Racing: Val Royal can cut through form jungle

220th Derby: The premier Classic may fall to the French trainer that has become the race's most vehement critic
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The Independent Online
THEY SAY that there is only one Derby. Not this year, there isn't. There are dozens, jostling for attention as you try to picture the way it will unfold. You can play the mental videotape, rewind it and then play it again and again. The names in the final frame are different every time, and your brain aches that little bit more.

Open Derbys are nothing new, particularly in an age when the race is more of a setting-off point than the final destination. The old-timers would identify their Derby horse in the spring of its juvenile season, race it against the best for the next 12 months and look no further than Epsom in June. Now, horses frequently arrive with just a couple of races behind them, as their trainers think Epsom, Curragh, Ascot and Longchamp.

But was there ever a Derby quite like this? At most, it seems that 17 horses will go to post, depending on the overnight weather. Only four of those could truly justify the use of the word "shock" against their names in tomorrow morning's headlines. The form, frankly, is a jungle. Yet this is the Derby, so there is nothing else for it but to sharpen the machete, rub on the mosquito repellent and start hacking, in the hope that enlightenment is in there somewhere.

One point of entry is the recognised series of Classic trials, which have done their job rather too well this time around. Every last one of them, even the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom and the normally hopeless Dee Stakes at Chester, seems to have produced a serious contender. The likely favourite today is Dubai Millennium, who won the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood. No horse has come on from there to win at Epsom since Troy, 20 years ago.

And nor, probably, will he. Three-and-a-half lengths is a perfectly fair margin of victory in a race like the Predominate, but the concern is that it did not increase through the last furlong. Dubai Millennium was not going away over an easy 10 furlongs, which does not inspire confidence in his ability to last out a fiercely-run 12.

He is not as certain a non-stayer as Saffron Walden, but he also has a low draw, which could make it difficult to get an attacking position during the vital gallop to the top of the hill.

Some of the other leading names have at least had the good grace to have taken each other on already this season. Lucido, for instance, beat Oath at Newbury and then Daliapour at Lingfield, forcing his owner to call in this high-stakes poker game, and see his rivals hands with a pounds 75,000 supplementary entry fee.

Yet Oath showed immense improvement a couple of weeks later at Chester, and Daliapour could be a different horse on today's softer ground.

So it is time to hack deeper into the undergrowth, down to the roots, and look at the also-rans who might draw the whole thing together. There are several of them, horses like Mukhalif, the Italian Derby winner, who raced against Beat All and Zaajer, and Iscan, third to Oath and Lucido, second in Italy and down the field behind Housemaster in the Chester Vase.

And now it suddenly becomes clear. They - the British-based runners - are all as good as each other. There is little between the lot of them in terms of talent, and it is stamina alone which may determine the order in which they will finish.

This does, however, overlook one set of names, and since it happens to include Andre Fabre and Olivier Peslier, it might be as well to consider it carefully. Val Royal has achieved very little of note in his three races to date, but at least he has done so with style and promise. He is also unbeaten, like three of the last five Derby winners, including High-Rise, Peslier's successful 20-1 chance 12 months ago.

His mount this year is a similar sort of price, with 16-1 available this morning, but Peslier does not consider himself an outsider. "I think he's 16-1 because it is so long since a French-trained horse won the Derby," the jockey said yesterday, "and people think that it's very difficult for French horses to come over and win, but I don't think it's any more difficult for them than it is for the British horses.

"He's been going very well at home, and he won well in a Group Three race last time. The ground will suit him and I am not worried about him coming down the hill. If I can get him in among the other horses, I think they will help to carry him round."

A recommendation for VAL ROYAL (3.50) cannot be much more than a hunch call, because of a feeling that the British and Irish colts are either ordinary or non-stayers. But it is also hard to believe that an intensely proud man like Fabre would send a no-hoper to Epsom, not least after his disparaging comments about the race in recent weeks. Why give ammunition to those who claim that he does not like the race because he cannot manage to win it?

Cod psychology? Well, perhaps. No one can argue, though, with the overall record of Fabre or Peslier. Val Royal could be anything, and that is not something you can say about many of today's runners. It is time to stop wading through the jungle, and find one of the bookmakers offering 16- 1.

THE EXPERTS' OPINION

RICHARD EDMONDSON

1 Dubai Millennium

2 Lucido

3 Oath

Longshot: Compton Admiral

GREG WOOD

1 Val Royal

2 Oath

3 Beat All

Longshot: Zaajer

HYPERION

1 Val Royal

2 Dubai Millennium

3 Lucido

Longshot: Glamis

Derby colours and form guide

1 1- ADAIR (247) 9st D O'Donohoe 12

Owner: Godolphin. Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor. Odds: 14-1.

Chestnut colt by Theatrical (whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.1f) out of Amore Cielo (who was by Conquistador Cielo, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.3f)

Form: Always close up, led over 2f out and quickened clear to win impressively when beating Cornerback by 11 lengths in a maiden at Belmont Park (1m 1f, firm) last October.

Summary: Ex-American colt who is bred to stay the Derby distance, came over to Britain with a massive reputation and was ante-post favourite for this race at one stage. However, he has reportedly taken a long time to acclimatise and, having only won a maiden in the United States, is hard to assess.

mmmmmmGoingl?nDistancel?nForm ratingl?nTime ratingl?mmmmmmm

2 3-21 ALL THE WAY (35) (D) 9st J P Murtagh 3

Owner: John Humphreys Turf Accountants. Trainer: T Mills. Odds: 50-1.

Bay colt by Shirley Heights (whose progeny on average win over 1m 4.1f) out of Future Past (who was by Super Concorde, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.6f)

Form: Soon led, quickened 7f out, headed 4f out, kept on to lead again 1f out and stayed on well when beating Rhagaas (3lb better off today) by 11/4 lengths in the Champagne Stakes at Newmarket (1m 4f, good to firm). Previously prominent, led 3f out, headed and outpaced 2f out when 31/2 lengths second to Ramruma in the April Maiden Stakes at Newmarket (1m 4f, good).

Summary: Thorough stayer with an excellent attitude, but faces a big step up in class from his previous assignments and is likely to find a few too quick at the business end of this contest.

mmmmmmGoingl?nDistancel4nForm ratingl101nTime ratingl107mmmmmm

3 21-1 BEAT ALL (36) 9st G Stevens 17

Owner: Saeed Suhail. Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute. Odds: 13-2.

Bay or brown colt colt by Dynaformer (whose progeny on average win over 1m 2f) out of Spirited Missus (who was by Distinctive, whose progeny on average win over 6.4f)

Form: Held up behind, headway 3f out, led over 1f out and ran on well when beating Mukhalif by three lengths in the Newmarket Stakes at Newmarket (1m 2f, good). Previously always prominent, led 2f out, ran on well when beating Thrust by two lengths in the Pat Eddery Maiden Stakes at Chepstow (7f, good to soft).

Summary: Impressed at Newmarket (form received a boost when Mukhalif won the Italian Derby on Sunday) but is not sure to stay on breeding and has had an interrupted preparation.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl109nTime ratingl115mmmmmm

4 11-24 BRANCASTER (35) 9st J Fortune 7

Owner: Royal Ascot Racing Club. Trainer: P Chapple-Hyam. Odds: 25-1.

Brown colt by Riverman (whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.5f) out of Aseltine's Angels (who was by Fappiano, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.9f)

Form: Held up, ridden 4f out, headway but hung left 1f out, stayed on well when 21/2 lengths fourth to Island Sands in the 2,000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket (1m, good to firm). Previously held up, pushed along 3f out, headway over 2f out, no extra inside final furlong when a length second to Compton Admiral in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket (1m, good).

Summary: Finished well in the 2,000 Guineas and should stay 1m 2f, but is not certainty to last 1m 4f on testing going and needs to improve to hold more than an outside each-way chance.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl113nTime ratingl116mmmmmm

5 212-10 COMPTON ADMIRAL (35) 9st T Jarnet 8

Owner: E Penser. Trainer: G A Butler. Odds: 25-1.

Bay colt by Suave Dancer (whose progeny on average win over 1m 2.2f) out of Sumoto (who was by Mtoto, whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.5f)

Form: Held up up, hard ridden over 3f out, hung left and right and soon beaten when 81/4 lengths 13th to Island Sands in the 2,000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket (1m, good to firm). Previously held up in last place, ridden and headway over 1f out, led entering final furlong and ran on well when beating Brancaster a length in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket (1m, good)

Summary: Big disappointment in the 2,000 Guineas, but is bred to come into his own over this sort of distance and would have a live each-way chance if recapturing his Craven form.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl113nTime ratingl108mmmmmm

6 131-12 DALIAPOUR (28) (C) (BF) 9st G Mosse 5

Owner: H H Aga Khan. Trainer: L Cumani. Odds: 13-2.

Bay colt by Sadler's Wells (whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.2f) out of Dalara (who was by Doyoun, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.2f)

Form: Tracked leader, led 3f out, ridden 2f out, headed 1f out, stayed on when 11/4 lengths second to Lucido (2lb worse off today) in the Lingfield Derby Trial at Lingfield (1m 3f 106yds, good to firm). Previously made all, ridden over 2f out, went clear final furlong to win comfortably when beating Lightning Arrow by 21/2 lengths in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom (1m 2f, soft).

Summary: Looked a bit one paced at Lingfield but the softer ground is in his favour and, given a more enterprising ride, it would be no surprise to see him run a really big race.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel4nForm ratingl114nTime ratingl113mmmmmm

7 1-11 DUBAI MILLENNIUM (18) 9st L Dettori 2

Owner: Godolphin. Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor. Odds: 5-1 fav.

Bay colt by Seeking The Gold (whose progeny on average win over 7.5f) out of Colorado Dancer (who was by Shareef Dancer, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.7f)

Form: Held up, smooth headway to lead over 2f out, edged right and quickened clear when beating Red Sea by 31/2 lengths in the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood (1m 2f, good). Previously made all, quickened over 2f out and drew clear when beating Ettrick by nine lengths in the Doncaster Sponsorship Club Stakes at Doncaster (1m, good to firm).

Summary: Clocked a fair time at Goodwood and was most impressive in coming effortlessly from last to first to win in style but not absolutely certain to stay 1m 4f on testing ground.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl117nTime ratingl124mmmmmm

8 23-130 GLAMIS (24) 9st R Cochrane 10

Owner: Sheikh Mohammed. Trainer: J Gosden. Odds: 40-1.

Bay colt by Silver Hawk (whose progeny on average win over 1m 2.8f) out of Glaze (who was by Mr Prospector, whose progeny on average win over 7.8f)

Form: Hampered after 2f, held up in touch, outpaced over 3f out, soon beaten when 12 lengths seventh to Salford Express in the Dante Stakes at York (1m 2f 110yds, soft). Previously held up in last place, ridden over 2f out, stayed on final furlong when 11/2 lengths third to Fantastic Light in the Classic Trial Stakes at Sandown (1m 2f, soft).

Summary: Well beaten in the Dante and one paced at Sandown. Unless the extra distance brings out improvement (on breeding this is far from certain) it is hard to see this one figuring.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl116nTime ratingl100mmmmmm

9 63-31D HOUSEMASTER (32) 9st W Ryan 15

Owner: Highclere Thoroughbred Racing. Trainer: M Bell. Odds: 9-1.

Bay colt by Rudimentary (whose progeny on average win over 7.8f) out of Glenarff (who was by Irish River, whose progeny on average win over 7.8f)

Form: Held up, headway 3f out, switched right over 1f out, led inside final furlong, ran on, later disqualified when comfortably beating Peshtigo by a length in the Chester Vase at Chester (1m 4f 110yds, good to firm). Previously held up, headway over 2f out, no extra final furlong when two lengths third to Golden Snake in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket (1m 110yds, good).

Summary: Stays well despite his speedy pedigree and third in Racing Post Trophy on heavy going at Doncaster last year so ground will be no problem. Definite each-way possibilities.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel4nForm ratingl104nTime ratingl113mmmmmm

10 413-11 LUCIDO (28) 9st T Quinn 13

Owner: Mrs H Focke. Trainer: J Dunlop. Odds: 13-2.

Bay colt by Royal Academy (whose progeny on average win over 1m) out of Lady Ambassador (who was by General Assembly, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.3f)

Form: Held up in last place, steady headway over 2f out, led over 1f out and.pushed out to beat Daliapour (2lb better off today) by 11/4 lengths in the Lingfield Derby Trial at Lingfield (1m 3f 106yds, good to firm). Previously tracked leaders and quickened to lead well inside final furlong when beating Oath by a neck in the Compton Stakes at Newbury (1m 2f, good to firm).

Summary: Established himself as a definite contender at Lingfield but, although he clearly stays the Derby distance, is no certainty to confirm placings with Daliapour on this softer ground.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel4nForm ratingl111nTime ratingl114mmmmmm

11 531-21 OATH (30) 9st K Fallon 1

Owner: Thoroughbred Corporation. Trainer: H Cecil. Odds: 13-2.

Bay colt by Fairy King (whose progeny on average win over 7.5f) out of Sheer Audacity (who was by Troy, whose progeny on average win over 1m 4.7f)

Form: Held up in touch, led over 2f out, ridden clear over 1f out, when beating Little Rock by five lengths in the Dee Stakes at Chester (1m 2f 110yds, good to firm). Previously led, driven and quickened from 2f out, headed and no extra close home when beaten a neck by Lucido in the Compton Stakes at Newbury (1m 2f, good to firm).

Summary: Impressed at Chester and, although by the speedy Fairy King, being out of a mare by Troy, the 1979 Derby winner, has a fair chance of staying the distance. Should go close.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl114nTime ratingl110mmmmmm

12 1-2 RHAGAAS (35) (BF) 9st W Supple 9 V

Owner: Godolphin. Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor. Odds: 33-1.

Bay colt by Sadler's Wells (whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.2f) out of Darara (who was by Top Ville, whose progeny on average win over 1m 4.1f)

Form: Held up, headway 4f out, hard ridden and carried head high, outpaced, when 11/4 lengths second to All The Way (3lb worse off today) in the Champagne Stakes at Newmarket (1m 4f, good to firm). Previously held up, headway 3f out, led 2f out, quickened clear when beating Adnaan by four lengths in the Trent Maiden Stakes at Nottingham (1m, good to soft).

Summary: Stays well, but showed temperament on his only run this year - he is visored for the first time today - and needs to improve to hold a chance. Runs only if overnight rain.

mmmmmmGoingl?nDistancel4nForm ratingl102nTime ratingl108mmmmmm

13 2-111 SAFFRON WALDEN (14) 9st M J Kinane 14

Owner: Mrs J Magnier & M Tabor. Trainer: A P O'Brien (Irl). Odds: 7-1.

Bay colt by Sadler's Wells (whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.2f) out of Or Vision (who was by Irish River, whose progeny on average win over 7.8f)

Form: Held up, headway on outside over 2f out, led well inside final furlong and ran on strongly when beating Enrique by three lengths in the Irish 2,000 Guineas Stakes at the Curragh (1m, good). Previously tracked leaders, headway from 3f out, led well inside final furlong when beating Mus-If by a head in the Irish 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown (1m, good).

Summary: Put up a superb performance in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, but the influence for speed on the dam's side of his pedigree raise major doubts about him staying the Derby distance.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl124nTime ratingl107mmmmmm

14 20-11 SALFORD EXPRESS (24) 9st Pat Eddery 18

Owner: A J Thompson. Trainer: D Elsworth. Odds: 10-1.

Chestnut colt by Theatrical (whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.9f) out of Summer Fashion (who was by Moorestyle, whose progeny on average win over 1m 0.3f)

Form: Made all, ridden and quickened 2f out, ran on strongly when beating Golden Snake by 11/2 lengths in the Dante Stakes at York (1m 2f 110yds, soft). Previously pulled hard early on, led, quickened 3f out, kept on well final furlong when beating Peshtigo by a neck in the Peter Smith Memorial Maiden Stakes at Newbury (1m 3f, good to firm).

Summary: Strong claims on his Dante form, but possibly flattered after dominating at what was initially a steady pace, and not absolutely certain on breeding to stay the Derby distance.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl104nTime ratingl119mmmmmm

15 1-12 TCHAIKOVSKY (27) (BF) 9st R Hughes 11 V

Owner: Mrs J Magnier & M Tabor. Trainer: A P O'Brien (Irl). Odds: 50- 1.

Bay colt by Sadler's Wells (whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.2f) out of Crystal Spray (who was by Beldale Flutter, whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.9f)

Form: Always prominent, headway to challenge a furlong out and kept on when 11/2 lengths second to Port Bayou in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown (1m 2f, good to soft). Previously close up, challenged over a furlong out, led final furlong and soon clear when beating Fable by three lengths in the Young Irelands Stakes at Gowran Park (1m 2f, soft)..

Summary: Plenty to do on his form so far, but bred to relish the Derby distance and to be in his element on soft ground. Reportedly misses this race to run in the French Derby tomorrow.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl104nTime ratingl104mmmmmm

16 45-34 THROUGH THE RYE (30) 9st M Hills 16

Owner: W J Gredley. Trainer: B Hills. Odds: 150-1.

Chestnut colt by Sabrehill (whose progeny on average win over 1m 0.3f) out of Baharlily's (who was by Green Dancer, whose progeny on average win over 1m 3.6f)

Form: Led, headed over 2f out, soon weakened when 10 lengths fourth to Oath in the Dee Stakes at Chester (1m 2f 110yds, good to firm). Previously tracked leader, led 3f out, ridden over 1f out, headed and no extra closing stages when 13/4 lengths third to Frippet in the 'Be An Annual Member For pounds 8 A Day' Maiden Stakes at Kempton (1m 3f, good to firm).

Summary: Well beaten by Oath at Chester and will probably finish even further behind that rival over today's longer distance. Won't stay, won't win and a sound bet to finish last. No chance.

mmmmmmGoingl8nDistancel8nForm ratingl100nTime ratingl100mmmmmm

17 1-11 VAL ROYAL (16) 9st O Peslier 6

Owner: J L Lagardere. Trainer: A Fabre (Fr). Odds: 14-1.

Bay colt by Royal Academy (whose progeny on average win over 1m) out of Vadlave (who was by Bikala, whose progeny on average win over 1m 4.7f)

Form: Made all, quickened turning for home, pushed clear over 1f out and ran on well when beating Fils De Viane by half a length in the Prix de Guiche at Longchamp (1m 1f, heavy). Previously tracked leader until challenging over 2f out, quickened clear over 1f out and ran on well when beating Eighty Two by five lengths in the Prix Matchem at Chantilly (1m 1f, good).

Summary: Unbeaten in three races over 1m 1f and, although by the speedy Royal Academy, has stamina in the dam's side of his pedigree and could stay the distance. Live each-way chance.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl116nTime ratingl106mmmmmm

18 21-1 ZAAJER (23) 9st R Hills 4

Owner: Hamdan Al-Maktoum. Trainer: E Dunlop. Odds: 14-1.

Chestnut colt by Silver Hawk (whose progeny on average win over 1m 2.8f) out of Crowns Quest (who was by Chief's Crown, whose progeny on average win over 1m 1.3f)

Form: Held up, short of room from over 2f out, squeezed through to lead inside final furlong and ran on well to beat Mukhalif by 11/2 lengths in the Glasgow Stakes at York (1m 2f 110yds, soft). Previously soon tracking leaders, led over 2f out, hard ridden and drew clear final furlong when beating Queensland Star by five lengths in the Hyperion Strakes at Ascot (7f, soft).

Summary: Impressed at York (form received a boost when Mukhalif won the Italian Derby), loves the mud and has a decent chance of staying the Derby distance. Definite each-way prospects.

mmmmmmGoingl4nDistancel?nForm ratingl105nTime ratingl102mmmmmm

- 18 declared -

BETTING: 5-1 Dubai Millennium, 13-2 Beat All, Daliapour, Lucido, Oath, 7-1 Saffron Walden, 9-1 Housemaster, 10-1 Salford Express, 14-1 Adair, Val Royal, Zaajer, 25-1 Brancaster, Compton Admiral, 33-1 Rhagaas, 40-1 Glamis, 50-1 All The Way, Tchaikovsky, 150-1 Through The Rye

1998: High-Rise 9st O Peslier 20-1 (L Cumani) drawn 14 (15 ran)

Compiled by Ian Davies

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