Last year, it all boiled down to whether or not you could accept the Authorized version. But the 229th Derby is open to all manner of interpretations, and nobody at Epsom today can be certain that he is reading gospel, or counterfeit scrolls.
Authorized arrived with an air of destiny, the only colt in the field with the potential to prove in a class of his own. He was priced accordingly, however, not least in view of his jockey's unrequited craving for the Turf's greatest prize. In the event, those brave enough to take the price never had a moment's anxiety, even with Frankie Dettori going as wide as any timid novice.
The modern master of Epsom, of course, was not in his way last year; nor, sadly, is there any prospect of Kieren Fallon riding in the Derby before 2010. But two of the trainers that have shared his past success here represent the logical starting point in a race where wheat and chaff look hard to prise apart.
Fallon, suspended for 18 months after failing a second drugs test in France last summer, has been replaced as stable jockey at Ballydoyle by Johnny Murtagh, and is now back riding work for Sir Michael Stoute. Between them Aidan O'Brien and Stoute have saddled four of the past seven Derby winners, and account for eight of the 17 runners today.
Having ridden all three of Stoute's runners on the gallops, Fallon told The Independent this week that Ryan Moore, the stable jockey, has made the wrong choice. Fallon says he would favour Doctor Fremantle ahead of any in the field, but Moore is riding Tartan Bearer.
Fallon conceded that Tartan Bearer is a very lazy type, much like his brother, Golan, who beat all bar Galileo in 2001. And Tartan Bearer did win what was perceived as the strongest trial, the Dante Stakes at York – the last three winners of which have followed up at Epsom. But Fallon is adamant that Doctor Fremantle has flourished since his own very solid rehearsal, in the Chester Vase.
Regardless, Doctor Fremantle is one of the few runners to have already demonstrated the stamina and adaptability required today. Stoute himself offered an endorsement of his own by encouraging Khaled Abdulla to pay £75,000 to add Doctor Fremantle to the field at the last minute. All in all, this colt provides a rare island of solidity in eddies of uncertainty, and looks the each-way option.
In terms of value, however, the O'Brien team contains still more tempting possibilities. It has been increasingly apparent in recent seasons that O'Brien brings his staying three-year-olds to the boil at Epsom. Since coming here with those outstanding colts, Galileo and High Chaparral, he has tended to bring bigger teams with lower profiles. But that policy has yielded near-misses for The Great Gatsby (20-1) and Dylan Thomas (25-1), as well as Peeping Fawn (20-1) in the Oaks.
As such, Murtagh's decision to favour King Of Rome may not be especially instructive. Murtagh rode Alessandro Volta when beating King Of Rome in the Lingfield trial, but the winner did not look at home on the hill there, while the runner-up has progressed in his work since.
But neither has shown as much in public as Frozen Fire, who was still green when running Tartan Bearer close at York and looks tempting at 20-1. With the Ballydoyle horses making so much improvement for their first runs, it is curious that the bookmakers have such an abyss between two colts divided only by a photograph that day – not least because Frozen Fire will adore every inch of the extra distance.
The one reservation is that he betrayed a nervous disposition at York, getting into quite a lather by the time he got to the start. Both his sire, Montjeu, and dam's sire, Woodman, have a history of producing nervy types and the elaborate preliminaries today are a concern.
Those who treat thoroughbreds like computer programmes will sooner discard Frozen Fire from their calculations simply because no colt has won the Derby after being beaten in the Dante. They will one day pay a price for their dogmatism. Was it this random piece of trivia that caused City Honours to freeze in a photo, 10 years ago?
You would have rather graver doubts about backing a horse that has been beaten in each of its previous races. No maiden has won the Derby since Merry Hampton in 1887. But the suspicion persists that Washington Irving will run a very big race today.
He has apparently continued to work better than any of the other Ballydoyle runners, and the fact that O'Brien is ready to follow Casual Conquest, this morning's favourite, here despite a six-length thrashing in the Derrinstown Trial at Leopardstown suggests that he did not show his best that day.
On pedigree he will relish this tougher examination of stamina, having been swamped for speed in a small field over 10 furlongs that day. He was not given a hard time after being caught short of room at a critical stage, and had previously shown neither more nor less than might be expected of a green Ballydoyle colt. At 40-1, he merits a leap of faith.
Casual Conquest himself did not earn an immediate passage to Epsom from his trainer, Dermot Weld, who feared that he might still be too big and raw. Though clearly very able, he is too short a price in view of those doubts.
Conversely, the other obvious colt from Ireland, New Approach, has plenty of miles on the clock and two very hard races in mile Classics hardly represent the conventional prelude to a new peak. Had he come here straight from Newmarket, he would be hot favourite. But he did not, and needs to settle better if he is to get the trip.
Curtain Call will certainly stay, but has yet to gild his solidity with any hint of glamour. Curiously, he is one of five runners to have disappointed in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last autumn. Another, Tajaaweed, showed his true ability at Chester but is not certain to stay the extra distance, a comment that applies also to Kandahar Run, and still more so to River Proud (a doubtful runner) and Rio De La Plata. The rest look out of their depth.
The same, of course, would seem palpably true of Washington Irving. But if there is a "sleeper" in the race, then it is surely the colt named after the man who gave us Rip Van Winkle.
VODAFONE DERBY (GROUP 1) (CLASS 1) £1,250,000 added 3YO 1m 4f Penalty Value £748,275. 4.00 Epsom, BBC1
1. 1223-4 ALAN DEVONSHIRE (28) (Russell Trew Ltd) M Tompkins 9 0 P Mulrennan 12
Respectable effort in Lingfield Derby Trial on seasonal return and unlikely to finish last, but big surprise if he was able to get into the shake-up
2. 031-41 ALESSANDRO VOLTA (28) (M Tabor, D Smith & Mrs J Magnier) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0 J A Heffernan 1
Ground out his victory at Lingfield last time, redeeming reputation after disappointing run in the Ballysax Stakes. Johnny Murtagh jumps ship here though
3. 34-53 BASHKIROV (27) (BF) (M Tabor, D Smith & Mrs J Magnier) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0 D R McCabe 9
Nicely bred colt but yet to win a race and likely role in this line-up would be to help ensure a decent gallop for his stablemates
4. 43-120 BOUGUEREAU (27) (A Black) P Chapple-Hyam 9 0 A Munro 2
Unable to land a blow in Italian equivalent last time and hard to believe that he will find this any easier, even if ease in ground might help cause of last year's winning trainer
5. 1-1 CASUAL CONQUEST (27) (Moyglare Stud Farms Ltd) D Weld (Irl) 9 0 P J Smullen 10
Impressed when taking Leopardstown trial, emerging as a leading contender for this as he stretched clear. Owner paid £75,000 entry fee and fine chance despite inexperience
6. 2215-1 CURTAIN CALL (45) (Mrs P K Cooper & Partners) L Cumani 9 0 J P Spencer 6
High-class juvenile and showed wellbeing when taking three-runner race at Nottingham on return. Trainer, successful in 1988 and 1998, knows what it takes to win the Derby
7. 221-21 DOCTOR FREMANTLE (30) (D) (K Abdulla) Sir M Stoute 9 0 K McEvoy 13
Strode home like a strong stayer when landing the Chester Vase. More needed to score here but there is likely to be more in the tank; chance
8. 10-2 FROZEN FIRE (23) (M Tabor, D Smith & Mrs J Magnier) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0 M J Kinane 15
Stepped up on juvenile form when narrowly denied by Tartan Bearer in the Dante Stakes. Further progress beckons and he could run well at rewarding odds
9. 211-21 KANDAHAR RUN (35) (Gestut Ammerland) H Cecil 9 0 T E Durcan 8
Three wins from five races, including a taking Listed success over 1m 2f on latest start. Much more to do here, but he could go close if his stamina lasts out
10. 010-52 KING OF ROME (28) (D Smith, Mrs J Magnier, M Tabor) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0 J Murtagh 11
A 7f maiden winner who was put in his place in the Racing Post Trophy. Improved form this term though and interestingly the choice of the stable jockey
11. 0-5303 MAIDSTONE MIXTURE (J13) (F Wilson) Paul Murphy 9 0 M O'Connell 7
Ex-French colt having first start for new yard. Won a hurdle race last month, but failed to score in six Flat runs in his native land. Absolutely no chance
12. 111-22 NEW APPROACH (14) (BF) (HRH Princess Haya of Jordan) J Bolger (Irl) 9 0 K J Manning 3
Champion juvenile colt who lost unbeaten record on reappearance in the 2,000 Guineas. Also second in the Irish equivalent on latest start, but bred to win a Derby
13. 1214-2 RIO DE LA PLATA (27) (Godolphin) Saeed bin Suroor 9 0 L Dettori 17
Group 1 winner at 7f last year but twice found New Approach too good. Second in top-class heat over 1m in France last month; more needed today
14. 010-43 RIVER PROUD (27) (Mrs Michael Spencer) P Cole 9 0 T Quinn 4
Group 3 winner at two and back to form with pleasing third at the highest level in France last month. Supplemented for this but has suffered late injury
15. 10-1 TAJAAWEED (29) (H Al Maktoum) Sir M Stoute 9 0 R Hills 5
Impressive winner on debut last term and proved Racing Post Trophy running all wrong with victory at Chester on reappearance. Hard to rule out
16. 2-11 TARTAN BEARER (23) (Ballymacoll Stud) Sir M Stoute 9 0 R L Moore 14
Narrowly got the better of Frozen Fire when landing Group 2 Dante Stakes at York last month and Ryan Moore stays loyal. Bred to stay and worth short-listing
17. 4-22 WASHINGTON IRVING (27) (BF) (D Smith, J Magnier, M Tabor) A P O'Brien (Irl) 9 0 C O'Donoghue 16
Remains a maiden after three starts and although clearly improving, he has plenty to find with Casual Conquest and is not the stable's first-string
- 17 declared -
BETTING: 7-2 Casual Conquest, 4-1 Curtain Call, 9-2 New Approach, 7-1 Tartan Bearer, 8-1 Tajaaweed, 10-1 Doctor Fremantle, 12-1 King Of Rome, 16-1 Frozen Fire, Kandahar Run, Rio De La Plata, 25-1 others.
2007: Authorized 9 0 L Dettori 5-4 fav (P Chapple-Hyam) drawn (14), 17 ran.
Henry Cecil turns out his first Derby runner in eight years but although Kandahar Run is a progressive colt he takes a big step-up in class and has stamina questions to answer. Luca Cumani landed this prize in 1988 and 1998 and in Curtain Call fields a progressive colt with sound claims while Sir Michael Stoute, twice a winner of this race this century, fields a powerful team. Chester Vase winner Doctor Fremantle is no forlorn hope while the lightly raced Tajaaweed is another with chances. The pick of his trio, however, looks to be Tartan Bearer, a narrow winner of York's Dante Stakes last month – a race that has proved a valuable pointer to this in recent years. However, it is the York second, FROZEN FIRE, that gets the vote. Surprisingly, Aidan O'Brien's stable jockey, Johnny Murtagh has plumped for King Of Rome, but his stablemate's efforts when beaten a head by Tartan Bearer on his seasonal reappearance caught the eye and he is taken to land the Blue Riband in the hands of Mick Kinane. The Irish challenge does not end there and the presence of Dermot Weld's Casual Conquest, inexperienced but immensely talented, and Jim Bolger's New Approach, whose only two defeats in seven starts came in the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas and is bred for this trip, makes this one the most wide-open Derbys in years.
Punters' guide: The experts' predictions for the Derby
CHRIS McGRATH: 1. Washington Irving 2. Doctor Fremantle 3. Frozen Fire
SUE MONTGOMERY: 1. New Approach 2. Kandahar Run 3. Casual Conquest
HYPERION: 1. Tartan Bearer 2. Doctor Fremantle 3. Tajaaweed
Name Game What's behind the moniker
Alan Devonshire: West Ham midfielder, 1980 FA Cup winner and now manager of Hampton & Richmond FC will be there to watch his namesake carry claret and blue silks of Hammers fan Russell Trew.
Alessandro Volta: 18th century Italian scientist and pioneer in the field of electricity who gave his name to the volt.
Bouguereau: William Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a painter of the idealist genre and a key figure in 19th century French art.
Doctor Fremantle: The cooling afternoon sea breeze which occurs during summer on Western Australian coast.
Frozen Fire: Psychological thriller for teens published in 2006 by Tim Bowler, winner of Carnegie Medal.
Kandahar Run: Downhill ski race in Switzerland and Austria, named in honour of British raj hero Lord Roberts of Kandahar.
King Of Rome: An elected position, giving the right to wear a purple toga and red shoes. The first was the city's founder, Romulus; the last, before the Republic arrived in 509 BC, Tarquinius Superbus.
Rio De La Plata: Spanish for silver river. The estuary between Argentina and Uruguay, scene of WW2 naval encounter Battle of the River Plate.
Tajaaweed: Set of rules governing the correct way to recite the Koran.
Washington Irving: American author, essayist, biographer and historian (1783 - 1859). One of the first to earn acclaim in Europe.