The intelligent punter's guide to the 2014 Epsom Derby
How do you choose a colt to put your money on for tomorrow's Derby? Our man offers some pointers
The Epsom Derby, the most famous race in the British flat racing calendar, worth £782,314 to the winner, takes place at 4pm on Saturday.
The annual contest for three-year-olds, run over one mile and four furlongs, has been won down the years by such illustrious names as Hyperion, Mill Reef and the ill-fated wonder-horse Shergar, who trounced his rivals by a record ten lengths back in 1981.
There are 16 runners to choose from. What should the intelligent punter be looking for?
1. Stamina. None of the horses in the field will have run over the distance before so to decide if a horse will stay the trip we need to look at its breeding and how it has been finishing its races over shorter distances. On quite a few occasions we’ve seen high-class horses being well fancied for the Derby but ending up being beaten because they didn’t stay: Dawn Approach, for instance, was the 5-4 favourite last year on the basis of his very impressive win in the 2,000 Guineas over 1m at Newmarket. He finished last.
2. Betting. Fancied runners tend to do well in the Derby: the last ten winners have all come from the first four in the betting. You have to go back to 1974 to find a real surprise winner - the 50-1 shot Snow Knight. If you're betting each way, however, don't be put off backing at least one outsider: last year horses at 14-1 and 25-1 filled the places; in 2010 a 100-1 shot came second.
3. Previous trials. Look for runners that have done well in three key trials at York, Chester and Leopardstown. Four winners of the Dante, run over 1m 2f at York, have gone on to win at Epsom over the past 17 years. Three Derby winners since 1999 had won races at the Chester May meeting, including last year’s winner Ruler of the World, who won the Chester Vase. The Derrinstown Stud Derby trial at Leopardstown in Ireland has also given us three Derby winners since 2000 and placed horses too.
4. Class. If you're looking for the winner, rule out horses that have run in handicaps. Thirteen have lined up in the Derby in the last ten years and none has succeeded. Nine of the last ten Derby winners had already won a Group race, and the one that didn’t, the 2010 winner Workforce, might have won the Dante had his bit not slipped through his mouth.
5. Draw. Horses drawn either four, five or ten have chalked up seven victories in the last 13 years - with stall ten providing the winner seven times since 1986. Conversely, no horse coming out of stall one has finished better than sixth in the last ten years and none has won since Oath in 1999.
6. Breeding. Five of the last seven winners were sons of either Montjeu or Galileo, who won the 2002 Derby. Sea the Stars, the 2009 winner, was a half-brother of Galileo.
7. Recent form. All of the last ten winners have won, or finished second in their previous race.
To sum up: the ideal profile of a Derby winner is a horse that’s bred to stay the trip, has already won a Group race, is in the first four in the betting, has won a key trial, and finished in the first two in its last outing.
Now let’s take a closer look at the field in race card order:
AROD. Best odds: 16-1. Draw: 3.
Second in the Dante, like the 2010 Derby winner Workforce, and easy to make an each-way case for him. He’s nicely drawn and his trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, has won the Derby twice before. But his pedigree does give some concern over whether he’ll quite get home.
AUSTRALIA. Best odds: 13-8. Draw: 12.
Favourite for the race and trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won the Derby four times, including the last two seasons, says he’s the best he’s ever trained. A beautifully bred colt - his sire is the 2002 Derby winner Galileo and his dam Ouija Board - he comes here after an excellent close-up third in what is already proving to be a very strong 2,000 Guineas. Very obvious chance but that’s reflected in his short odds. Given the fact that favourites have been beaten in seven of the last 11 runnings it is tempting to take him on with something at a bigger price.
EBANORAN. Best odds: 16-1. Draw: 6.
Trainer John Oxx doesn’t waste his ammunition in the Derby: he’s had just three runners in the race since the turn of the century and two of them were winners. His representative this time finished first past the post in the Derrinstown, but was demoted to second. There are stamina doubts, and it was also disconcerting the way he veered left and then right when under pressure at Leopardstown, but his trainer’s record in the race makes him worth an each-way punt.
FASCINATING ROCK. Best odds: 14-1. Draw: 15.
He finished second in the Derrinstown but was awarded the race after Ebanoran (see above) was demoted. Trainer Dermot Weld’s last runner in the Derby finished third in 2008, but while he can’t be ruled out, his chances haven’t been helped by his high draw. Also, his pedigree - he’s the son of Australian sprinter Fastnet Rock - gives concern that he might not stay.
GEOFFREY CHAUCER. Best odds: 8-1. Draw: 7.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien’s second string didn’t get the best of runs when third in the Derrinstown and it would be no surprise to see him step up from that run here. Jockey Ryan Moore won the Derby in 2010 and O’Brien landed the race with a 7-1 shot last year. He’s by Montjeu - who sired three of the last seven runners - and has got a reasonable draw too. Definitely shortlist material.
IMPULSIVE MOMENT. Best odds: 100-1. Draw: 5.
The positives are that he’s by Galileo and has a good draw; he ran well to be second in the Classic trial at Sandown last time but will still need to show quite a bit of improvement if he’s to play a part in the finish.
KINGFISHER. Best odds: 66-1. Draw: 16.
The outsider of Aidan O’Brien’s quartet won the Dee Stakes at Chester last time out but before that was beaten in four of his first five races. Although he clearly needs to step up, O’Brien did saddle a horse at twice his odds to finish second in 2010. The wide outside draw is no help to his chances however.
KINGSTON HILL. Best odds: 7-1. Draw: 2.
Has been very well backed this week following a very encouraging piece of work at the track and good reports from his in-form trainer Roger Varian, who has said that he has never had his colt - who won last year’s Racing Post Trophy - in better form. He clearly has a big chance as the only Group One winner in the field, but while he looks sure to run well, horses drawn in stall two have a poor record.
ORCHESTRA. Best odds: 14-1. Draw: 14.
Another runner from the powerful Aidan O’Brien stable, this son of Galileo comes here having won the Chester Vase, the same race won by last year’s O’Brien-trained winner Ruler of the World. He only got home by a nose at Chester but there should be improvement to come; while he’s definitely an each-way possible, he could have been better drawn.
OUR CHANNEL. Best odds: 125-1. Draw: 10.
A rank outsider - but there are three reasons why he could be worth a small each-way flutter. First, his trainer William Haggas has a 100 per cent record in the race - his only previous runner, Shaamit, won in 1996. Second, he’s in lucky stall ten, which has provided seven winners since 1986 and three since 2001. Third, he’s the only runner with winning course form: he won a Derby trial at Epsom in April, showing he can handle the track's gradients. It would be a huge surprise if he’s good enough to win, but a horse available at three-figure odds did make the frame in 2010.
PINZOLO. Best odds: 66-1. Draw: 4
Has a nice draw, but was well beaten in the only Group One race he contested and although he won last time out, that was only in a Listed race. He’ll need to up his game to play a part in this.
RED GALILEO. Best odds: 150-1. Draw: 8.
Beaten in five of his six starts, with his sole success coming in a four-runner event on the all-weather at Kempton. Last time out he could only finish sixth in the Lingfield Derby trial. Up-and-coming 18-year-old apprentice Oisin Murphy takes the ride but his mount is the lowest rated horse in the field. His big price is a fair reflection of his chances.
ROMSDAL. Best odds: 25-1. Draw: 11.
Connections paid a £75,000 supplementary fee to enter him for the Derby after he finished a staying-on second behind Orchestra in the Chester Vase in May. Kris Kin, another supplementary entry, won the Derby in 2003, but while Romsdal can't be ruled out, the suspicion is he'll come up short.
SUDDEN WONDER. Best odds: 66-1. Draw: 9.
He’s by the 2008 Derby winner New Approach, and based on his breeding and the way he stayed on for third in the Lingfield Derby trial, it’s highly likely he’ll see out the trip. Unlikely to be good enough to win, but he may be one of the better outsiders.
TRUE STORY. Best odds: 12-1. Draw: 1
He’ll have to step up from his third-placed run in the Dante but veteran jockey Kieren Fallon has won the race three times and earlier this season landed the 2,000 Guineas. He’s got a bad draw, but interestingly the last horse who won from the number one berth was Oath, who was Fallon’s first Derby winner back in 1999.
WESTERN HYMN. Best odds: 16-1 Draw: 13.
The son of the 2002 Derby winner High Chaparral is unbeaten in his three starts to date, last time out winning the Classic trial at Sandown from Impulsive Moment. Trainer John Gosden’s previous Derby winner, Benny the Dip, came second in that same race before triumphing at Epsom and winners of the Sandown race did produce four Derby winners between 1979 and 1986. While he’s an interesting contender who should go well, confidence in him would be greater if he had been better drawn.