Epsom Derby has a glint of Gold

Profile Picture:

TwinSpires Staff

June 5th, 2015

We're tag-teaming again, with Kellie Reilly setting the table for the feast, and Vance Hanson marking his choices from the menu.

After the shock of Aidan O'Brien's apparent third stringer, the 70-1 Qualify, in Friday's Oaks (Eng-G1), we hope for a more formful result to Saturday's Derby (Eng-G1) at Epsom.

Golden Horn catapulted himself into deserving favoritism with a stylish victory in the best prep, the Dante S. (Eng-G2). Not only did the John Gosden pupil bring order to a hitherto chaotic Derby scene, but he also managed to convince owner Anthony Oppenheimer to supplement him to the classic for £75,000.

And therein lies the one potential negative: Oppenheimer had previously regarded his homebred as a 1 1/4-mile type better suited to the French Derby (Fr-G1) than the 1 1/2 miles of Epsom. If you're looking to beat the short-priced favorite, the stamina question is probably your only leg to stand on.

Otherwise, Golden Horn is the complete package. Unbeaten in three starts, he opened his career by uncorking a last-to-first move at Nottingham, edging Storm the Stars in juvenile course-record time for the 8 1/2 furlongs. He was not seen again until the April 15 Feilden at Newmarket, where he drove to a decisive score over Peacock (who came back to flatter him by capturing the Fairway S.).

Golden Horn took another step forward in the Dante, and the manner of his performance -- the way he traveled so smoothly through the race, his emphatic turn of foot, and his strong attacking of the line -- stamps him as a proper Derby horse.

And although the pedigree isn't air-tight, there's enough there to offer reasonable hope. He's by Cape Cross, sire of such 1 1/2-mile legends as Sea the Stars and Ouija Board, who won the 2009 Derby and 2004 Oaks respectively. Golden Horn is a half-brother to Eastern Belle, a stakes winner over 1 1/4 miles who was a closing second in a 1 3/8-mile stakes at Churchill May 16. (Friday evening update: Eastern Belle just rallied for second in the New York [G2] at Belmont.) Although their dam, the Dubai Destination mare Fleche d'Or, is a half-sister to Coronation (Eng-G1) winner Rebecca Sharp, her other half-siblings have stayed upwards of 1 1/2 miles, including Group performers Mystic Knight and Hidden Hope.

Two of his beaten rivals from the Dante, stablemate Jack Hobbs and the Andrew Balding-trained Elm Park, are relying on the added ground to overturn the form.

Jack Hobbs was actually the 2-1 favorite over the 4-1 Golden Horn in the Dante, thanks to a 12-length demolition job in a Sandown handicap in his sophomore bow. But he just couldn't contain the more explosive firepower of Golden Horn in the Dante.

As a son of Halling and a Swain mare, Jack Hobbs is entitled to move forward on the step up in trip. Yet he's also the type who will be better with age, and the question remains whether this "raw" colt will find the Derby coming a bit too soon. Gosden has basically said as much, while also wanting the ground to be closer to "good" than any resemblance to firm.

Elm Park brought the best resume into the Dante, as the hero of last fall's Racing Post Trophy (Eng-G1) and Royal Lodge (Eng-G2), but managed only third. Connections believe that he'll improve off that tightener. Yet considering that he finished a full 13 lengths clear of fourth-placer Nafaqa (light years farther than in their last meeting), it's tempting to think that Elm Park ran his race and just got beaten on the merits. Another bred to revel at this distance, the son of Phoenix Reach has to hope that can help bridge his six-length gap with Golden Horn from the Dante. Elm Park's chances would be helped by any added moisture in the ground.

It wouldn't be the Derby without a Ballydoyle contingent, but Aidan O'Brien's team isn't what might have been expected earlier in the year. With such leading fancies as John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River ruled off the trail by bafflingly poor efforts, we're left with two questionable trial winners (Hans Holbein and Kilimanjaro) and another who was pitched in despite a surprising loss (Giovanni Canaletto).

Giovanni Canaletto has suddenly looked more attractive to Derby bettors after the booking of all-star Ryan Moore to ride. And he does have pedigree going for him as well, being a full brother to 2013 Derby hero Ruler of the World.

On the other hand, "Giovanni" has a lot to find on bare form. A smashing maiden winner at Leopardstown last October, the chestnut missed his intended prep in the Chester Vase (Eng-G3) after a dirty scope. He was rerouted to the Gallinule (Ire-G3) as a last-chance saloon, and fell just short of catching the filly Curvy (who was coming off a handicap score). Afterward, O'Brien sounded mightily disinclined to try the "babyish" colt at Epsom, preferring to await either the King Edward VII (Eng-G2) at Royal Ascot or the Irish Derby (Ire-G1).

But in less than a week, Giovanni went from doubtful status to Moore's chosen partner. Does that portend a fantastic turnaround in his new cheekpieces? And even if he has blossomed, does his high head carriage -- giving him an almost ungainly way of going -- suggest he's going to work to keep his balance around Epsom's notorious gradients?

Stablemate Hans Holbein was the beneficiary of Giovanni's absence at Chester, where he used his tactical speed to post a front-running success over Storm the Stars. He might have been doubly fortunate on the day, since Storm the Stars was reserved off the pace, taking his biggest weapon away from him. As a Montjeu half-brother to 2010 Irish St Leger (Ire-G1) winner Sans Frontieres, Hans Holbein has boundless stamina. That makes him a place chance, but he's more in the mold of a St Leger (Eng-G1) type.

Kilimanjaro makes a similar impression. The addition of a hood, combined with maturity and added ground, has helped him improve markedly this season. In the Lingfield Derby Trial, he gave the vibe of a relentless stayer while forging ahead late. Aside from concerns about the value of the form, another potential issue is the way he traveled around Lingfield. The High Chaparral colt didn't appear all that comfortable negotiating the descent on the turn, which doesn't inspire confidence for Epsom. He could be happier on a more conventional course.

Success Days also comes in from Ireland for the Ken Condon yard. In past years, turning the Ballysax (Ire-G3)/Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (Ire-G3) double would have meant something, but the same can't be said this time around. Success Days wired both on desperately soft going -- a far cry from what he'll encounter here -- while facing small fields not entirely commensurate with the races' status. (And John F Kennedy didn't lift a hoof in the Ballysax). Likewise uncertain to stay on pedigree, he might prove to be an expensive £75,000 supplement.

Storm the Stars has more appeal as a pace factor. Second to eventual Racing Post Trophy runner-up Aloft on debut prior to just missing to Golden Horn, he was arguably unlucky not to break his maiden at two. But the William Haggas trainee is very much on the upswing at present.

Since his perhaps tactically misguided second to Hans Holbein at Chester (where he was gaining late despite significant ground loss), Storm the Stars came right back to land the Cocked Hat at Goodwood on the front end. He's already proven at the distance, which could have been anticipated for a son of Sea the Stars. The maternal side of his pedigree is no slouch either -- he's out of a Sadler's Wells half-sister to Giant's Causeway (and the dam of Gleneagles).

French invader Epicuris also figures to be on or near the early lead. A top two-year-old, the Juddmonte Farms homebred wired the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (Fr-G1) and Prix de Conde (Fr-G3) in convincing fashion.

But Epicuris' sophomore campaign has gone the wrong way. Unceremoniously passed by Silverwave as the 7-10 favorite in the Prix La Force (Fr-G3), worse was to follow: Epicuris refused to enter the gate in the Prix Greffulhe (Fr-G2) and was scratched. He's since been counseled by equine behavioral expert Nicolas Blondeau.

Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek still planned to run him in the French Derby, until word came that the French authorities would not allow Blondeau to assist him at Chantilly. With Epsom being more welcoming, Epicuris was switched here. Changes of plan in these situations tend not to work out, but the son of Rail Link should get the distance -- if Blondeau can keep his patient soothed amid the hubbub.

Moheet has something in common with Oaks upsetter Qualify: both were promising juveniles who were finishing with interest in one-mile classics last time out. Still, it's hard to imagine lightning striking twice a day apart. Trained by Richard Hannon, Moheet bolted up by seven lengths at Salisbury last fall. He resurfaced as the 2-1 favorite in the Craven (Eng-G3), winding up a non-threatening third in a race dominated by the pacesetters. Moheet then endured a messy Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1). After breaking awkwardly and literally running into traffic, he crossed the wire eighth. This son of High Chaparral could show a lot more in his first attempt beyond a mile.

Rogue Runner has the same ownership as Elm Park -- Qatar Racing Ltd. -- but is based in Germany with Andreas Wohler. Victorious in his first two outings at Hoppegarten, the King's Best colt was fifth as the favorite in a Group 3 at Frankfurt last out. Granted, that reverse came on soft ground, but he's got questions to answer at this level. Carbon Dating, a maiden beaten double-digits in all four starts, needs class relief.

Vance Hanson’s Verdict: The Derby picture was rather murky until the May 14 Dante Stakes at York, when GOLDEN HORN ran himself into favoritism for the 1 1/2-mile classic with an authoritative 2 3/4-length romp. Subsequently supplemented to the Derby by trainer John Gosden, there appears to be plenty of pace to set up his late kick. If he runs back to his Dante effort, I don’t see anyone capable of denying him.

STORM THE STARS appears to physically resemble his Derby-winning father, Sea the Stars, while possessing only a fraction of the talent. Only a head behind Golden Horn in the latter’s debut at Nottingham in October, he’s shown quick progression in a pair of preps since an April 25 maiden score, finishing second on heavy ground in the Chester Vase and then leading all the way in the Cocked Hat at Goodwood. He’s not a need-the-lead type, but if he’s close to the pace he appears to have the pedigree and class to outstay others with a similar style.

JACK HOBBS was actually the more fancied of the Gosden-trained pair in the Dante, but had to settle for second while his yard mate dominated. If not for the presence of Golden Horn here, he might be considered the one to beat in the Blue Riband. He has form to find to reverse the York order of finish, but figures tough to be denied a placing.