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The Derby 

The fact that City Of Troy is still clear favourite for the Betfred Derby despite his defeat in the Guineas is down to a combination of factors.

There’s last year for starters, his juvenile year, still there, still pertinent, even if dulled slightly by the passage of time and the advent of a new season.  There’s his victory at The Curragh on his racecourse debut when Ryan Moore struggled to pull him up before he got to the end of the racecourse.  There’s his searing performance in the Superlative Stakes on Newmarket’s July Course at the height of the summer, and there’s his utterly dominant display in the Dewhurst, when he proved that he was at ease with the test that seven furlongs of Newmarket’s Rowley Mile presents.

Three runs, three performances of pace and power and absolute authority, three undisputed victories and the outstanding juvenile of 2023.

There’s the fact that he is trained by Aidan O’Brien.  Nobody has trained more Derby winners than Aidan O’Brien.  He has nine Epsom Derbys on his CV in total, including seven of the last 12.  And that, allied to the fact that his trainer’s faith in his horse remains absolute despite his abject performance in the Guineas, is massive.

At a media morning at Ballydoyle on Monday, the champion trainer explained what happened in the Guineas.

“The Guineas was just one of those things,” he said.  “He went in last but, the way it worked, he might have been better going in a little bit earlier, because when he went in, he spooked, he reared and the minute he hit the ground, the stalls opened.  Usually, when they do something like that, their heart rate would go up to 120 or 150 beats.  But what happened with him, the minute he landed, he took off.  So he probably started off at 150 beats a minute when he should be starting off way lower.  They go into the red zone when they go over 200 and he probably got there before half way.  So really, it was impossible for him to keep going.”

Strangely, the fact that City Of Troy finished ninth in the Guineas, beaten 17 lengths, and not third, beaten two and a half lengths, is a positive.  If he had run his race and gone close in defeat, you could have concluded that he just wasn’t good enough.  But he was a beaten horse before he got to Newmarket’s two-furlong pole.  It just wasn’t his running.  

And there’s the Auguste Rodin experience, still relatively fresh in the memory, just 12 months old.  Auguste Rodin won three times as a juvenile, and he went into last year’s Guineas a warm favourite.  He finished 12thin the Guineas, beaten 22 lengths.  Too bad to be true.  Four weeks later, he won the Derby.  That’s Aidan O’Brien for you.  He does things that others can’t do.  There is precedent.

Ballydoyle have another strong Derby contender too in Los Angeles.  Winner of the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud over 10 furlongs on soft ground last October on his second and final run as a juvenile, the Camelot colt won the Cashel Palace Hotel Derby Trial at Leopardstown last Sunday on his three-year-old debut.  

In the early 2000s, Leopardstown’s Derby Trial was the quintessential Derby trial.  Sinndar won it in 2000, Galileo won it in 2001, High Chaparral won it in 2002, and they all went on to win the Derby.  Alamshar won it in 2003, and he finished third at Epsom.  Yeats won the Leopardstown race in 2004, and the subsequent Coronation Cup and quadruple Gold Cup winner would have been favourite for the Derby that year had injury not ruled him out.

Since then though, no winner of the Leopardstown trial has followed up at Epsom.

Los Angeles could bridge the gap.  He didn’t produce a searing turn of foot at Leopardstown, but he galloped on resolutely all the way to the line.  He should progress for that run, his seasonal debut and just the third run of his life, and he should appreciate the step up in trip to a mile and a half.

The most impressive performance in the trials, however, was the performance that Economics put up on Thursday in winning the Dante at York, a race that has produced two of the last nine Derby winners.  Last of the seven runners turning for home, William Haggas’ colt quickened up impressively on the near side to pass all his rivals and win going away.  He was over a second faster through the final three furlongs of the race than his fastest rival, and he won by six lengths.

But his participation is uncertain at this stage.  He does not hold a Derby entry.  Indeed, he was taken out of the Derby in the spring to remove the temptation to run him in it.  There is the option to put him back in now, pay the £75,000 supplementary entry fee, but that decision has yet to be made.  The depth of the Derby would be enhanced by the Night Of Thunder colt’s presence.

The Godolphin Derby challenge has been weakened in recent weeks.  Hidden Law ran out an impressive winner of the Chester Vase last week, but sadly suffered a fatal injury directly after the race.  Sandown Classic Trial winner Arabian Crown suffered a setback this week and will miss the race, while Ancient Wisdom could only finish second behind Economics in the Dante on Thursday.  That said, last year’s Futurity Trophy winner should improve for the step up to a mile and a half, and Adayar finished second in the Sandown Classic Trial and in the Lingfield Derby Trial before he won the Derby for Godolphin in 2021. 

Ambiente Friendly won this year’s Lingfield Derby Trial, a race that was a rich source of Derby winners in the 1980s, won, as it was, by Teenoso and Slip Anchor and Kahyasi.  Anthony Van Dyck’s win in 2019 bridged a gap back to 1998 when High-Rise completed the Lingfield-Epsom double, and Ambiente Friendly threw his hat firmly into the Derby ring with an impressive performance at Lingfield.

Only fourth in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket on his debut this term, James Fanshawe’s horse was allowed go off at 8/1 at Lingfield.  He is a shorter price now for the Derby than he was for the Dante then, and he deserves his place high in the market for what should be a fascinating contest.

© The Sunday Times, 19th May 2024