Conventional and unconventional choices in Epsom Derby

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

June 2nd, 2017

The biggest takeaway from the trials conducted over the past 7-8 weeks is that Saturday's Derby (G1) at Epsom is unlikely to be a vintage one. The feeling is borne out by the fact the field numbers 19 including no-hoper Diore Lia, who fits about as well in this spot as the infamous Ricks Natural Star did in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1).

Attempting to make sense of this race has not been easy. The form of several main contenders seem rather exposed in comparison to your typical Derby winner, and those that possess more upside don't necessarily give off vibes of becoming stars and are currently trading at underlaid odds in most markets.

If I may be indulged in some fence-straddling, I'll have a conventional and unconventional rooting interesting in the 1 1/2-mile Blue Riband.

First, the unconventional: Best Solution (#2) will sport the Godolphin blue that has never shined in the Epsom winner's circle after a Derby. A veteran of nine starts already, he debuted at Royal Windsor, has taken a side trip to Turkey, and was slumming in lower-level affairs last fall like the Tattersalls Somerville (G3) and Autumn (G3). He won the latter, but the last horse to win that race and go on to success at Epsom was inaugural winner Nashwan in the late 1980s.

Best Solution was a solid second in the 1 1/4-mile Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1) to close out 2016, but did little running in two starts on dirt in Dubai over the winter. I'm willing to look past those and concentrate instead on his turf comeback in the May 13 Lingfield Derby Trial, which he won convincingly by more than three lengths, albeit against a very modest field. Despite the lack of quality competition, to me it was the most visually impressive performance seen during the trial season.

Adding to the unconventionality is that Best Solution is by Kodiac, whose best offspring other than Best Solution have made virtually no impact in any significant race contested beyond a mile. That hasn't proved a hindrance (yet) to Best Solution, who sure acted at Lingfield as if the modest increase in distance Saturday will not prove much of a hurdle. The Lingfield Trial itself has not been a terribly productive prep in recent decades, though the undulating nature of the track itself is a good stamina test and gives its participants an early taste as to what they will encounter at the more famous Surrey course.

In the 10-1 to 12-1 range, I'll be taking a piece of Best Solution.

A more conventional choice, at least to my way of thinking, is siding with a rep from the Coolmore juggernaut. Venice Beach (#17) is already a veteran of two runs at or slightly beyond the Derby distance, both of them victories. The most important was the Chester Vase (G3), which he won in decent style from two stablemates from the Aidan O'Brien yard, Wings of Eagle and The Anvil, that also show up here.

The Chester Vase was not an effort that made anyone go "Wow!", but then again those have been pretty much non-existent throughout the trial season. What Venice Beach does have going for him is the connections (even though he loses Ryan Moore to Cliffs of Moher) and the pedigree to keep improving and be a really good one by season's end. He's by Galileo and is a half-brother to the wonderful Danedream, the German-based mare of a few years back that demolished a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) and was poised to repeat in Paris when a swamp fever outbreak grounded her at her Cologne base.

The overseas markets have Venice Beach pegged in the middle of the Coolmore quintet as far as support, with trading prices of 10-1 to 14-1 available. I'll take a little of that, too, if the opportunity presents itself in the North American pari-mutuels.

In a largely indecipherable Derby, I won't be diving into vertical exotics like I normally would, except perhaps for a token Exacta box on my rooting interests. If that happens to come in, I'll feel more lucky than good.