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The 2020 Investec Derby: Runner-by-runner guide to the 16 contenders

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Fri 3 Jul 2020

Who wins one of the summer’s great sporting contests at Epsom on Saturday? Listen to our podcast below, watch galloping clues and interviews plus read the views of Andy Stephens.

The build-up to the 241st running of the Investec Derby has been one quite like never before.

The coronavirus pandemic led to original entries, dating back to the end of 2018 when 356 yearling were entered, being scrapped, while traditional key trials such as the Dante and Chester Vase have not taken place.

Sandown’s Classic Trial was run, but at Kempton, while Lingfield’s Derby Trial also survived, but with runners from Ireland and further afield barred from taking part.

Races at Royal Ascot, usually staged a fortnight or so after the Derby, took place a fortnight before, presenting themselves as unusual stepping stones towards potential Classic stardom.

The Irish Derby took place over the weekend, the first time it had been staged before its Epsom counterpart, and on the big day itself jockeys will be able to warm-up by riding in the Investec Oaks. It will be the first time the Oaks and Derby have been run on the same day, and possibly the first time two British Classics have been run in the space of just over an hour.

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Some things do not change. Aidan O’Brien is seeking a record eighth win in the race and has declared six, including Royal Ascot winner Russian Emperor. The master of Ballydoyle was responsible for five of the first six home last year and the door is open for him to repeat the feat again this year. Below is a guide to the 16 contenders.

1 AMHRAN NA BHFIANN

Sire: Galileo. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Official rating: --. Odds: 50-1

Who will add their name to the Derby roll of honour?

Positives: His sister, Was, won the Oaks on her third start in 2012, while his brother, Douglas Macarthur, finished seventh in the 2017 Derby after being deployed as a pacemaker. He himself offered something to work on when fourth in a Leopardstown maiden last time, when finishing behind three stablemates who subsequently all made their presence felt in the Irish Derby. His best days are ahead of him.

Negatives: Has mountain to climb on form and even his master trainer has not pulled off the trick of winning the Derby with a twice-raced maiden. Indeed, the last maiden to win the race was in 1887.

Verdict: Folly to underestimate anything his trainer runs but easy enough to looks elsewhere.

2 EMISSARY

Sire: Kingman. Trainer: Hugo Palmer. Official rating: 98. Odds: 33-1

Hugo Palmer revealed more about Emissary before the colt reappeared at Goodwood

Positives: His half-brother, Workforce, won the Derby in 2010 and his dam is a sister of St Leger winner Brian Boru. He was a taking winner on his debut at Wolverhampton in October and made an encouraging return when beaten a neck by Khalifa Sat in the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood, when the winner had an edge in experience and got the run of the race. The trip should suit and he apparently pleased connections in a workout at Sandown last Friday.

Negatives: Requires plenty more at this exalted level and, having had only two races, his inexperience is also a niggle, especially as his only outing in turf has been in a steadily-run four-runner affair.

Verdict: Others have achieved a lot more but he’s a likeable colt capable of better.

3 ENGLISH KING

Sire: Camelot. Trainer: Ed Walker. Official rating: 112. Odds: 5-2 fav

Ed Walker discusses Derby favourite English King

Positives: Impressive when winning the Lingfield Derby Trial on his return from Berkshire Rocco, who subsequently chased home Santiago in the Queen's Vase. He seeks to emulate Anthony Van Dyck, who landed that Lingfield contest last year before going on to Derby glory. He had also lost his maiden tag at Newcastle in impressive style and difficult to gauge how good he is. Stamina no problem and two-time Derby winner Frankie Dettori has been snapped up to ride.

Negatives: Plenty of style but his form lacks some substance and his draw, in stall 1, will be no help. There wasn't much depth to the Lingfield race and the horse who chased him home at Newcastle subsequently scrambled home at Wolverhampton when a 1-5 favourite. Ignoring his potential, it's not easy to understand why he is such a short price.

Verdict: Looked the part at Lingfield and there could be plenty more to come.

4 GOLD MAZE

Sire: Golden Horn. Trainer: Jessica Harrington. Official rating: 103. Odds: 50-1

Watch: Jamie Spencer's guide to riding the Investec Derby

Positives: Third in the Group Two Beresford Stakes last year and shaped well when runner-up in the Group Three Gallinule Stakes on his return at the Curragh. Sixth in the Irish Derby last Saturday, when he would have fared better had he not been so keen.

Negatives: A surprise to see him engaged again after his heavy defeat at the Curragh, when he was too free. That was not a strongest renewal, either, with the four who finished immediately in front of him also being maidens. Big surprise if he gets off the mark in the greatest Classic of them all.

Verdict: The maiden looks an ambitious runner after finishing a well-held sixth in the Irish Derby.

5 HIGHLAND CHIEF

Sire: Gleneagles. Trainer: Paul & Oliver Cole. Official rating: 107. Odds: 16-1

Enjoy watching Derby renewals from the 1980s

Positives: Plenty to like the way he came from well off the pace to land a mile and a quarter handicap on his reappearance at Royal Ascot, off a mark of 101, having finished a keeping-on third to Pinatubo in the Chesham at the meeting the previous year. His dam, Pink Symphony (same ownership) was a Group Three winner over a mile and a half and he’s clearly inherited stamina from her. Has had only four runs and should be capable of better yet.

Negatives: It’s an unusual year but Derby winners do not usually limber up in a handicap. It may be a coincidence, but both his wins have been achieved on soft ground. Also, he would be a rare Derby winner to have a win over 5f on his CV and will be a hostage to fortune if again trying to pounce from off the pace.

Verdict: You cannot blame his connections for rolling the dice but others are more appealing.

6 KAMEKO

Sire: Kitten’s Joy. Trainer: Andrew Balding. Official rating: 119. Odds: 4-1

Andrew Balding gives us the latest news on Kameko

Positives: Dug deep to win the 2000 Guineas on his return, having signed off his campaign as a two-year-old with victory in the Vertem Futurity at Newcastle. None of his potential rivals have a single Group One success on their CV, let alone two (and both in course record times), and he stands out on form, reflected by the official ratings. Has a good attitude, has improved again since last year and acts well on fast ground. Thirty-seven horses have completed the Guineas/Derby double and he may not have to be as good over a mile and a half, as a mile, to win.

Negatives: Ten horses who ran in the 2000 Guineas have run since and all have been beaten. His pedigree points to a mile and a half being a potential stumbling block, especially on his dam’s side. The petrol gauge could be flickering when it matters most.

Verdict: Boasts the best form and a big run on the cards but the trip poses a serious question mark.

7 KHALIFA SAT

Sire: Free Eagle. Trainer: Andrew Balding. Official rating: 99. Odds: 33-1

Flashback: Balding told us more about Khalifa Sat after his first victory last year

Positives: He’s closely related to Unsung Heroine, who was having only her third run when runner-up in the 2008 St Leger, and has made a bright start to his career – losing his maiden tag in a race that tested stamina at Goodwood in late September before returning to the Sussex track to land the Cocked Hat Stakes on his return in a false-run contest that was more about speed. Stamina will be no issue, effective on any ground plus has the right attitude.

Negatives: Given an astute front-running ride last time, and this will be a very different test. Whether he will confirm his superiority over Emissary, for starters, is open to question. He hints that stamina is his forte and it could be that the St Leger is a better fit for him.

Verdict: Looks a guaranteed stayer but may lack the necessary gears.

8 MAX VEGA

Sire: Lope De Vega. Trainer: Ralph Beckett. Official rating: 110. Odds: 50-1

Watch what Ralph Beckett had to say after Max Vega won the Zetland

Positives: Was unlucky not to be unbeaten in three starts last year, losing his maiden tag at Salisbury after a narrow debut defeat before winning the Group Three Zetland Stakes in emphatic style at Newmarket on his final start. The form of the latter race has a glow and, via third-placed Berkshire Rocco, ties in with leading fancies such as English King and Russian Emperor. Likely to be much sharper for comeback run at Kempton a month ago and this track should also suit him better. Trip should pose no problem and any give underfoot a bonus.

Negatives: Well held on his return at Kempton and, not the most imposing, it’s possible that we saw the best of him as a two-year-old. Also, he’s raced exclusively on ground no quicker than good to soft.

Verdict: The form of the Zetland Stakes is very solid and makes him interesting at massive odds.

9 MOGUL

Sire: Galileo. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Official rating: 108. Odds: 7-1

Jane Mangan cast her eye over the Irish challenge on Monday and made an observation about Mogul's appearance at Ascot

Positives: The Galileo colt’s siblings include Japan, third in the Derby last year, and Secret Gesture, runner-up in the Oaks in 2013. His exploits as a two-year-old, kept to a mile, included winning in Group Two company at Leopardstown and finishing a creditable fourth to Kameko in the Vertem Futurity. Began this season as the stable’s number one Derby contender and trainer adamant he was short of his peak when fourth in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Japan himself suffered a similar reverse in the Dante last year before going close at Epsom. Ryan Moore has chosen him ahead of O'Brien's other five runners.

Negatives: He was disappointing on his return at Ascot, whichever way you cut it, when finishing about five lengths adrift of Pyledriver. Trainer has made no secret of the fact that he has had something of a rushed preparation. Stall 2 not ideal, either.

Verdict: Yet to see best of him but quite a transformation required in a short space of time.

10 MOHICAN HEIGHTS

Sire: Australia. Trainer: David Simcock. Official rating: 104. Odds: 25-1

 The Derby draw stats: no horses have won from stalls 2, 11 and 16 since gates were introduced in 1967. Mohican Heights is drawn in stall 15, from where Sinndar jumped when winning in 2000

Positives: Plenty of stamina in his pedigree and from a family who generally improve with age. Given that, it was most encouraging that he was unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, changing hands for big money in between those wins. On the second occasion he won a Listed contest over a mile at Salisbury, when Berlin Tango (decent yardstick) was third. Better than the bare form suggests when third to Pyledriver in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot after a ten-month absence, not being ideally placed in a steady race. Entitled to improve for the run and longer trip.

Negatives: He’s another who needs to raise his game in a short space of time, much like Mogul, who he finished just ahead of at Ascot. No easy task turning the tables on Pyledriver, let alone anything else.

Verdict: Capable of better and should not be judged too harshly on his Ascot comeback run.

11 MYTHICAL

Sire: Camelot. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Official rating: 106. Odds: 33-1

Watch what our experts made of the Zetland. Max Vega won, with Mythical fourth

Positives: He’s a good-looker and was placed in Group One company in France at the end of his two-year-old campaign, having lost his maiden tag in runaway style at Gowran in late September. Market spoke in his favour when he resumed in a Group Three contest at the Curragh and excused his subdued display as he finished lame. Trip should be no bother and nine winners have jumped from stall 10.

Negatives: Yet to scale the heights and has proved expensive to follow in winning one of his five races, twice being beaten when an odds-on favourite. Disappointed the only previous time he ran in Britain – when fourth in the Zetland Stakes at Newmarket – and his reappearance run leaves plenty of unanswered questions.

Verdict: Hardly an obvious candidate to give his trainer a record eighth win in the race.

12 PYLEDRIVER

Sire: Harbour Watch. Trainer: William Muir. Official rating: 110. Odds: 16-1

William Muir spoke to Luck on Sunday after Pyledriver's Ascot triumph

Positives: Won in Listed company as a two-year-old and has progressed again this term, finishing well when runner-up in the rearranged Classic Trial at Kempton before going one better in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Stamina clearly not an issue, proven on any ground and has more experience than most. Trainer certain he is much more the finished product this campaign.

Negatives: Was possibly at a fitness advantage at Ascot, plus the overall value of that messy contest is not easy to assess. His previous efforts leave him with something to find and, with Epsom’s undulations in mind, worrying that he looked all at sea on the Rowley Mile last autumn when trailing home last in the Royal Lodge.

Verdict: Has hit the deck running this term and stamina assured but other questions to answer.

13 RUSSIAN EMPEROR

Sire: Galileo. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Official rating: 105. Odds: 7-1

How to ride the Derby course: Kieren Fallon had few peers at the track and told us more

Positives: Plenty to like about the way he got on top late on in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot, having previously shaped best when runner-up in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown. Clearly on the upgrade and promises to be suited by the step up to a mile and a half. Effective on any ground.

Negatives: Needs to raise his game again upped to Group One company – for example the close third at Ascot was conceding 4lb - and this will be his third run in under four weeks, with two trips to Britain thrown in the mix. The connections of the horses he beat narrowly at Ascot are not entertaining Epsom.

Verdict: Peaking at just the right time and should be more to come up in trip.

14 SERPENTINE

Sire: Galileo. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Official rating: --. Odds: 25-1

Positives: His sire needs no introduction ad his dam, Remember When, was also high-class in 2010 – finishing a close fourth in the Irish 1000 Guineas plus runner-up in the Oaks. The penny dropped for him on his third start at the Curagh over the weekend when, equipped with cheekpieces, he made all in a mile and a quarter maiden and won by nine lengths. They may have found the key to him and the trip should be no problem.

Negatives: Visually impressive over the weekend but not sure the form adds up to much and the time of the race did not have clock watchers drooling. Will also find it much harder dominating in this much higher grade just a week later.

Verdict: Runaway winner of a Curragh maiden on Saturday but this a different ball game.

15 VATICAN CITY

Sire: Galileo. Trainer: Aidan O’Brien. Official rating: 112. Odds: 8-1

Galileo was a brilliant Derby winner and his sons, and grandsons, continue to have a huge bearing on the great race. Aidan O'Brien and Mick Kinane told Donn McClean more about him

Positives: Regally bred with his siblings including Gleneagles, the English and Irish 2000 Guineas winner. Was having only his third run when an excellent second to Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas on his reappearance at the Curragh, when keeping on after not getting the clearest of runs. Had also been impressive when landing a maiden at Dundalk in late October

Negatives: His siblings, Gleneagles, Happily and Taj Mahal, were at their most effective over a mile or a mile and a quarter. Vatican City is himself unproven beyond a mile and there are unlikely to be any hiding places here.

Verdict: Cracking comeback run but this trip asks a significant new question.

16 WORTHILY

Sire: Point Of Entry. Trainer: John Gosden. Official rating: --. Odds: 33-1

Positives: His trainer is familiar with the family of his stamina-bred colt, whose brother is the smart Corelli. Worthily was easy to back on his debut at Newbury this month when he raced off the pace, but he came home strongly to win in taking fashion. Slots into the could-be-anything category and the champion trainer rarely overfaces his horses.

Negatives: Takes a massive jump in class little more than three weeks after seeing a racecourse for the first time. Inexperience also has to be a concern, plus stable jockey Frankie Dettori was freed to ride for another yard last week.

Verdict: Looked a good prospect when winning on his debut but now thrown in at the deep end.

ANDY’S VERDICT

 Max Vega is overpriced at 50-1 to win the Derby (Focusonracing)
Max Vega is overpriced at 50-1 to win the Derby (Focusonracing)

An intriguing renewal, on a variety of levels, in which two-time Group One winner Kameko stands out on form. His pedigree raises a doubt about whether he will be so effective over the trip but his rivals also have questions to answer and, in the circumstances, I’m surprised he is not favourite.

The one who stands out at the prices is MAX VEGA, who is a general 50-1 chance to hit the jackpot for Ralph Beckett and Harry Bentley.

He was a smart two-year-old but arrives under the radar after an ordinary reappearance run at Kempton. However, it’s easy enough to excuse him that as the combination of the all-weather track and steady tempo were against him. Bentley steered a widish course, too, and did not subject him to a hard race. The outing might well have been needed and, in these peculiar days, he’s had the relative luxury of a whole month off to recapture his best.

Max Vega is built to zip around Epsom and the form of his emphatic Zetland Stakes triumph over a mile and a quarter on softish ground at Newmarket in October is too simply good to ignore.

The runner-up, Miss Yoda, had won her previous two starts and landed the Lingfield Oaks Trial first time up this year, while the third, Berkshire Rocco, beaten almost four lengths, got closer to English King and Santiago when chasing them home in the Lingfield Derby Trial and Queen’s Vase.

Mythical was beaten an aggregate of six-and-a-half lengths in fourth but beaten half that far in Group One company next time when just behind Arthur’s Kingdom (second to Pyledriver in the King Edward VII Stakes with Mohican Heights and Mogul adrift), while Tritonic, beaten more than nine lengths into fifth, was mugged late on by Highland Chief (giving him only 6lb) in a valuable handicap at Royal Ascot this month.

Volkan Star, sixth, was a Listed winner at Newmarket last weekend, while Subjectivist, seventh, went close off a mark of 94 in the King George V Stakes at Ascot.

So, in summary, that Zetland Stakes points to Max Vega being a massive player. He’s back on turf and will stay a mile and a half standing on his head, while his astute trainer already has three Classics on his CV, having twice landed the Oaks plus the St Leger.

Of course, it could be that Max Vega has not trained on, or that he will resent the ground if it turns quick. But that is more than offset by the 50-1 available.

1 MAX VEGA. 2 KAMEKO. 3 ENGLISH KING.

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