Things We Learned » Derby questions answered

Derby questions answered

Saturday’s Investec Derby answered many of the pre-race questions that needed to be answered, but it also posed a few new ones.  That’s what Epsom Derbys do.  That’s why they fascinate so much.

Masar was the best horse in the race on the day.  That was the main question answered. William Buick always appeared to be happy on the Charlie Appleby-trained colt, to have him in the position in which he wanted him, and he stayed on as well as his pedigree suggested he would to run out an emphatic Derby winner.  

By New Approach, a son of Galileo whom Jim Bolger trained to win the Derby 10 years ago, out of a Cape Cross mare who won the UAE Derby and the UAE Oaks over 10 furlongs, there was always a chance that he would improve for stepping up to a mile and a half.  A nine-length winner of the Craven Stakes and third in the Guineas.  Easy in hindsight, but 16/1 was big enough.

Perhaps the feeling was that the Godolphin colt had reached his zenith.  It isn’t that he was lightly-raced.  He raced three times in Britain as a juvenile, then finished third in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, then finished an unlucky-looking sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.  And he was well beaten in a listed race on dirt in Dubai on his first run in 2018. 

He had raced in four different countries and on three different continents before his third birthday. 

Maybe the Godolphin thing was a factor, that no horse racing in Godolphin blue had ever won the Derby.  Perhaps the feeling was that Masar would not progress from the Guineas.  It was a fine training performance by Charlie Appleby to get him to concert pitch again, a nine-length Craven winner who could only finish third in the Guineas. 

The Godolphin thing was a little bit of a mis-direct too.  Lammtarra probably would have raced in Godolphin blue had Godolphin blue been a thing in 1995.  New Approach probably would have raced in Godolphin blue had Godolphin-owned horses been ‘allowed’ to remain with ‘outside’ trainers in 2008.  Like they were in 2015, when Jack Hobbs finished second to Golden Horn.

Even so, it was very good that it happened.  It was very good for racing.  It would be difficult to quantify the magnitude of Sheikh Mohammed’s investment in racing, or to imagine how things would be without it.  And remember, no horse racing in Sheikh Mohammed’s own maroon and white colours had/has ever won the Derby either. 

It was a square peg into a square hole, the universe correcting itself, Godolphin winning the Derby, like Frankie Dettori winning the Derby, like AP McCoy winning the Grand National.  It fits, it’s correct, it’s a state of equilibrium.

What next?

Strange thing with the Epsom Derby: the build-up is all-consuming, the Derby is the end game, the sole objective, then they run it and you realise that the season that stretches out before you is long and deep.

What next for Masar?  It would be great to see him come over to The Curragh to contest the Irish Derby.  It would be great to see him and Saxon Warrior take each other on again.  When they met in the Guineas, Saxon Warrior beat Masar by a length and three quarters.  When they met in the Derby, Masar beat Saxon Warrior by four and a half lengths.  It’s one-all, with Masar holding the upper hand in terms of winning distance and recency.  You would love to see a re-match.  These two three-year-olds could light up the season.

In a sense, you would understand it if Masar’s connections eschewed the Irish Derby.  At The Curragh, he would essentially be meeting the horses that he met at Epsom last Saturday.  He would just have to beat them all again.

You could understand it if the Eclipse was the more attractive option.  Prove that you can do it over 10 furlongs as well as over 12.  And do it against the older horses.  There would be a major upside to that if he went down that route and succeeded.

But Derby winners can struggle in the Eclipse.  Golden Horn did it in 2015, but that was not a vintage Eclipse, a five-runner contest in which his chief rival didn’t win a race in 13 attempts thereafter.

Sea The Stars did it in 2009, but John Oxx’s horse probably had the hardest race of his perfect three-year-old season in the Eclipse.  Authorized was beaten on the Eclipse, Motivator was beaten in the Eclipse, Benny The Dip was beaten in the Eclipse, Erhaab was beaten in the Eclipse.  It’s not easy.

Two to take from the race 

The two horses to take out of the Derby, besides the winner obviously, were Saxon Warrior and Hazapour.

Nothing went right for Saxon Warrior.  It started two days before the race with his draw in stall one, accentuated by the fact that stalls one and two were removed slightly from stalls three to 12, because of the fact that the stalls are in groups of 10.  Then he stumbled slightly on leaving the stalls.  Then he had the door closed on him by Dee Ex Bee when Ryan Moore wanted to go forward at the three-furlong marker. 

It is stretching it to say that Aidan O’Brien’s colt would have won without all of that, but it is not stretching it to say that he probably would have finished closer.

Perhaps he didn’t handle the cambers as well as you hoped he would, perhaps he found the occasion all a bit too much.  He was far less experienced going into the race than the three horses who finished in front of him. 

You couldn’t say that he didn’t stay though, he seemed to run all the way to the line, and you would love to see him redeem his reputation at The Curragh in three weeks’ time.

Hazapour is fully deserving of another chance too.  He looked a likely winner when he hit the front, travelling strongly, on the run to the two-furlong marker, at which point he traded at 2/1 in-running, but he just didn’t get home.  He just didn’t see out the 12-furlong trip.

As well as that, he was never far off the leaders in a race that was run at a fast pace and in which the hold-up horses were at an advantage.  Runner-up Dee Ex Bee raced in fifth, fourth-placed Saxon Warrior raced in sixth, winner Masar and third-placed Roaring Lion raced further back.  Hazapour raced up just behind the pace, disputing third place with The Pentagon.  That wasn’t an advantage, given how the race panned out.

More than that, though, 10 furlongs is probably his trip.  It was interesting that, after he won the Derrinstown trial, Dermot Weld said that the Shamardal colt had shown so much pace, he thought about running him in the Amethyst Stakes on the same day over a mile instead.

He doesn’t hold an entry in the Eclipse, but he wouldn’t be out of place in that race, should connections decide that he was worth the supplementary entry fee.  Even if he has a short break now though, all the top 10-furlong races are open to him, the Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion Stakes and the Champion Stakes.  He could be an under-rated horse now.

Triple Crown dream

The demise of the Triple Crown dream for Saxon Warrior is to be lamented.  The concept had already gained significant traction after the first leg, and that momentum would surely have continued during the summer had he won the second, taken racing off the racing pages and into the main sports pages, into mainstream. 

On the positive side, it appears that the Triple Crown is back in vogue in Britain, and you can be sure that Team Coolmore/Ballydoyle will have a crack at it again if and when they unearth another potentially suitable candidate.

It is in vogue in America all right, it never left vogue.  It is obviously different, three races in five weeks as opposed to four and a half months, over a range of distances that span two and a half furlongs as opposed to three quarters of a mile, all on dirt, all on left-handed ovals, as opposed to tracks with varying characteristics.

It has been done recently too.  We are still waiting for the first since Nijinsky in 1970 on this side of the water, but American Pharoah proved three years ago that it can be done in the modern era on the far side, bridged the gap back to Seattle Slew and Affirmed in 1977 and 1978.  You wish Justify and Bob Baffert and Mike Smith all the best at Belmont Park this evening. 

Solario stunner

You never could have thought that the Group 3 Solario Stakes, run at Sandown Park last September, would produce two Classic winners by the start of June.  Then again, this is the race that gave us Kingman and Raven’s Pass in recent years, and Alhaarth and To-Agori-Mou and Oh So Sharp and Lyphard’s Wish if you want to go back further.  And last year’s renewal may not be finished with the accolades yet.

© The Irish Field, 9th June 2018