Jamie Lynch Dante Preview: What does a Derby horse look like?

Churchill apart, no Derby entrant has put a big number on the board, and none of the mainline trials have produced any wow moments, making for a shapeless market – 5/1 the field – but the Derby is almost unique as a race defined on the day, by the day, and the preliminary past is but a path retrospectively plotted for clues and clarity.

The Derby is the pinnacle in every sense, and the final ascent is the steep, transformative part, something saved for it, by the shrewdest strategist, for their highest climbers, working backwards from Epsom. The Derby makes horses, not the other way around.

The point is that this year's Epsom field is, by and large, a familiar mix and a classic mix, featuring several 'Derby horses' judged on what 'Derby horses' traditionally looks like – for form and formation – at this stage, three weeks out, with one big trial still to come. Three-year-olds bringing big ratings with them to Epsom are the exception rather than the rule.

The 2009 Derby had as many as five horses in the line-up with pre-race ratings of 120+: Sea The Stars (128p), Crowded House (122), Gan Amhras (121), Fame And Glory (120p) and Rip Van Winkle (120p). In the seven renewals since then, comprising 90 contenders, as few as eleven brought the same sort of hefty figures with them. Three of them won (Camelot, Australia and Golden Horn), proving the worth of proven worth, but the Derby still can be, and still often is, the domain of the long jumpers, who leap up on the day. Of the other four winners since 2009, Pour Moi was the most experienced with four runs, one more than Harzand, while Workforce and Ruler of The World had raced just twice before Epsom.
It depends. That's the short, unhelpful answer to the question of what a Derby horse looks like, but more often than not they're identifiable by the sum of their hidden parts as much as the sums of their ratings chart. Horses low on mileage and high on breeding who've come through trials in whichever way are often the radar runners for Epsom, and you can take your pick of them this year, though two in particular stand out: Cliffs of Moher and Cracksman.

At Chester, Cliffs of Moher passed his test with colours that were speeding towards the end of the runway if not actually flying, and from one's dress rehearsal to another's as Cracksman seeks to put on a show in the Dante. Ten unpolished rivals of all shapes and sizes make his trial the best trial in prospect, and if Cracksman can emerge on top then he'll be in pole position for Epsom. But make no mistake, he, and a few others, are 'Derby horses' already, more than you might hear.

It was the Dante, likewise on his third start, likewise for Gosden, that the game really changed for Golden Horn, who scaled such heights at York that only a single rope was needed for the short climb to the Epsom peak. But before the Dante, and even for a while after, the plan was the Derby in France, over the shorter trip.

Here we are again, this time with a filly, en route to Epsom but likelier to divert to France, so goes the talk. In theory, the Musidora is a cakewalk for Shutter Speed, but why it's important is that there's every chance she'll 'do a Golden Horn', making Epsom impossible to resist if she's impressive, hard to think she won't be against this field with the raw power she looks to have. That Shutter Speed is an Oaks filly isn't in doubt; the question is which one.

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