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Derby preview: King can rule at Epsom

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Timeform's Adam Houghton previews the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday and picks out his best bet in a fascinating renewal.

It’s been eight years since Camelot won the Investec Derby, in the process becoming only the second horse to complete the 2000 Guineas/Derby double since Nashwan in 1989. Both horses to have attempted the feat since – Dawn Approach (2013) and Saxon Warrior (2018) – seemingly failed to stay when beaten at short odds at Epsom, which serves as a timely reminder that horses with the necessary blend of speed and stamina to win both races don’t come along very often.

 

The latest horse to attempt the double is Kameko, who sets the clear standard on Timeform’s ratings for the Derby after producing a high-class effort to win the Guineas. Always travelling smoothly just behind the leaders, Kameko briefly had to wait for a gap entering the final furlong but stayed on strongly once in the clear, ultimately getting on top close home to land the spoils by a neck.

Wichita and Pinatubo, who were second and third respectively at Newmarket, advertised the strength of that form when also finishing placed (in reverse order) behind Palace Pier in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and a Timeform master rating of 128 identifies Kameko as an above-average winner of the Guineas. It’s worth remembering that he was a very smart two-year-old, too, most notably joining Camelot on the roll of honour for the Futurity Trophy on his final start at Newcastle.

However, the big question that remains for Kameko is whether he’ll stay the extra half a mile at Epsom. His strength at the finish at Newmarket suggests that a mile and a quarter will be within his range, but his stamina for the Derby trip can’t be assured on pedigree.

His sire, Kitten’s Joy, was a Grade 1 winner over a mile and a half in the US, but several of the most talented performers on the distaff side of Kameko’s pedigree showed their best form up to a mile. These include his dam Sweeter Still, a Grade 3 winner in the US over that trip, and her half-siblings Kingsbarns (another former winner of the Futurity Trophy) and Belle Artiste (a Group 3 winner over seven furlongs in Ireland).

Those stamina doubts must explain why Kameko isn’t himself a short-priced favourite for the Derby, with that honour instead belonging to English King, who is now no bigger than 5/2 to follow up his impressive victory in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

English King went into that race as just the winner of a Newcastle maiden on his final two-year-old start, but the manner of his success at Lingfield identified him as potentially a colt out of the very top drawer. Stamina was tested thoroughly in a race run at a strong gallop, but it was the speed demonstrated by English King that impressed as much as anything, barely needing to come off the bridle as he shot clear in the final furlong to win readily by two and three quarter lengths.

Admittedly, the bare form of that effort is a long way below what Kameko has achieved, but the runner-up Berkshire Rocco is a useful sort in his own right, as he showed when chasing home Santiago – the subsequent Irish Derby winner – in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.

English King hasn’t yet shown all that he has to offer, either, and it would be somewhat fitting if he was the one to foil Kameko’s attempt to complete the Guineas/Derby double; his sire is none other than Camelot, whose other top progeny since retiring to stud include the 2018 Irish Derby winner Latrobe and last year’s Epsom fifth Sir Dragonet.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the Derby four more times since Camelot’s success, taking his overall tally to seven, and he could be represented by seven runners in this year’s renewal, headed by Mogul and Russian Emperor.

The latter produced a professional display to land the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last time, where he was arguably value for more than the official winning margin. He still had several lengths to make up entering the straight but found plenty to lead close home, beating two smart rivals who were better placed given how the race developed.

That was Russian Emperor’s third start of the campaign and he has improved with each one of them, the form he showed at Ascot putting him behind only Kameko on Timeform ratings. He may yet prove capable of better still, especially now stepping up further in trip, and it will be no surprise if he is the choice of Ryan Moore when the jockey bookings come out on Thursday.

Rewind the clock to the end of 2019 and Mogul was widely expected to be Ballydoyle’s leading contender for the Derby this season. He certainly ticked plenty of boxes at that stage, being a Group 2 winner as a two-year-old and a full brother to the likes of Secret Gesture (runner-up in the 2013 Oaks) and Japan (third in last year’s Derby), both of whom took their form to another level when tackling middle-distances at three.

His classic credentials took a major blow, however, when he could only manage fourth on his belated return in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, looking in need of the run as he flattened out in the final furlong. It’s far too soon to be writing him off, but he’ll clearly need to take a significant step forward here to play a hand in the finish.

Vatican City and Armory are others to note amongst the Ballydoyle contenders after finishing second and fourth respectively in the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh last time, though the latter isn’t sure to line up here (also has the option of Sunday’s Prix du Jockey Club).

As for Vatican City, he endured a trouble passage at the Curragh but flew home once in the clear, strongly suggesting that a mile and a quarter will be well within his range. Like Kameko, it’s open to debate whether he’ll stay this far, but he’s still unexposed and can boast a pedigree worthy of any classic winner, being a brother to several Group 1 winners, including Gleneagles, who won both the 2000 Guineas and Irish 2000 Guineas in 2015.

Gleneagles is also the sire of another contender in Highland Chief, who has the potential to outrun his odds on the evidence of his success in the Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot, where he defied top weight with a smart performance on just his fourth start.

Still with only two behind him entering the straight, he mounted an irresistible charge down the outside that carried him to the front inside the final 50 yards, showing he's still got some learning to do as he edged left late on. This is clearly much tougher, but he remains with potential and is certainly well worth his place in the line-up.

Similar comments apply to Pyledriver after his much-improved display to win the King Edward VII. His relative speed may have proved the difference in what was a muddling race, though, and arguably just as interesting at bigger odds is the third from that contest, Mohican Heights. He wasn’t seen to best effect on his first try over this trip, finding himself poorly placed when the tempo lifted in the straight, and there should be better to come from him when faced with more of an emphasis on stamina.

The pick of the others at double-figure odds could be those who fought out a close finish to the listed Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood, Khalifa Sat and Emissary.

The former showed a good attitude to land the spoils on that occasion and provides Kameko’s trainer Andrew Balding with a second string to his bow, but Emissary is perhaps the better long-term prospect of the pair, given that he was conceding both experience (still green) and track position to the winner last time. A half-brother to the 2010 Derby winner Workforce, he should have more to offer if this test doesn’t come too soon in his fledgling career.

In summary, Kameko sets the standard on form but isn’t certain to stay this far on pedigree, so he could be worth opposing with the exciting English King. The latter’s success in the Lingfield Derby Trial could hardly have been achieved with more ease, demonstrating all the qualities needed to excel at Epsom. He looks capable of taking another significant step forward and is fancied to provide jockey Frankie Dettori with a third win in the blue riband, leaving Russian Emperor and, at bigger odds, Highland Chief to complete the shortlist.

Recommendation:

Back English King at 5/2 in Saturday's Derby at Epsom

 
 

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BATH 13:35

Tuesday 14 July
2. MIA MENTO (IRE) 103
Andrea Atzeni silk Andrea Atzeni horse in focus
Peter Chapple-Hyam
1. CORINTHIA KNIGHT (IRE) 102
Hollie Doyle silk Hollie Doyle
Archie Watson
6. DELAGATE THIS LORD 101
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Michael Attwater
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