epsom, and you can have 40/1 about this year’s winner Mickdam bridging that 31-year gap.

Dee Stakes, Chester, 11th May

Astrology was impressive in winning the Dee Stakes, a race that has produced Derby winners Oath and Kris Kin in recent times. He only had three rivals to beat, but Kris Kin only had three rivals as well, Oath only had six, and you can only ever beat what they put in front of you.

The Ballydoyle colt made every yard of the running and he stayed on well all the way to the line, putting 11 lengths between himself and his toiling rivals. It would not be at all surprising to see the son of Galileo lead the Derby field down around Tattenham Corner in the Derby, and some of those Ballydoyle pace-setters have gone mighty close in the past.

Lingfield Derby Trial, Lingfield, 12th May

The Lingfield Derby Trial was transferred from the turf track to the Polytrack this year because of the heavy ground, but it probably didn’t make a great deal of difference to the result.

Main Sequence travelled well in rear through the early stages of the race, picked up nicely at the top of the home straight, and battled on well to get the better of the useful Shantaram, the pair of them coming clear of their rivals.

David Lanigan’s colt is highly progressive, he is unbeaten now in four runs, he travels well, he stays a mile and a half and he has a turn of foot, three deadly weapons in the context of the Derby. His astute trainer seems to be happy to allow him take his chance, and remember that the same trainer sent out 25/1 shot Meeznah to go down by just a neck to Snow Fairy in the 2010 Oaks.

Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, Leopardstown, 13th May

Light Heavy’s character and willingness were again in evidence in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown last Sunday, when he got up to beat Tower Rock by a neck. However, the Teofilo colt is not entered in the Derby, and his owner/trainer Jim Bolger has indicated that it is unlikely that he will be supplemented.

Dante, York, 17th May

With three winners and a runner-up going on to Epsom glory in the last eight years, the Dante has taken over from the Derrinstown as the most prolific Derby trial in recent years, and Bonfire was impressive in winning this year’s renewal on Thursday. Andrew Balding’s colt only got home by a neck in the end from Ektihaam, but he was the most likely winner from a long way out, and he left some lofty reputations well in his wake.

The son of Manduro was arguably unlucky not to win the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud last October. If he had done, he would be going to Epsom, like Camelot, an unbeaten horse. The markets say that he is the main danger to the Ballydoyle colt.

Irish 2000 Guineas, The Curragh, 26th May

There is potentially just one more piece of information that could be forthcoming, with last year’s Dewhurst Stakes winner Parish Hall set to make his seasonal debut in the Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh next Saturday. If all goes well there, he could take his chance at Epsom.

Parish Hall’s trainer Jim Bolger allowed New Approach run in the Irish Guineas in 2008 before taking him to Epsom and winning the Derby. There were two weeks between the Irish Guineas and the Derby that year, however. This year, there is just one.

That said, Parish Hall was a hugely talented juvenile last season, the Derby has been on his radar for some time, and Jim Bolger is not one to bow to convention. A Derby tilt is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Nor beyond the bounds of wisdom.

© The Sunday Times, 20th May 2012