An Eminent choice for the Epsom Derby

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 3rd, 2017

After a couple of Oaks Day thought experiments that went spectacularly awry, you could say that I’m in a less speculative frame of mind when approaching Saturday’s Derby (G1) at Epsom.

Yet truth be told, this year’s Blue Riband is so rife with possibilities that it’s difficult to come up with a pet theory, let alone become too enamored of it. Between several unexposed contenders with bags of upside, more experienced ones with perhaps less panache, and none yet jumping off the page (or screen) in comparison to the rest, the colts look like much of a muchness.

That’s not an indictment of the group’s long-range prospects, because things may appear quite different after 11:30 a.m. EDT, and more so as the summer progresses into fall. A star could well arise; it’s just that going into the Derby, he’s doing a good job of being incognito.

As a result, I was talking myself into the nearest approximation to a form choice – #9 Eminent (6-1) – even before my Friday reminder that I should stick to logic over flights of fancy.

Like Cracksman, Eminent is seeking to become the first European classic winner sired by the all-time great Frankel. The unbeaten phenom has a first-crop classic winner already in Japanese Oaks (G1) heroine Soul Stirring, but the Derby would be the ultimate mark of arrival.

Although trained by Martyn Meade for Sir Peter Vela, Eminent hails from an all-star family more associated with Aidan O’Brien in recent years. He’s out of the Group 1-placed Kingmambo mare You’ll Be Mine, a half-sister to Group 1 victress Diamondsandrubies, who was a badly hampered fourth in the 2015 Oaks (G1). Eminent’s second dam, Irish highweight Quarter Moon, placed in three classics and came closest in the 2002 Oaks. Quarter Moon, herself a full sister to two other Oaks placegetters in Yesterday and All My Loving, descends from the Aga Khan matriarch Mumtaz Mahal.

Eminent’s pedigree undergirds his strong formline at a mile that intersects with some smart British, Irish, and French colts, albeit collaterally. Still a big, raw type, he dominated his debut at Newmarket last fall, and resurfaced with another taking display over the same course and distance in the April 20 Craven (G3). Eminent had the pace to stalk Racing Post Trophy (G1) winner Rivet, and when hitting the rising ground late, he stayed on relentlessly to forge clear in a solid time of 1:35.15.

Rivet came back to finish third in the French 2000 Guineas (G1). Craven third-placer Benbatl subsequently placed second to Permian in the Dante (G2). Permian had previously been edged by Cracksman in an Epsom conditions race, where Bay of Poets was a slightly unlucky third. Bay of Poets went on to take second to Derby favorite Cliffs of Moher in the Dee (G3). Those are the most eye-catching form linkages; there are others you can extrapolate. House of cards that shouldn’t be leaned on too much? Quite possibly, but in an open year without many conclusive pointers, every scrap of evidence helps.

Instead of stretching out off the Craven, Eminent stuck to a mile for the 2000 Guineas (G1), but the sit-sprint race shape teed it up for the brilliant Churchill. Eminent trudged home a one-paced sixth, arguably not so much outclassed as simply exposed by sharper opponents at the trip. Still, he was only beaten a grand total of 3 1/2 lengths by Europe’s top sophomore colt, in circumstances that didn’t suit him well at all. The final time of the Guineas, over the same good-to-firm Rowley Mile, was noticeably slower (1:36.61) than Eminent’s Craven.

Now Eminent steps up to the classic distance that may bring out the best in him, and he reportedly worked well over the Epsom course at "Breakfast with the Stars." With a Ballydoyle tag team, a Cracksman rabbit, and three from Godolphin, he figures to get a more realistic pace than in the Guineas. If his Craven can be taken at face value, and his Guineas isn’t a true bill, Eminent has the most cogent case for Epsom glory.

Be sure to take a look at my colleague Vance Hanson’s Epsom thoughts too (he only gave you the Oaks trifecta, after all!). I agree that O’Brien’s Venice Beach, the Galileo half to Danedream, is eligible to be much more clued-in than he was in taking the Chester Vase (G3).

As far as the two market leaders go, my one sticking point about Cliffs of Moher is whether he’ll be as effective at this trip, given how much natural speed he’s shown in his maiden romp and in the 1 1/4-mile Dee. Otherwise, it’s clear why Ryan Moore chose him from the Coolmore posse. The caution about Cracksman is different: he was supposed to get in another prep, but scratched from the Dante because John Gosden didn’t want him to have a hard race on softish going too close to the Derby. Now he comes straight to Epsom without ever having tried an actual stakes race first. His price may be influenced by the fact he has the same connections as 2015 Derby hero Golden Horn, but Gosden’s not putting him in that category just yet.

To that end, Gosden’s quote after his Oaks triumph with Enable is revealing:

“I have got some lovely middle-distance fillies in the three-year-old crop and I thought all last year that the fillies were better than the colts.”

That would explain a lot of the uncertainty going into the Derby. Hopefully we’ll get clarity on the other side of the winning post.

Good luck!

Eminent photo courtesy of Epsom Downs via Twitter