Hanson: How I will bet the Epsom Derby on June 5

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

June 4th, 2021

As a young racing fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I became convinced the results of the Kentucky Derby (G1) were in some way partially pre-ordained, or at least that the winning connections would have some unbelievably good karma going for them.

Those with long memories will recall that era of Derby history as one where numerous turf patrons, some of whom had put in decades of service and enjoyed great success in other facets of the sport, finally got to smell the roses. Think the Hancock family, the nonagenarian Frances Genter, and Paul Mellon on the owner side. Or Charlie Whittingham, Jack Van Berg, and Mack Miller among trainers. Even riding legend Pat Day earned his one and only Derby victory around that time after several runner-up finishes aboard more highly rated contenders.

That trend didn't exactly last, but since then has popped up from time to time, even if only in retrospective analysis. It's hardly a serious angle to consider when handicapping and investing, but it's never something I completely discount.

Free Saturday Racing Information for Epsom:

Saturday, Epsom Downs, Race 5: Epsom Derby (G1, 11:30 a.m. ET)

One can't argue the recent results of the Epsom Derby (G1) have been directed by similar karma, not with Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien having dominated the premier English classic for much of the past decade. However, there might be something in the air in advance of Saturday's renewal.

The Coolmore folks again have the horse to beat in #2 Bolshoi Ballet (1-1), who's beaten his rivals silly in a pair of Irish trials and is trading extremely low on the market. He might prove to be all that, but he's nowhere near playable at the price, even if connections are displaying confidence in making him their lone Derby starter. This is the first time in more than a decade and a half that "the lads" haven't had multiple Derby entries.

Our alternative selection has been more about style than substance so far, but there's also no question there's some potentially good karma involved with #7 Mohaafeth (6-1). He's owned by Shadwell, whose founder, Sheikh Hamdan, passed away over the winter.

Sheikh Hamdan won the Derby twice in his lifetime, in 1989 with the brilliant Nashwan and again five years later with the less successful Erhaab. It's also been a long time between drinks for trainer William Haggas, whose lone Derby victory was with Shaamit in 1996.

By Frankel, Mohaafeth is out of the stakes-winning French Dressing, who is by Sea the Stars. Note the close inbreeding—Frankel is by Galileo, a half-brother to Sea the Stars.

Although winless in two starts as a juvenile, Mohaafeth has already won three times this year, an unusually busy pre-Derby campaign by modern standards. He hasn't faced the quality of fields his opponents have, but his two recent wins have been relatively effortless, including a five-length laugher in the 1 1/4-mile Newmarket S. in which the chestnut basically cantered under jockey Jim Crowley.

"I was reminded time and time again how my father insisted on buying Mohaafeth when his advisers were split on the decision," Shekih Hamdan's daughter was reported to have told a British racing pundit recently. "I've also heard that William Haggas told my father that Mohaafeth would be his Derby horse, and everyone has worked so hard at Shadwell and Somerville Lodge to make sure that happens."

Mohaafeth has a lot to prove over the undulating Derby course at Epsom on Saturday, but then again, so do all the others. The potential is there based on how he's performed this term, and he undoubtedly has a bit of karma going for him as well.

Another horse I'll be taking a close look at for my exacta play, or for the win in the event Mohaafeth is withdrawn due to soft ground, is #11 Third Realm (15-1). A Sea the Stars half-brother to three group stakes winners, Third Realm raced a tad greenly in taking the Lingfield Derby Trial (also over an undulating 1 1/2 miles), but is another with plenty of potential moving forward and is guaranteed to stay.