There's little doubt that to win the Derby—one of the most unique tests in sport—and follow in the footsteps of horse racing greats such as Sea Bird, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, The Minstrel and Shergar (to name just five), it requires an extraordinary performance and outstanding talent in tandem.
More recent winners include the likes of New Approach, Australia and Camelot, all of whom have progeny running in Saturday's race, but it is the 2001 winner Galileo—sire of both New Approach and Australia—who looks likely to be the best represented once again. To date, three of his sons have won the Derby (the other being the 2013 winner Ruler of the World), and his leading contenders this year include Anthony Van Dyck and Japan, two possible runners in a Ballydoyle assault that could yet total as many as eight, six of which are by Galileo (who may also be represented by the Godolphin-owned Line of Duty).
Anthony Van Dyck won the Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown and Futurity Stakes at the Curragh (by half a length from Christmas) last season, before placed efforts in the National Stakes back at the Curragh (one and a quarter lengths second to Quorto) and Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket (four lengths third to Too Darn Hot). He was never a threat in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on his final start that year, but made a pleasing return to action after six months off (despite not needing to improve) when winning the Derby Trial at Lingfield (by two and a quarter lengths from Pablo Escobarr, Hiroshima outclassed in eighth) last time.
Japan, a brother to the Oaks runner-up Secret Gesture, shaped encouragingly under a hands-and-heels ride when five and three-quarter lengths fourth to Telecaster on his reappearance in the Dante Stakes at York last time. He defied three runs in the space of a month when pipping stablemate Mount Everest by a short-head in the Beresford Stakes at Naas last season, strong at the finish, and his looks and pedigree suggest that he will step up on his Knavesmire effort before long; it wouldn't be a surprise were he to develop into a St Leger contender further down the line. He remains with potential over this intermediate trip in the meantime, though, still unexposed after four starts after all, and a big run is expected.
Such has been Aidan O'Brien's domination of the widely-recognised Derby trials that he is as short as 2/1-on to win the race, with the Chester Vase winner Sir Dragonet and Derrinstown Stud Trial winner Broome the most prominent in the betting.
Sir Dragonet belied weakness in the market to get off the mark at the first attempt at Tipperary in April, when scoring by three lengths with plenty in hand, and he made a big impression when impressively following up in the Chester Vase (by eight lengths from the Criterium de Saint-Cloud fourth Norway, wiping the floor with rivals who had all shown useful form already) less than two weeks later. Both of his wins have come on soft ground, but his sire Camelot’s best efforts—including when winning this race—came on quick ground, and Sir Dragonet’s dam was also effective on quicker going. Open to further improvement, he rates a leading contender having been supplemented for the race on Monday.
Broome ended his juvenile campaign with runner-up efforts in a Group 2 at Leopardstown (two and a half lengths behind Madhmoon) and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp (neck-second to Royal Marine), and he has continued his progress this term, making a successful reappearance in the Ballysax Stakes back at Leopardstown (by eight lengths from Sovereign, recording a good timefigure of 122 in the process) in April, before following up in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial there (by two and a half lengths from Blenheim Palace, well on top at the finish) last time. He is the highest-rated of the Ballydoyle team, but there is a lingering concern that he may get too far back if this season's hold-up tactics are employed once more.
Of the other O’Brien runners, Cape of Good Hope is a brother to the Coronation Cup winner Highland Reel and Idaho (third in the 2016 renewal of this race), both of whom were high-class and got better with age. He produced his best effort yet when winning a seven-runner listed race over 1¼m here (by half a length from Cap Francais, despite hanging right in the final 100 yards) on his reappearance. He seems likely to conform to pedigree and keep on improving as the season develops, but needs to take a sizable step forward to beat some of these.
Circus Maximus is bred in the purple (by Galileo out of Group 2 winner Duntle, who was also first past the post in the Group 1 Matron Stakes), and he made the frame in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket (three and a quarter lengths third to Persian King) and Futurity Trophy at Doncaster (length-fourth behind subsequent 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia) last season. He didn't need to improve to make a winning return after six months off in the Dee Stakes at Chester (by one and a quarter lengths from Royal Lodge Stakes winner Mohawk) last time, positively ridden by Ryan Moore despite the fact that he was up in trip, stamina looking his forte in fact, the first of the sextet to be niggled along before proving very strong through the last quarter of the race. He possibly lacks the class of some of his stable companions, but is still a really good prospect for at least 1½m.
Standing in the way of a seventh win for Aidan O’Brien – which would draw him level with Fred Darling (and the 19th century trainers Robert Robson and John Porter) – are Telecaster, who scuppered Too Darn Hot’s Derby claims when beating him in the Dante at York (despite racing keenly early on) last time, and Bangkok, who beat Telecaster at Doncaster in March before improving further to follow up in the Classic Trial at Sandown last month.
Unraced as a two-year-old, Telecaster has made rapid progress this season, finishing a length and a quarter second to Bangkok on his debut, before winning a 16-runner minor event at Windsor (storming clear, by nine lengths from Deal A Dollar) next time. He has raced exclusively around 1¼m to date, but will likely stay 1½m (by a Derby winner in New Approach and his dam was runner-up in the Oaks/Irish Oaks for the yard), and the sky could be the limit, with a (valid) argument to be made that he would be much shorter in the betting if trained by a yard with a history of classic winners.
Of those others already mentioned in passing, Madhmoon impressed during an unbeaten juvenile campaign that included a win in the Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown (by two and a half lengths from Broome). He ran well under a 3 lb penalty when a half-length second to the race-fit Never No More on his reappearance back there in April, and ran his race having had every chance in the main group when four and a quarter lengths fourth to Magna Grecia in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last time. He should stay 1¼m in time (as his dam did), but his sire flopped in this race and his stamina is not assured now up half a mile in trip, for all that he may yet do better in time.
Humanitarian shaped with plenty of encouragement and fared much the best of the newcomers when two and a half lengths second to subsequent 2000 Guineas seventh Kick On on his debut at Newmarket last September, before building on that with a useful performance to win at Lingfield seven weeks later. He followed up in straightforward fashion over a two-furlong longer trip at Salisbury last time, and remains with potential; he should stay this longer trip on breeding (by Frankel's 1½m-winning brother Noble Mission and some stamina on dam's side).
Line of Duty’s wins last season included the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs (by half a length from Uncle Benny), but he was well below expectations (proved the main disappointment of the race, folding almost as soon as he came under pressure) when 11 lengths seventh to Telecaster at York last time. That run was possibly too bad to be true, and he should be suited by 1¼m/1½m, so it would be no surprise to see him bounce back here, albeit probably in defeat (best form around 10 lb shy of leading form protagonists).
Of more interest is Surfman. He’s a half-brother to the smart 1¼m-12.5f winner (probably stays 15.5f) Kitesurf, and his dam was a 1¼m-1½m (Pinnacle Stakes) winner who was runner-up in Lancashire Oaks and Prix de Pomone, so it was no surprise to see him improve for longer trips this season. He won a 1¼m minor event at Newcastle (impressively, by 14 lengths from Frequency Code) in April, and shaped well when five lengths third to Telecaster in the Dante last time, having a hopeless task from his position but staying on from two furlongs out and taking third late on. It's still early days with regard to the effectiveness or otherwise of his sire Kingman's progeny at 1½m, but there is plenty of stamina on his dam's side and he shaped at York as if he will be fully effective over this trip. He’s sure to progress again, though might not want the ground too quick (his maiden win came on good-to-soft).
Dante winner Telecaster’s rapid progress this season has really struck a chord and he's fancied to land a blow for the comparatively smaller yards. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ballydoyle have a wealth of talent at their disposal once more, with their own 'out of the blue' Derby contender Sir Dragonet, who like Telecaster was supplemented on Monday, considered a big threat. Broome, Cape of Good Hope, Circus Maximus and Japan, who is surely better than he could show at York (a comment that also applies to the Roger Varian-trained Surfman), are all expected to launch strong challenges of their own, so the recommendation is to add Japan to the staking plan.
Back Telecaster to win Saturday’s Derby at 6/1
Back Japan to win Saturday’s Derby at 10/1