The 244th running of the Derby, sponsored for the first time by Betfred, drew a final field of 14. The traditional trials had failed to yield an outstanding candidate and with the bookmakers going 4/1 the field this was the most open renewal, in terms of the betting, since Dubai Millennium went off the 5/1 favourite in the 1999.
Auguste Rodin was the only runner who had previously won a domestic Group One, with Dubai Mile’s success at the highest level being achieved in France. None of the runners lined up with an official rating higher than 117 – the same as 12 months previously when Desert Crown prevailed. Collectively, the runners had won 30 of their 59 races with Artistic Star the only horse having an unblemished record. Six lined up having won in pattern company but nine were contesting a Group One race for the first time.
The ground (good to firm) was about as quick as it gets for a modern-day Derby but the winning time was only the ninth quickest this century. That was a consequence of a steadily-run race that favoured speed more over stamina. Those held up in rear were at a disadvantage the way things unfolded. Permission was given for Arrest, King Of Steel, Military Order and Waipiro to wear red hoods to post.
AUGUSTE RODIN (winner) had gone into winter quarters as the ante-post favourite, having been rated the third-highest rated two-year-old last year. Triple Crown aspirations evaporated when he ran lamentably on his return in last month’s 2000 Guineas but Aidan O’Brien had gone to great lengths to explain away that performance and, a month on, one of Deep Impact’s final offspring (out of Galileo Group One-winning mare Rhododendron) was transformed. Settled travelling well in the second half of the field from stall 10 (fifth winner this century to be drawn there), he made up his ground quite smoothly in the straight but Ryan Moore had to get serious as it briefly looked as if the runner-up had stolen a march. Auguste Rodin responded in resolute fashion, getting on top in the final strides to win going away by half a length. He probably didn’t need to improve much on his juvenile form, if at all, to take the spoils and, while he may yet have bigger performances in him, he cannot be rated as an outstanding blue riband winner. His trainer’s previous record eight winners have subsequently gone on to have mixed fortunes but, given his pedigree, one thing we can surely safely assume is that he won’t be the third successive Derby winner (after Adayar and Desert Crown) to stay in training next season. The Irish Derby, at The Curragh on July 2, would seem a logical next target. He's no bigger than 4/1 for the St Leger (as short as 2/1 in places) but it would be a surprise if that was an autumn objective given that the Triple Crown dream has been extinguished.
The imposing KING OF STEEL (second) made the winner pull out all the stops and, despite going off at 66/1, there was no hint of this being any kind of fluke. He’d had a most unorthodox build-up – withdrawn at the start of his intended comeback in the Dante after playing up beforehand and having to pass a stalls test at Leicester at the start of the week – but he was clearly lacking nothing in terms of fitness despite his eight-month absence. His size didn’t make him an obvious candidate to cope with Epsom’s twists, turns and cambers but everything came easily to him and he quickened up smartly to lead two furlongs out after being given a ground-saving ride up the rail by Kevin Stott, riding in the race for the first time. It briefly looked a race-winning move but, despite running all the way to the line, he could not repel the thrust of the winner. Stott was initially inclined to lament kicking quite so early, but he looked blameless. This was only King Of Steel’s third race and, given he is probably still filling into his frame, appeals as the type to keep progressing as the year goes on. You would not blame connections for also ringing the Irish Derby in his calendar.
WHITE BIRCH (third) was last into the parade ring and only did one lap before heading to post. The grey didn’t look the most co-operative beforehand and, as is becoming typical with him, he was awkward away from the stalls and anchored at the back of the field. Coming from last-to-first in any Derby is hard to execute, not least when the pace is not end to end, and in the circumstances the Ballysax winner and Dante runner-up did well to keep on and finish a never-nearer third. He’s already had three fairly hard races this season and might benefit from a break, but the Irish Derby has been pencilled in for him. Temperament wise, he could go either way.
The fast ground was an unknown for SPREWELL (fourth), who had coped well with heavy going when landing the Derby Trial at Leopardstown on his previous start. Conditions seemed to pose no problem and he would have finished closer with a better passage. He was moving well just off the pace swinging into the straight but simply didn’t get room to properly open up and, when a gap did present itself, he was a little unbalanced. He stuck to his task well when in the clear and is another with the Irish Derby in his sights. Given how well he copes with the mud, connections will not be grumbling if conditions are easier.
THE FOXES (fifth) lined up with better credentials than most, having won the Royal Lodge and Dante, but was simply betrayed by a lack of stamina. Held up moving comfortably after a stumble leaving the stalls, he was initially just behind Auguste Rodin when asked to quicken into contention but had nothing left in reserve in the final quarter of a mile. The Coral-Eclipse and Juddmonte International are obvious targets although he’s not short of pace and, given the mile division lacks some depth, his connections might be tempted to explore that route, especially as he seems versatile in terms of ground.
WAIPIRO (sixth) is blessed with plenty of ability but needs to calm down a bit to fulfil his potential. He was on his toes in the paddock and keen to post. Dropped out in rear, he behaved well enough once the race was under way and did well to finish where he did given he challenged widest of all and was tiring in the closing stages. A drop in trip and class may help him in the long term.
The previously unbeaten ARTISTIC STAR (seventh) attracted support at big odds but tasted defeat for the first time. However, he was taking a big jump in class and emerged with his reputation enhanced. Swiftly into stride, having had two handlers in the paddock, he was in a handy position early on, only to drop back to the rear after getting squeezed and losing all his early rhythm. Whether it was inexperience, the track or going (perhaps a combination of all three) he looked likely to finish last when labouring halfway up the straight only to stay on stoutly to beat more than beat him. The Course Track sectionals reveal he was the fourth fastest over the final three furlongs and the Galileo colt is open to as much improvement as any in the field, especially granted a stiffer test. The long straight at Doncaster could be made for him and the St Leger, in September, appeals as an ideal long-range target. He's quoted at a general 33/1. Incidentally, the horse he beat in a handicap at Sandown on his previous start, Torito, bolted up later on the Derby card off a rating of 95. He might also be one to keep in mind for Town Moor (not quoted in the betting).
ADELAIDE RIVER (eighth) was up against it on form and merely helped set steady fractions before dropping back. It would be no surprise if he gets a permanent role as a pacemaker for Auguste Rodin.
Conversely, DUBAI MILE (ninth) had claims on form with only Auguste Rodin and Arrest rated higher by the assessor. However, he was easy to back and surrendered tamely from two out after getting a handy position on the inner. His Group One success at France in the autumn was achieved on heavy ground and it may be this well-built colt is going to need testing ground to be seen at his best.
ARREST (tenth) had the distinction of being Frankie Dettori’s 28th and final ride in the premier Classic. It was probably no surprise bookmakers priced the Chester Vase winner up defensively – especially after the jockey’s Group One double at the course 24 hours earlier – but Arrest was sweaty beforehand and ran similarly to Dettori’s first ride in the race, Pollen Count (also trained by Gosden) in 1992; being prominent for a mile or so before dropping away. He lost a right hand shoe (which you can see fly off at Tattenham Corner). Dettori reported that Arrest was uncomfortable on the ground and the track, and it seems unlikely we will see him on quick ground again any time soon.
Dee Stakes winner SAN ANTONIO (eleventh) had been touted for the French Derby after his win at Chester and might have been better heading for the shorter race at Chantilly as he faded here, having hit the front half a mile out. He hung right in the closing stages, but won’t be the last to do that at Epsom. No doubt his trainer will find suitable races for him down the line.
PASSENGER (twelfth) had only made his debut six weeks earlier but it was easy to see why his connections supplemented him at a cost of £85,000 after his unlucky third in the Dante. However, he fared no better than his sire, Ulysses, in 2016, who had also gone off at 8/1 in the same colours. He tracked the leaders and was well placed to attack going around Tattenham Corner but found disappointingly little – beaten before the trip came into the equation. This possibly came too soon after his exertions at York and you would imagine he will have a break now before returning in shallower waters. He’s not one to write off.
DEAR MY FRIEND (thitrteenth) had plenty on his plate and simply looked out of his depth. His best form has been at up to a mile.
The 123-year wait for a pair of brothers to win the Derby goes on after MILITARY ORDER (last of the 14), whose sibling Adayar won this for the Charlie Appleby stable two years ago, trailed home last. He’d looked to have plenty going for him after his wins at Newbury and Lingfield this year (outstayed Waipiro in the latter race) and held a handy position turning into the straight but simply could not pick up. He wasn’t helped by a couple of bits of interference, causing him to become unbalanced, but those incidents seemed more a product of him being able to hold his place. Charlie Appleby was interviewed by the stewards post-race but could offer no explanation for the performance. It was too bad to be true but the yard is having an unusually quiet time, with only four of their past 43 runners winning. Eighteen of those have been beaten at 5/2 or shorter.
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