The perceived wisdom is that if a trainer thinks he has a cluster of Derby contenders, then he hasn’t any. Perhaps there is something in the theory; Aidan O’Brien’s three winners of the premier Classic – Galileo, High Chaparral and Camelot – were respectively accompanied to post by zero, two and one stablemates. And the scattergun years – there were eight Ballydoyle runners in 2007, for instance, and six in 2009 – have tended to yield only minor placings.
So far, O’Brien seems to be mustering a mob-handed attack on this year’s race and the betting looks to reflect its strength; his perceived best shot in the market, Battle Of Marengo, remained a 5-1 shot after his workmanlike success at Leopardstown yesterday, with the favourite Dawn Approach at 7-4.
But there are still 19 days until Derby Day, a long time in the development of a three-year-old and plenty of time for one of the O’Brien inmates to begin truly to sparkle. Those under consideration include the three previous trial winners, Ruler Of The World and Magician at Chester, and Nevis at Lingfield, and Indian Chief, who will be the stable’s sole runner in the Dante Stakes at York on Thursday after Mars was yesterday ruled out of a trip to the Knavesmire. If the 2,000 Guineas sixth does go to Epsom, it will be without another outing.
Of the Co Tipperary brigade, Battle Of Marengo is the least callow. Yesterday was his sixth outing, his fifth success in a row and his second from as many runs this term. His trainer’s son, Joseph, asked for a long run for home and the son of Galileo showed a willing attitude as he galloped dourly to the line to repel Dawn Approach’s stablemate Loch Garman by a length-and-three-quarters. And if neither he nor the others from Ballydoyle have yet shown Dawn Approach’s brilliance at the highest level, they have at least demonstrated reserves of stamina with which to tackle what may be the 2,000 Guineas hero’s weak spot.
Better still is expected from Battle Of Marengo when he encounters livelier underfoot conditions. “We’ve only kept him ticking over since he won here the last day,” said O’Brien Snr, “and he needed a good blow today. He’s a lazy type, and he was lazy today – it wasn’t ideal being in front as far out as he was, but he had to go on as there would have been no pace otherwise. And when he finally gets top of the ground, he’ll love it.”
Over in France, the massive recent investments of the Thani family of Qatar – the bloodstock industry’s newest and most enthusiastic high rollers – finally bore Classic fruit after a few near misses as Flotilla won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, the French equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas. In last week’s Classics on the Rowley Mile, Toronado finished fourth in the 2,000 Guineas and Just The Judge second in the 1,000, caught close home by Sky Lantern and beaten half a length.
Half an hour before the Pouliches, Havana Gold took the lead in the colts’ race, the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, half a furlong out, only to falter to fifth place in the last few strides. The various horses run for different Thanis but, as among the Maktoums, there is solidarity as well as competitiveness. And there is a likely family showdown to come between Flotilla, in Sheikh Mohammed’s blue colours, taking on Just The Judge, who races in his young cousin Sheikh Fahad’s maroon.
With Flotilla trained by Mikel Delzangles and the Poulains winner Style Vendome by Nicolas Clément, both the Longchamp Group One prizes remained at home. The best of the raiding colts was O’Brien’s Gale Force Ten, one place in front of Havana Gold, and of the fillies it was the last-named’s Richard Hannon stablemate Zurigha, a fast-finishing fourth. Hannon’s Olympic Glory, the favourite for the Poulains, could finish only 11th.
CHRIS McGRATH’S NAP: Anderton (4.15 Musselburgh)
Next best: Grandorio (3.50 Doncaster