It might appear, from the outside at least, that everybody at Ballydoyle has been floundering in a state of total confusion this year as one after another of their supposed Derby big guns has fired blanks and been replaced in the front rank by hitherto unheralded young recruits.
If this were football, there might even be chants from the sidelines of “You don’t know what you’re doing”, but trainer Aidan O’Brien’s wonderful record suggests otherwise.
So it is that, come the big day, O’Brien has three feasible chances of winning his fourth Derby in a row (a straight fifth for the Coolmore owners, in a sequence initiated by the André Fabre-trained Pour Moi in 2011) and the colt leading the charge at the 11th hour is Giovanni Canaletto, the subject of a substantial gamble once the stable’s new No 1 jockey Ryan Moore gave him the thumbs-up over Hans Holbein and Kilimanjaro earlier this week.
Giovanni Canaletto’s Derby preparation has not been ideal, a bit rushed following a slight training setback before his intended reappearance at Chester last month, and he hardly shaped like a Derby winner-in-waiting when narrowly beaten by the filly Curvy at the Curragh 13 days ago, form which leaves him the best part of a stone behind the favourite, Golden Horn.
Moore, however, was impressed, given the circumstances. He said yesterday: “I was disappointed he got beat, but I felt he ought to have won. He was out the back in a slowly run race. I didn’t want to give him too hard a time. I’m pretty sure he’ll go forward from that run, he’s open to considerable improvement.”
Giovanni Canaletto has more going for him than this superb jockey’s endorsement, not least that he is a full-brother to the 2013 Derby winner, Ruler Of The World, who was also ridden by Moore. His stamina is pretty much assured, which is more than can be said for some of his main rivals.
He might well improve, too, for the fitting of cheekpieces. When O’Brien first tried headgear on his other two Derby runners in the spring it had an immediate positive effect. That does not mean it will automatically work for this son of Galileo, but he did run with an awkward head carriage at the Curragh, which may suggest his concentration was not 100 per cent, and it is reasonable to assume that this is an informed tactic.
Concerns about Golden Horn’s stamina are well documented, but if he is good enough – and on the evidence of his decisive Dante Stakes success over Jack Hobbs and Elm Park at York last month he might be – he could win this without truly staying the mile and a half; it is not, normally, just a case of hitting a brick wall. Others have coped with the extra stretch, including, arguably, last year’s winner Australia, who was probably more effective over shorter distances.