An impressive winner of last Saturday’s 2000 Guineas, Saxon Warrior is now no bigger than evens to follow up in the Derby for Aidan O’Brien, and the next three weeks will be all about trying to uncover a rival who could potentially put it up to the son of Deep Impact at Epsom.
The search continues apace after two trials at Chester that caused no more than minor ripples in the ante-post markets – Young Rascal is still a general 12/1 chance after his Chester Vase win, while 20/1-shot Rostropovich, a stablemate of Saxon Warrior, is no banker to stay a mile and a half on pedigree and could yet run in the French Derby following his victory in the Dee Stakes.
As a result, all eyes will be on Lingfield and Leopardstown this weekend, with the latter event, the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, perhaps of most interest when it comes to potential Derby clues. Admittedly, no horse has done the Leopardstown/Epsom double since High Chaparral in 2002, but the race has still thrown up its share of top-class winners, including Dylan Thomas (2006) and Fame And Glory (2009), who were both placed in the Derby (behind Sir Percy and Sea The Stars, respectively) before going on to win the Irish equivalent at the Curragh.
High Chaparral, Dylan Thomas and Fame And Glory are among 11 winners of the Derrinstown for O’Brien, overall, and the master of Ballydoyle appears to hold the key to the race once again on Sunday. Indeed, O’Brien’s trio of runners – Nelson, Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon – head the eight-strong field on weight-adjusted ratings, having filled the first three places, in that order, in the Ballysax Stakes over C&D last time.
A Group 3 winner as a two-year-old, Nelson showed a good attitude to get the better of Delano Roosevelt by half a length, probably just headed by that rival in the final furlong but digging deep to re-assert in the final 50 yards. That represented a decidedly smart effort and he looks to have plenty of physical scope, so should continue progressing for a while longer yet, especially when stepping up to a mile and a half. Delano Roosevelt still looked a bit rough around the edges (ran green under pressure) and looks sure to go on improving himself, though there is no obvious reason why he should reverse the placings with the winner on 3 lb worse terms here.
The Pentagon was sent off the 13/8 favourite on that occasion but proved to be a big disappointment, looking laboured in the testing conditions (had also shown little on debut on heavy) as the front pair left him behind in the straight. He’s worth another chance to confirm his earlier promise, however, with his Racing Post Trophy third behind Saxon Warrior (beaten two and three quarter lengths) last season not looking too bad now. He would not be the first O’Brien-trained horse to take a significant step forward from his first run this season, either, and with the going at Leopardstown currently described as good-to-firm, there is every reason to expect a much improved display from The Pentagon on Sunday.
If the main threat to Saxon Warrior at Epsom is going to come from outside of his own stable, then there is a small chance that The King could be the one. He only made it to the track twice as a two-year-old, getting off the mark on the latter occasion at Gowran Park. A steadily-run maiden, it is that point that makes his performance even more taking, The King showing a smart turn of foot to pick up a trio who were better placed than him when the sprint for home began. The runner-up that day, Imaging, has won three of his four subsequent starts, too, and looked a pattern-class performer in the making when winning a seven-furlong listed race at Naas last time.
The King is seemingly held in high regard by connections (holds plenty of lofty entries) and certainly looked as if he would come into his own over middle distances this season, given how strongly he finished his race over a mile at two. The son of Mastercraftsman has plenty to find with the principals on form, but he is open to any amount of improvement and could be worth chancing, at the prices, for the Jessica Harrington yard that is just beginning to hit top form.
Of the remainder, Theobald produced his best effort last season when a length and three quarters second to The Pentagon in the Tyros Stakes over seven furlongs here, but even that form leaves him with plenty to find, while Lethal Step and Platinum Warrior are readily passed over having finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in a handicap at Navan last time. Hazapour makes more appeal having created a good impression in three starts as a juvenile, though he had his limitations rather exposed when third in a Group 3 here on his final start that season, and this is much tougher.