A Derby Day conundrum: if you have a Derby favourite stepping up half a mile in trip on the softest ground he has faced, do you:
a) Ensure a strong gallop with your other runners (change of tactics) to help bring the best horses to the fore or;
b) Run your other runners as normal and hope that a less-ferocious gallop will still see your horse’s class shine through?
There’s no reason to feel sorry for Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team who have to make this decision – it’s a bit like choosing between two types of caviar – however tactics will prove very interesting at 4.31pm on Saturday, and, quite possibly, crucial to the chances of Triple Crown hope and Derby favourite Saxon Warrior. Below is Timeform’s Early Position Map for Saturday’s race.
Of course, if history is anything to go by, the answer will be a). While there is a chance that Knight To Behold, Sevenna Star and Masar could do the donkey work anyway, Ballydoyle have employed a pacemaker in every renewal of the Derby since Timeform introduced EPF symbols for every race in 2012, for all that Battle of Marengo couldn’t last long in-front when Dawn Approach went tearing off after half a mile in 2013.
The most obvious Ballydoyle candidate to have his chance sacrificed for the greater good is Kew Gardens. He made all the running in the Beresford Stakes at Naas and when winning a listed race at Newmarket last October, and any slim chance he held in the Derby itself looks to have dissipated with his draw in stall 12. With plenty of stamina in his pedigree, The Pentagon could also be asked to help guarantee a true gallop from stall 11.
What does all this mean? In all likelihood, a better chance for Saxon Warrior, though he hasn’t been done any favours by his draw in stall 1. A quick start could see Ryan Moore ride him prominently, however any hesitation from the horse could lead to him being further back than ideal. That could be negated by his stablemates ensuring a very strong pace, which would also give Moore greater choice in where to deliver his challenge, as getting stuck on the inside in a moderately-run affair could spell disaster.
Of course, this Derby isn’t just about Saxon Warrior and messieurs O’Brien and Moore, with Roaring Lion and Masar just two horses holding legitimate, though not outstanding, claims. Roaring Lion was a neck second to Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last term and put a disappointing reappearance behind Masar in the Craven firmly behind him when fifth (again two places behind Masar) in the 2000 Guineas, before winning the Dante Stakes at York last time. Though Masar will probably stay 1½m, the rain that has arrived this week won’t have helped his chance, though odds of 25/1 are a tad insulting.
Hazapour has attracted plenty of each-way support in recent days, with two-time Derby winner Frankie Dettori having been confirmed as his big-race jockey. Out of a half-sister to the 2016 Derby winner Harzand, the Dermot Weld-trained colt put himself firmly in the picture for this race when beating Delano Roosevelt (his fourth Group-level placing since a winning debut) and The Pentagon in the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown, taking a large step forward from his soft-ground juvenile form and leaving the impression there could be even more to come granted a stiffer test of stamina.
Of the others, Young Rascal had a bit in hand when winning the Chester Vase last time by half a length from Dee Ex Bee, overcoming trouble and showing an excellent attitude in the process, and that adaptability could prove crucial in a race where there are often several hard luck stories. James Doyle, who has ridden him to both victories, can be confident that his mount will cope with the hustle and bustle of the big occasion.
An inside draw has already led to some firms going odds against about Saxon Warrior, which looks an overreaction. Three horses (Blakeney, Roberto and Oath) have won from that draw since the mid-1960s, so it’s not impossible, and his big-race jockey is likely to get every assistance from the rest of the Ballydoyle runners, whichever way he decides to ride Saxon Warrior. Hazapour and Young Rascal could both improve past Roaring Lion for place money.
Back Saxon Warrior to win Saturday’s 2018 Epsom Derby at 11/10
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