Things We Learned » Clarity lacking in Derby picture

Clarity lacking in Derby picture

As Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill or The Indigo Girls or someone once surely said, the Derby picture is now twice as cloudy as it was the day before, when we went into the Dante seeking clarity.

The first problem with the Dante in the context of the Derby was that Cracksman didn’t run in it.  He was withdrawn on the morning of the race because of the soft ground.  (Which, incidentally, as things transpired, probably wasn’t as soft on the Knavesmire as people were saying.  The name doesn’t help.  Knavesmire.  It would be like naming a rottweiler Cuddles and trying to convince people that he was fierce.)

The second problem with the Dante in the context of the Derby was that it was won by Permian.  Not that Permian isn’t a good horse, he obviously is, he has now followed up in the Dante after running out an impressive winner of the Listed Newmarket Stakes at the Guineas meeting.  The problem is that he doesn’t fit the profile of Dante winners who go on to win the Derby.  He was beaten by Cracksman in the Epsom Derby Trial in April.  He was beaten in a handicap at Bath on his debut this season.

The other problem is that Mark Johnston’s horse isn’t even in the Derby.  He probably will be supplemented, but he will have to be.  Actually, he wasn’t even in the Dante at the original entry stage, he had to be supplemented to the Dante too.

You can argue that he is over-priced at 16/1 for the Derby, that his chance is better than that, but he is still a 16/1 shot.

If Cracksman or Rekindling or even Crystal Ocean had won the Dante, that would have shaped the picture nicely.  But with Permian winning it, you can throw that old canvas on the floor and start again. 

The post-Dante Derby market moves centred around those who didn’t run in the trial, and that is rarely a positive for a trial.  Cracksman was promoted to favouritism in some lists, as the market took surely too literal a line on his collateral form with Permian.  Surely Permian improved from his defeat in Epsom’s Derby Trial to Newmarket, and then to York.

Dee Stakes winner Cliffs Of Moher was shortened, Guineas sixth Eminent was shortened.  Of course, Guineas winner Churchill is a ready-made Derby favourite, but if Aidan O’Brien’s horse eschews the Derby and sticks to a mile, goes the Gleneagles Irish Guineas/St James’s Palace Stakes route instead, then it’s all up for grabs.

Coronet a live Oaks prospect

It was not surprising that bookmakers cut Sobetsu’s odds for the Epsom Oaks after she won the Prix Saint-Alary at Deauville last Sunday, but it was surprising that they extended Coronet’s odds for the same contest after she finished third behind her.  The market does love a winner.

While Sobetsu did look good in victory, Coronet also enhanced her reputation in finishing third.  Dropped in from her outside draw (10 of 11) by Frankie Dettori, she was not helped by the fact that the early pace was not strong.  Still second last as they turned for home, she wheeled to the outside and finished best of all, just getting up to snatch third place close home, beaten three lengths and a length and three quarters by Sobetsu and Vue Fantastique.

Those two rivals enjoyed the run of the race.  Sobetsu sat second from early, just up on the outside of early leader, the 50/1 shot Estelle Ma Belle, while Vue Fantastique sat in the box seat, in third place just behind the leaders and along the inside.

The market reacted.  10/1 and 12/1 Sobetsu for the Oaks, it said, from 25/1 and 33/1.  14/1 Coronet, from 9/1 and 10/1.

The market has corrected itself since, to an extent, in the face of further developments.  Firstly, it emerged that the Godolphin filly Sobetsu would probably go for the French Oaks, the Prix de Diane, not the Epsom Oaks.  And secondly, after Shutter Speed won the Musidora Stakes at York on Wednesday, John Gosden said that she would probably go for the Diane too.  John Gosden also trains Coronet, and he said that she was well, and on track for Epsom.

But the defection of her rivals is not the only reason why Coronet has a big chance in the Oaks.  The Dubawi filly did not make her racecourse debut until September last year, when she won her maiden at Leicester over a mile.  Then she stepped up in grade and up in trip to 10 furlongs for the Listed Zetland Stakes at Newmarket in October, and she won that too, beating Cunco, Permian and Wings Of Eagles into second, third and fourth places respectively.

That form could hardly have worked out better since.  Cunco won the Group 3 Sandown Classic Trial on his debut this season, while Permian was beaten just a head by Cracksman in the Epsom Derby Trial, then went to Newmarket and won the Listed Newmarket Stakes by four and a half lengths, then went and won the Dante.  (See above.)  Wings Of Eagles finished second to his stable companion Venice Beach in the Group 3 Chester Vase, having not had the run of the race.

Coronet is bred to win an Oaks.  By Dubawi, she is out of the Darshaan mare Approach, a daughter of Nassau Stakes winner Last Second who won a listed race over 10 furlongs.  As such, Coronet is a half-sister to Midas Touch, who won the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and finished second in the Great Voltigeur Stakes and in the St Leger.

John Gosden’s filly improved for the step up to 10 furlongs, and it is probable that she will improve again for the step up to 12.  She has raced just three times in her life and just once this season, so there is a chance that she could take a massive step forward in the Oaks.

Rhododendron sets a high standard in the Oaks, Fillies’ Mile winner, runner-up in the 1000 Guineas when she didn’t enjoy a clear passage, and by Galileo out of Halfway To Heaven, an Irish Guineas winner, a Nassau Stakes winner, a Sun Chariot Stakes winner.  But Aidan O’Brien’s filly may have most to fear from Coronet a week from Friday, and the Gosden filly is probably still over-priced at 9/1 or 10/1. 

Zhukova zings

Zhukova gained the Grade 1 win that she deserved when she ran out an impressive winner of the Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday night.

Always travelling well for John Valazquez on the soft ground, she picked up impressively from the top of the home straight and came clear to post an easy win.

It was Dermot Weld’s first victory in the Man o’ War Stakes, a race that has been regularly plundered by the ‘euros’ in recent years, with Cape Blanco, Red Rocks, Doctor Dino, Fantastic Light and Daylami all winning it in the last 20 years.  Weld is no stranger to success at Belmont, mind you, having famously won the Belmont Stakes in 1990 with Go And Go, and the Flower Bowl in 2003 with Dimitrova.  But Zhukova’s win has to be high up there for Weld, given that she was bred by his late mother, out of her Irish 1000 Guineas winner Nightime.

Mark Weld said after Saturday’s race that the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf would be a definite possibility for Zhukova now, and that is a legitimate target.

Godolphin going well 

Speaking of Sobetsu, Godolphin are going well.  They have had a good two weeks.

They may have got the tactics a little wrong in the 2000 Guineas, but it is unlikely that Barney Roy would have beaten Churchill anyway.  That aside, however, there has been lots of positive stuff going on for the boys in blue.

Blue Point was dynamite in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes, he looked impressive and he broke the clock.  It is not surprising that the three-year-old is favourite or joint favourite for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, and he could take his place among the top older sprinters this season.

Frontiersman was an impressive winner of a good 12-furlong handicap at Newmarket, and deserves another shot at a Group race, Home Of The Brave won the listed race at Leicester that he seems to always win, Laugh Aloud won a listed race at Goodwood and should step up to Group company now.  Last Saturday, Leader’s Legacy won a good handicap at Haydock, Aqabah won on his racecourse debut at Ascot, and Best Solution was impressive in winning the Lingfield Derby Trial, more impressive perhaps than the Derby market reaction suggests.

Bean Feasa was an impressive winner of the Group 3 1000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown and could be an Irish Guineas filly now.  Moonlight Magic was an encouraging second to Minding in the Group 2 Mooresbridge Stakes, Treaty Of Vienna won his maiden and was only just beaten in the six-furlong handicap at The Curragh on Saturday, Virtudes won her maiden at Naas. 

At Windsor on Monday evening, Last Voyage was a cosy if narrow winner on his racecourse debut and Secret Advisor did well to finish second to a progressive horse in Crowned Eagle after enduring a rough passage through the race. 

Add that to Dubawi’s continually burgeoning CV, the winner and the third in the Prix Saint-Alary, Frontiersman’s win, Laugh Aloud’s win, Gossiping’s win, Zarak’s narrow defeat in the Prix Ganay, Wolf Country’s listed race win in France, and the 2017 season has started more than satisfactorily for the Darley operation.

Elliott turns to the flat

So, if Jessica Harrington can train Cheltenham Gold Cup winners and Irish Grand National winners over jumps and still be able to send out Torcedor to win Group 3 races and Khukri to win listed races on the flat, there is no reason why Gordon Elliott can’t be leading trainer at Cheltenham and still train two-year-old winners as well. 

Beckford looked good in winning the six-furlong auction maiden at The Curragh on Saturday, Elliott’s first two-year-old winner, Elliott’s first two-year-old runner.  The Bated Breath colt could be Royal Ascot-bound now, and there could be a few more juveniles (two-year-old colts and fillies, not three-year-old hurdlers) coming from the same source.

© The Irish Field, 20th May 2017