Already Tattenham Hill seems densely sown with shamrock. After the last feasible home candidates were unceremoniously dismissed here yesterday, it seems safe to say that the greatest prize contested on British turf will be claimed for Ireland three weeks tomorrow. In fact, it now seems impossible to conceive a single indigenous colt intruding among the relevant protagonists in the Investec Derby.
Such is the hegemony being extended by Aidan O'Brien, who won three Derby trials in four days last week, and yesterday sent over two colts from Ballydoyle to share a photo finish for the Totesport Dante Stakes, Black Bear Island just nailing Freemantle at the post. Among the credible Epsom contenders only Sea The Stars and Gan Amhras, first and third in the 2,000 Guineas, are stabled elsewhere – respectively with John Oxx, on the Curragh, and Jim Bolger, at Coolcullen.
Since O'Brien saddled Galileo and High Chaparral to win successive Derbys, in 2001 and 2002, he has tended to run several colts each year without ever quite matching quantity with quality. This time round, he has the option of both. The colts who dominated yesterday – the strongest assembled for any of the Epsom rehearsals – are certainly entitled to join maybe half-a-dozen other legitimate contenders from the yard. But there is no mistaking the sense that Fame And Glory is considered best of the lot, and some of the other trial winners may well be diverted to the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly, the day after the Derby.
Like both Galileo and High Chaparral before him, Fame And Glory was an arresting winner of the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown last Sunday, and he will certainly be ridden at Epsom by Johnny Murtagh. But the Ballydoyle stable jockey's sleep may yet be disturbed by those same precedents: Sea The Stars is a half-brother to Galileo, while Black Bear Island is a full-brother to High Chaparral.
He could duly be expected to further improvement should he make the step up in distance at Epsom. As it was, the narrow margin of his success disguised the unique conviction he showed in a field that had otherwise been made to look pedestrian by the runner-up. Having set the pace on Freemantle, Murtagh was clear at the furlong pole – Crowded House was soon in trouble after travelling smoothly on the rail – but Colm O'Donoghue had been blessed by a fortunate split and was able to send Black Bear Island surging through from last to first.
They were all in a bit of an unruly muddle on their heels, Sans Frontieres finishing well for third, just ahead of Monitor Closely, doing his bit for the Guineas form, and Kite Wood, who made an adequate start for his new stable. Crowded House, however, finished very tamely back in eighth, beating only two other disappointments in Redwood and Nehaam.
Black Bear Island had shaped well in France last month and Freemantle may also make considerable progress for his own comeback. Black Bear Island is available at 10-1 for Epsom with Ladbrokes and Totesport, who now quote Fame And Glory at 9-4 and Sea The Stars at 7-2.
"Aidan told me to get him [Black Bear Island] to switch off and relax and to let him enjoy himself through the race," O'Donoghue said. "There was plenty of pace on and he travelled really well, and picked up really well too when I asked him to get going in the last two furlongs."
Barry Simpson, racing manager to Sir Robert Ogden, warned Epsom might not be an appropriate target for a long-striding colt like Sans Frontieres. As for Crowded House, Jamie Spencer told Brian Meehan, his trainer, that he felt flat. Meehan offered the possibility that he needed the run and was not ruling out the Derby at once.
The meeting finishes today with the Emirates Airline Yorkshire Cup, where Fiulin is perhaps the only runner who might still be considered progressive, but the last Classic trial of the week takes place down at Newbury. The Swettenham Stud Fillies' Trial gives Mooakada the chance to reinforce what seems rather thin opposition awaiting Sariska in the Investec Oaks. Clearly, however, that should only be so because O'Brien does not have as many fillies as colts.
Nap: Rothesay Dancer (9.05 Hamilton)
NB: Allied Powers (8.35 Hamilton)