Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond recalls some huge-priced underdogs who performed well at Epsom before debating the merits of some of this year’s Derby longshots.
You have to be careful what you wish for, as I find out as we approach this weekend’s Cazoo Derby at Epsom.
Summer has finally arrived and despite 88mm of rain in the first 24 days of May, Epsom Race Director Andrew Cooper had to turn on the taps this week to keep the ground from getting too fast.
As I told you last week, I thought my ante post Derby bet on Mac Swiney had gone west, but I was subsequently busy congratulating myself on my foresight after his landslide victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. However, this mild weather does not give me confidence and while her luck is not completely wasted it would be much better in milder conditions.
So, if not Mac Swiney, who? I certainly think the race is more open than the betting suggests with Sky Bet having Bolshoi Ballet as their favorite 6/4. It feels very short to me considering the SP of some of the more recent winners of this unique challenge.
For those with a memory as long as mine, the 500/1 over runner-up Terimon in 1989 was exceptional, but more recently we have seen 25/1 and 40/1 winners of this great race. While I don’t predict a shock of these proportions, there are a handful of foals languishing down from the bet that cannot be ruled out entirely.
One of these horses is A ruler (25/1 with Sky Bet) who like Mac Swiney is also in top form on the testing ground but should progress to a better surface this season for Charlie Appleby. He was a little impatient at the start of his reappearance in the 2000 Guineas and had no trouble once his luck wore off. Dante winner Hurricane path is the team’s number one prospect but this boy cannot be ruled out with confidence given the level of form he has shown as a youngster.
Too, Lone eagle at 33/1 would not be the most unlikely of winners. I tipped him for his reappearance at Sandown in the Classic Trial, but he ran below par there and generally when I had left him well on his own he duly hacked the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood (formerly called the Predominate Stakes for those of us of a certain vintage).
Granted, he hasn’t pitched a Derby winner since Troy in 1979, but Khalifa Sat won the race in 2020 and finished second in the Derby at 50/1. Lone Eagle reminds me more of a Leger horse and his trainer Martyn Meade said so, but I wouldn’t take him away from racing in Epsom places.
What about a 33/1 winner for Joseph O’Brien, who won the race as a jockey on Camelot and Australia and will have sat on a few more Derby winners than that of Ballydoyle. Aurora Austral is his representative, and it’s quite difficult to assess since he just had three starts, but he clearly has a good reputation.
He was highly anticipated on his debut at the age of two and was just touched before returning at the age of three and impressing in his first win at Leopardstown. He then went into a Derby trial and what a trial it was. Bolshoi Ballet won this Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial with an below average Mac Swiney in fourth position.
Southern Lights was only sixth, but struggled to run when he made late progress and returned home afterward. It was certainly not a bad race as his finish position would suggest and he will have learned a lot from it as well. He wasn’t in the same class as the winner, but it looked like the step up to a mile and a half would be fine (and maybe further in time) and would have finished much closer without that crucial check.
So a few options each way for you, away from the obvious runners and with Sky Bet paying four places instead of three, it may be worth trying something at a price. I still metaphorically hold that Mac Swiney post in my dirty mittens and hope for the best.
“Unsexy” Sherbert Lemon has to get into the math
Cazoo Oaks statements have been made and we now know that 14 fillies will be fielded on Friday. Speaking of reputation, there were few greater than Santa barbara‘s before its reappearance in the 1000 Guineas. This was only her second start in life and her inexperience has shown it, but I’m not convinced Epsom will fully bring out the best in her, so I’m happy to take her back. Sky Bet did better in the Oaks and pay five spots, so what could work well at a price here?
Safran Beach is a 10/1 shot with Sky Bet and I think she has superb claims to give her excellent coach Jane Chapple-Hyam a classic first win. Did you see his Uber Cool win in Chester on Saturday? The horse hadn’t set foot on a racetrack for over two and a half years but got up and won by doing hand jumps. Preparing a horse to do this after such a long layoff takes time and Saffron Beach is in good hands. Its endurance is not assured, but it is my only reservation.
At an even higher price Lemon sorbet must enter the calculations. She has 25/1, despite winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial. She’s not one of those “sexy” runners, so maybe a bit overlooked for Archie Watson and Hollie Doyle. Lingfield is as close to Epsom a comparison as there is and in general, if you are up against Lingfield, Epsom cambers should have no fear. She was brave in her last win and while I’m not sure she had the class to win an Oaks, I could envision her finishing in the top 5 on Friday for her young mobile upward coach.
There is no love in the Coral Coronation Cup, but a lot of love for the favorite 4/5 Al Aasy and that’s no surprise given his two wins at Newbury this season. He was not released the last time and had pretty much strolled to victory the previous time.
Was it Group 1 performance? This will be his toughest test against proven top performers, and I was really taken by a resurgent Japan in Chester last month. It was on a trip that seemed like it could stretch him, against a horse that had stamina to burn, but his class was saying it, and he looked awesome there. I’m happy to stick with him and at 100/30 he’s more appealing to me than the favorite.
Anyway, now that the sun is finally here it can hang around for a while as my Royal Ascot outfits won’t be complemented with a raincoat and that won’t do these fancy hats much good either! It will soon be time to tell you about the biggest flat festival in the world and I look forward to being there every five days for Sky Sports Racing.