If you had to assemble a dream team for the Derby it would include the winter favourite for the premier Classic. It would also include the winner of the 2,000 Guineas and, if you were really being fanciful, you could throw in a top filly to give the colts a run for their money. Today though that reverie becomes reality and the only surprise seems to be that Lester Piggott is leaving it so late to announce his comeback in the Blue Riband.
This is the Derby you do not have to sell. If you're not interested in this particular contest then racing is simply not your game. It is anticipated that at about 3.50 this afternoon we will see the coming of a truly wonderful thoroughbred. Whichever animal negotiates the old switchback quickest must surely become, in an instant, one of the horses of the decade.
The cast list is so glittering that it would be surrounded by neon in different fields. Most attractive is the participation of Cape Verdi, the 1,000 Guineas winner, who attempts to become the seventh filly to succeed in the race and the first since Fifinella in 1916. Only five of her sex have even bothered trying since 1919, but Cape Verdi is not in this just as some novelty.
She represents the mighty Godolphin team who have been seasoned in Arabia. When the winter camp broke up to return to these shores the word was that Cape Verdi was the best in the entire squad. Not the best filly. Just the best.
In the first fillies' Classic she proved the assessment correct, sauntering five lengths clear of her rivals. Since that day she has conducted a scorched earth policy on the Newmarket gallops. Godolphin have not said she is going to win, but they expect her to. And the team is going well. They won two Group One events last weekend.
Cape Verdi's male counterpart is King Of Kings, and a further delicious strand to the Derby is that the 2,000 Guineas winner represents an axis of the Coolmore Stud, owner Michael Tabor and trainer Aidan O'Brien which has become Godolphin's deadliest natural rival. It is the first time the respective Guineas winners have met in the Derby since 1917.
The Irish-based team will also have the winter favourite for the race, Second Empire, carrying the flag and it is from these three horses that our new champion is expected to emerge. "It could turn out to be a very good Derby this year because we've got the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas winners in there," Michael Stoute, who trains another well-fancied creature in Greek Dance, says. "And we saw enough of Second Empire last year to show us he is a very good horse as well.
"I couldn't be that confident about my horse because if one of those three is as good at a mile and a half as they are at a mile then you're talking about a very formidable athlete indeed."
King Of Kings is a remarkable price considering his reputation is that of a colt who can give a head start to a bullet out of a gun on the home gallops (his Ballydoyle yard, incidentally, has provided the last seven Irish-trained winners of the Derby). The strong suggestion seems to be that King Of Kings will not stay today's trip and his camp have tacitly accepted this point by placing their main rider, Michael Kinane, on Second Empire.
It will be a difficult assignment for Kinane's mount because he has only recently recovered from pulled muscles in his quarters. Nevertheless, he came pleasingly through his final piece of work on the Curragh recently, a gallop he conducted while masquerading as the favourite for the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
A third Ballydoyle horse, Saratoga Springs, would be in single figures in the betting market had he not competed in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) last weekend. The chestnut looked a little washed out at Chantilly, where his run hardly advertised the form of his previous victory in the Dante Stakes. That means his York victims City Honours and Border Arrow are damned by association.
Greek Dance ran in a less competitive race at the Knavesmire meeting and though he was receiving weight from his nearest rival, Capri, that nearest rival did not finish that near. He looks a certainty to reach the frame.
There is also a pale look about the Derby trials from Lingfield and Chester. High-Rise and Sadian appeared to be locked together in the practice of plodding at the former, while Gulland's success at the Roodeye raised doubts about his capacity to last this afternoon's distance on Epsom's taxing undulating course.
More tempting is the big price attached to another trial victor, Courteous, whose pedigree and running style tell us he will be one of the few who actually enjoys the trip. His stable quite fancy him.
The best advice of all on this 219th Derby day, however, is to ignore the bald fellow with glasses on the Hill betting under the name of John Batten, the rogue bookie who ran off without paying out last year. With anyone else, back CAPE VERDI (nap 3.45).
The experts' predictions
1 Cape Verdi
2 Greek Dance
3 Second Empire
Best outsider: Courteous
1 Greek Dance
2 The Glow-Worm
3 King Of Kings
Best outsider: Mutamam
1 Greek Dance
2 Cape Verdi
Best outsider: MutamamReuse content