There might not have been a standout contender for the 2023 Derby – this was the first time this century that the favourite went off as big as 4/1 – but that shouldn't be confused with any lack of quality or depth, six of the field having won a recognised Derby trial this spring, while a couple of others had won a Group 1 at two.
Futurity Trophy winner Auguste Rodin was the best of them all as a juvenile and his connections viewed him as a possible Triple Crown contender going into his three-year-old campaign, but he ran no sort of race in the 2000 Guineas after meeting with some early interference. He proved a completely different proposition at Epsom, though, and bounced right back to go one better in an Epsom classic than his dam, Rhododendron, who was runner-up to Enable in the 2017 Oaks.
Auguste Rodin's winning form as a juvenile had come on testing ground, but he proved well suited by the firmer conditions at Epsom where he kept on well to overhaul King of Steel (124p from 92p), who had quickened up best off the modest pace.
Auguste Rodin, who clearly stayed the trip well on his first attempt at a mile and a half, scored by half a length, while the runner-up pulled four and three-quarter lengths clear of the third. His new Timeform rating of 125p (from 118) is the benchmark of high-class form with Timeform and is pretty much on standard for a Derby winner in the past decade.
The Irish equivalent is likely to be the next port of call and he is sure to take plenty of beating at the Curragh, while there must be a good chance that he'll rate higher still when the situation demands it, perhaps when he comes up against his elders in races such as the King George and Irish Champion Stakes.
As for King of Steel, he'll be a worthy opponent for Auguste Rodin once again if heading to the Curragh, especially as this was his first run of the season (withdrawn after playing up in the stalls prior to the Dante) and his third start full stop. A big, good-bodied colt who handled the ground/track surprisingly well for one with his profile, he is sure to improve and the way he shaped here suggests he'll have no coping with the demands of a top-level race over a mile and a quarter, too.
Similar comments apply to the winner of Friday's Oaks, Soul Sister (119p from 116p), who travelled more comfortably than favourite Savethelastdance (116 from 117p) from a long way out and was ultimately well on top at the finish, beating that rival by a length and three-quarters. The first three pulled over eight lengths clear of the rest, with Caernarfon (112 from 97) completing the frame just a head behind Savethelastdance.
Admittedly, the form looks no more than average for the race – the time was 2.63 seconds slower than the Coronation Cup run over the same course and distance earlier on the card – but the winner remains with potential and the runner-up may yet do better back on softer ground. It might be that they go in very different directions come the second half of the campaign, with the Nassau down in trip looking a suitable target for Soul Sister, while Savethelastdance would be a fascinating runner up in trip for the St Leger.
Only five runners went to post for the Coronation Cup, but four of them had previously won at the top level in a high-quality field, including the winner Emily Upjohn, who returned better than ever after nearly seven months off as she became the first filly to win the race since In The Groove in 1991.
The most impressive aspect of her performance was the manner in which she quickened to lead over two furlongs out, just needing to be kept up to her work from there to beat last year's Irish Derby winner Westover (remains on 126) by a length and three-quarters. Not only was the overall time notably quicker than that of the Oaks, but virtually all of that difference came in the final three and a half furlongs to highlight that the winner demonstrated a rare turn of foot.
It was every inch a high-class performance and Emily Upjohn advanced her Timeform rating to 128 (from 120) which identifies her as a leading contender for all the big middle-distance races still to come in 2023 in this sort of form. For context, when her 3-lb sex allowance is factored in, Emily Upjohn comes out on top in this division ahead of Luxembourg (130), Bay Bridge (129), Hukum (129), Adayar (128), My Prospero (128) and Desert Crown (127p).
Whilst disappointing in the race in 2022, the King George looks an obvious target for a filly who has raced exclusively at a mile and a half since filling the runner-up spot in last year's Oaks, though on this evidence she's got enough pace to be just as effective back over a mile and a quarter.
That brings into the equation a race like the Eclipse and raises the fascinating prospect of a clash at Sandown with one or both of the Derby winners from Epsom and Chantilly, Auguste Rodin and Ace Impact (125p from 101p), respectively.
Ace Impact matched the form shown by Auguste Rodin in winning the Prix du Jockey Club as he took a big step forward up in grade to maintain his unbeaten record, forging clear late on to land the spoils by three and a half lengths from favourite Big Rock (119 from 119p). Like his stable's last couple of winners of the Prix du Jockey Club, Sottsass and Vadeni, Ace Impact looks another high-class colt and his entries in the Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes suggest a performance like this wasn't entirely unexpected.
🏆🇫🇷 Wow! ACE IMPACT storms home to land the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club, reeling in the front-running Big Rock at Chantilly!— Sporting Life Racing (@SportingLife) June 4, 2023
🥇 It's a sixth victory in the French Derby for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, and a third for Cristian Demuro.pic.twitter.com/9oBtcdrIqI
Back at Epsom, Regal Reality (remains on 118) and Prosperous Voyage (remains on 116) didn't need to improve on their previous form to win the other Group races on Saturday's card, though both horses can arguably have their efforts marked up for one reason or another.
The veteran Regal Reality won the Diomed Stakes by three quarters of a length and deserved extra credit having conceded first run to the pair he pulled clear with, while Prosperous Voyage, who usually races in front rank, was forced into a change of tactics following a slow start in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes. She overcame that to win by three quarters of a length and all roads now lead to the Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot, that likely to require more from her.
One of the better performance away from the pattern races at Epsom came from Cadillac (118 from 113), who bounced back to his best in first-time cheekpieces to defy a BHA mark of 105 in the mile-and-a-quarter handicap on Friday, producing a relentless surge down the outside to win by a length and three-quarters. He was second in the Wolferton at Royal Ascot last season and he'd be a big player again on this form.
The most controversial race at the meeting was Saturday's "Dash" Handicap in which a few of those drawn high were immediately on the back foot after their stalls opened fractionally later than the rest.
As for the finish itself, Navello (99 from 97) can be classed as a slightly lucky winner, with the runner-up, Silky Wilkie (118 from 113), likely to have won had he got a clearer passage. He still showed borderline very smart form to lose out by just a short head and a repeat of this form should make him competitive in pattern company, albeit he was unable to make that step up in two previous attempts this year.