The English Derby is the most famous race in England, but in the 2013 edition of a race first run in 1780, England’s primary role is playing host.
Among the 12 horses entered for the Epsom Downs classic on Saturday, only three are trained in England, with seven Irish invaders, one from Germany, and one from France. Five of the Ireland-based horses are trained by Aidan O’Brien, but the main focus is on a different Irish raider, the undefeated juvenile champion Dawn Approach.
With three straight Group 1 wins, Dawn Approach’s quality is not in question. He was precocious enough to win his debut on the first day of the 2012 Irish flat-racing season and his first start at three produced a career-best five-length win in the English 2000 Guineas.
The question is of Dawn Approach’s ability to negotiate the 2400 distance. The Guineas over 1600m was the longest race of his career, and Dawn Approach’s dam never ran beyond 1400m and she is by a speed sire.
“The distance is a question, and also it’s a fairly rough-and-tumble race,” trainer Jim Bolger said. “You can suffer interference more at Epsom than any other course. But he is pretty robust.”
Dawn Approach (3c New Approach – Hymn Of The Dawn by Phone Trick) was bred and raised by Bolger, who won the 2008 Derby with New Approach. He sold 51% of the Derby favourite to Sheikh Mohammed after his G2 Coventry Stakes victory at Royal Ascot last June.
A chestnut with a big white blaze, Dawn Approach will be ridden as usual by Kevin Manning, who typically settles the colt into a stalking position and produces him in the final 400m. The Derby marks Dawn Approach’s first try around real turns, and after getting through the sharp final left-handed bend at Epsom’s famed Tattenham Corner, he faces an uphill finish.
All told, there is reason for bettors to oppose the even-money favourite, and while many will turn to one of the O’Brien quintet, the French and German horses deserve attention.
Ocovango (3c Monsun – Crystal Maze by Gone West) is trained by Andre Fabre, whose 2011 Derby winner Pour Moi came to the race under circumstances much like Ocovango – a win in the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud and an Epsom workout the week before the Derby.
Pour Moi was a hold-up horse who rallied from far back, but Ocovango has some speed, and his Greffulhe victory came on the lead.
Chopin (3c Santiago – Caucasienne by Galileo) was purchased by Qatar Racing recently and was supplemented to make him the first German-trained Derby starter. He brims with upside having beaten a decent G3 field by 8 lengths over 1800m around tight-turning Krefeld racecourse last month.
Germany has recently produced top-level performers like Arc winner Danedream and leading European older horse Pastorius.
Battle of Marengo (3c Galileo – Anna Karenina by Green Desert) leads the Ballydoyle contingent after winning his last five races in Ireland. He has faced small fields lacking quality while displaying a grinding style and might lack the ceiling of stablemates Mars and Ruler of the World.
Mars (3c Galileo – Massarra by Danehill) was sixth in Dawn Approach’s Guineas but might be suited by the extra distance of the Derby.
Ruler of the World (3c Galileo – Love Me True by Kingmambo) beat only three overmatched rivals in the Chester Vase last time out but he did so with aplomb in only his second start.
Coolmore Stud is aiming for a hat-trick in the English Derby following Pour Moi (Montjeu) and Camelot (Montjeu).