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2023 Betfred Derby: guide to all the possible Epsom runners and tip

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Sun 28 May 2023

Five pairs of brothers have won the Betfred Derby, but none since Persimmon (1896) and Diamond Jubilee (1900), who were sons of the great St Simon out of Ayr Gold Cup winner Perdita II.

The 123-year wait for another pair of super siblings may come to an end at Epsom on Saturday week because Military Order is the general 3-1 favourite to follow the example of Adayar, his big brother, from two years ago. The latter remains in training, so there's a chance the Charlie Appleby-trained stablemates might even meet in public at some stage.

After 22 years of Derby despair for Godolphin - they had 33 beaten runners in this period - Appleby and the boys in blue are seeking a third triumph in the premier Classic since 2018. But standing in the way, as ever, is Aidan O'Brien, who has already trained a record eight Derby winners.

The shadow of his first victor, Galileo in 2001, is everywhere you look at Epsom. He went on to sire five Derby winners - New Approach, Ruler Of the World Australia, Anthony Van Dyck and Serpentine – and may yet make it six as Artistic Star, Covent Garden and Espionage could represent him this year.

Meanwhile, his sons Australia, Frankel, Churchill and Ulysses are responsible for another ten of this year's possible runners, including Military Order (by Frankel). And two of his daughters – Rhododendron (Auguste Rodin) and Rain Goddess (San Antonio) – could also fly the flag for the late, great sire of sires.

Here's a guide to all the possible runners. The big race is scheduled for 1.30pm and you can enjoy all the build-up and action on Racing TV.


ADELAIDE RIVER

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 66-1

Placed in four successive Group races since winning on his debut at Dundalk. He’s got plenty to find with Dubai Mile and Arrest (twice about six lengths behind him) and is no doubt down the pecking order at Ballydoyle, although we’ve yet to see what the son of Australia can do on quicker ground. The French Derby seems a more likely destination.


ALDER

Trainer: Donnacha O'Brien. Odds: 40-1

He’s shown a solid level of form, hinting there could be a bit more to come upped to a mile and a half. Kept on to be a creditable third to Auguste Rodin in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown in September and readily put Bertinelli in his place on his return at Cork. The runner-up has since won a Newbury handicap off 99. On the minus side, he hung badly left when unable to claw back San Antonio in the Dee Stakes at Chester; disconcerting with Epsom’s camber in mind.


ARREST

Trainer: John & Thady Gosden. Odds: 13-2

This son of Frankel is quite a unit and was running at Ffos Las just three runs ago (one of only two winners at the track for his powerful yard) but don’t let that put you off. He signed off last season with a head defeat at the hands of Dubai Mile in the Criterium De Saint-Cloud and resumed this year with a wide-margin success in the Chester Vase before enjoying a spin around Epsom this morning. He clearly copes well with heavy ground but that’s not to say he won’t be as effective on good going. The coming days at Epsom look like being dry and settled, although the Met Office has suggested there could be heavy, thundery showers in the south late next week. Connections of Arrest will not be grumbling if they materialise. Regardless, he seems certain to carry a weight of public money as he will be Frankie Dettori's final ride in the great race.


ARTISTIC STAR

Trainer: Ralph Beckett. Odds: 50-1

Belied odds of 16/1 when winning a mile maiden on soft ground at Nottingham in the autumn and confirmed himself a good prospect when winning a novice event on his return at Sandown over an extra quarter of a mile. A mile and a half seems certain to suit him on breeding (he’s by Galileo and has got siblings who have won over the trip) but he will almost certainly have to take his form to another level, The Gosden-trained Torito made him graft at Sandown and that horse holds no fancy engagements.


AUGUSTE RODIN

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 9-2

  O'Brien with his No 1 Derby hope Auguste Rodin (Healy Racing)
O'Brien with his No 1 Derby hope Auguste Rodin (Healy Racing)

Impeccably bred and established himself as one of last season’s top two-year-olds, winning the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown (a race his trainer favours for his would-be Derby contenders) before scooping a Group One at the first attempt in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster (form hard to assess because of the bad ground). There was plenty of chat about him being a Triple Crown candidate at the start of the season but such hopes evaporated when he sunk without trace in the 2000 Guineas. Excuses were offered and O’Brien’s confidence in him remains unshakeable, but I can’t have him on my mind after that dismal effort at Headquarters. The way he quickly stopped three out hinted at some kind of underlying issue.


COVENT GARDEN

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 100-1

O’Brien has pulled a few rabbits out of the hat in the Derby over the years but it’s hard to see him working his magic with Covent Garden. His juvenile form leaves him with a stack to find and he had to settle for third in a six-runner Listed race at Navan on his return. He made the running on that occasion – as he did when winning at Tipperary in October – and perhaps connections will employ him as a pacemaker for better-fancied stablemates.


DEAR MY FRIEND

Trainer: Charlie Johnston. Odds: 66-1

I’m sure Middleham Park would love to have a Derby runner but this would be a flight of fancy. He’s had his limits exposed since gaining early wins at Carlisle/Beverley and never figured when eighth in the Dante Stakes. The longer trip would also be an unknown.


DUBAI MILE

Trainer: Charlie Johnston. Odds: 16-1

He’s an imposing colt and progressed well as a two-year-old, being touched off by The Foxes in a muddling Royal Lodge before edging out Arrest in the Criterium De Saint-Cloud. Those efforts clearly put him firmly in the conversation and he was far from disgraced when fifth to Chaldean in the 2000 Guineas, when sticking to his task. He’s by Roaring Lion, who didn’t quite get home when third in the 2018 Derby, but you cannot imagine Dubai Mile not staying the trip to judge by his tenacious display over ten furlongs on deep ground in France in the autumn. His dam, Beach Bunny, was fully effective over a mile and a half (placed in Group company) and her sire was High Chaparral, the 2002 Derby winner. Dubai Mile has shown his form on a variety of ground and he looks underestimated in the market.


ESPIONAGE

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 40-1

Didn’t make his debut until early September but then O’Brien squeezed in three runs. He confirmed the promise of his Galway debut when landing a 16-runner maiden at The Curragh; then came within a head of landing the Criterium International in the mud at Saint-Cloud. The winner plus third have done little to advertise the form this term. Meanwhile, Espionage has not been sighted this season, meaning he will have to emulate such as Lammtarra and Shaamit (Derby winners on their reappearance). He’s bred for the job being by Galileo out of Even Song, the Ribblesdale Stakes winner. His half-sister, Simple Verse, won the St Leger in 2015.



GOOLOOGONG

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 40-1

He was slow away and green on his Dundalk debut in November when fifth to easy winner Bertinelli. Looked more polished when landing a 1m 2f maiden on heavy ground his return at Navan but the runner-up has since been beaten again (remains a maiden after four starts) and you wouldn’t give him a second look unless he was trained by a man who already has eight Derby winners on his CV. Gooloogong’s smart sister, Cayenne Pepper, was runner-up in the 2020 Irish Oaks.


GREENLAND

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 66-1

Saxon Warrior has the dubious distinction of being among odds-on Derby favourites who have been beaten and I doubt his son, Greenland, will put the record straight for him. He did finish on the heels of The Foxes and Dubai Mile in the Royal Lodge but the form of that slow-run race cannot be trusted. He’s probably better judged on his exploits in Group Three races in France this year; scrambling home at Saint-Cloud after being a one-paced third at Longchamp.


KING OF STEEL

Trainer: Roger Varian. Odds: 100-1

Was scheduled to return in the Dante but was a late withdrawal after getting restless in the stalls. The grey had dwarfed his rivals in the paddock when making his debut at Nottingham in October and made a big impression in the race, too, as he coasted to an easy win. He was fast-tracked to the Group One Vertem Futurity just ten days later but was unable to make much impact behind Auguste Rodin and company. He’s bred to stay well and it will be interesting to see what he can do this term, having been switched to the yard of Roger Varian.


MILITARY ORDER

Trainer: Charlie Appleby. Odds: 3-1 fav

As mentioned at the start, he's a brother of Adayar, the 2021 winner. He’s got plenty going for him, impressing at Newbury and Lingfield this season having lost his maiden tag at Newmarket in the autumn. On the latter occasion, it was encouraging how well he coped with the tight track and he showed great resolve to beat Waipiro going away after that horse, previously an easy winner at Newmarket, had looked certain to overhaul him. He ticks all the boxes, but that is reflected by the betting. I hope you took the advice of my colleague, Jack Nicol, and backed him ante-post at 20-1 before he made his winning reappearance.


MODESTY

Trainer: Freddy & Martyn Meade. Odds: 100-1

There was plenty to like about the way he won a mile maiden at York in October but most of those who chased him home are still looking for a first success and the form is weak. This trip could also be a stretch for the son of Dubawi.


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PADDINGTON

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 40-1

He’s on course to run in Saturday’s Irish 2000 Guineas with no suggestion Epsom is on his agenda.


PASSENGER

Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute. Odds: 13-2

Connections have until noon on Monday to mull over supplementing him at a cost of £85,000. I’d be surprised if they don’t roll the dice because Passenger caught the eye of everyone when an unlucky third in the Dante. Richard Kingscote afterwards blamed himself for the colt not getting a clear crack of things, but he simply looked a tad unfortunate with his path blocked left and then right when he needed room to manoeuvre from two out. Eventually, the combination found some space, but the damage had been done. With a clear passage, he might well have won. This was a proper test against smart opposition and Passenger rose to the challenge, looking most comfortable in the higher grade just a month on from landing the Wood Ditton on his debut. Passenger’s grandsire is Galileo and his grand-dam is Light Shift, the 2007 Oaks winner.


SAN ANTONIO

Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Odds: 33-1

Aidan O’Brien has suggested the Dee Stakes winner will miss Epsom and instead run in the French Derby 24 hours later.


SPREWELL

Trainer: Jessie Harrington. Odds: 12-1

Showed promise when beaten in two backend maidens last year and probably didn’t need to improve when getting off the mark on his return at Naas. He burst into the Epsom picture when taking the Derby Trial at Leopardstown in taking style by three lengths, being strong at the finish as befits a horse with 12-furlong winners in his pedigree. There’s substance to that Leopardstown form, too, with Up And Under, the runner-up, having previously been beaten half a length by White Birch in the Ballysax, and Proud And Regal, the third, having been a solid perfomer at two. The well-beaten fourth had also previously gone close in a Group Three in France. Sprewell has raced exclusively on heavy ground but I’m sure that’s been more by accident than design. Faster ground is an unknown but he’s described as a “beautiful mover” at home.


SQUIRE DAUGHTER

Trainer: Andrew Oliver. Odds: 200-1

He’s been beaten an aggregate of about 20 lengths in three maidens. Has looked a handicap project – not a Derby winner in waiting.


THE FOXES

Trainer: Andrew Balding. Odds: 10-1

Has to command respect after winning the Dante at York – the pre-eminent Derby trial. It was a polished performance although you could argue the cards fell his way as he had only a neck to spare over White Birch, who came from well off the pace, with the unlucky-in-running Passenger third. The Foxes had previously hung right when runner-up in the Craven Stakes, something he hadn’t done when landing a muddling Royal Lodge last year. His dam stayed a mile and a half (though didn’t win over the trip) and I just wonder if ten furlongs will be the best trip for the Churchill colt.


WAIPIRO

Trainer: Ed Walker. Odds: 20-1

Offered little at 33/1 on his Kempton debut just before Christmas but he’s looked a different horse this year, winning a novice event in striking fashion at Newmarket’s Craven meeting before threatening to upstage Military Order at Lingfield (traded 1/5 in-running) only to succumb in the closing stages. He appeared to get outstayed that day and the bad news for his connections is that Epsom will provide a stiffer test. That Lingfield race, not run at an end-to-end gallop, was run in a time of just under 2min 28 sec, whereas a typical Derby winner will take another eight seconds or so, usually in a race where there are no hiding places. Also, Waipiro has looked something of an excitable character and the hurly burly of the Surrey Downs will expose any flaws in his temperament.


WHITE BIRCH

Trainer: John Joseph Murphy. Odds: 14-1

There have been only four grey winners of the Derby, and not once since Airborne in 1945. In Phil Bull’s annual “Best Horses Of 1946” (a precursor to Timeform’s annual Racehorses) the author wrote: “To say this result surprised practically everyone would be an understatement: mystified would be the word”. Airborne had to improve by about 21lb to prevail, but White Birch doesn’t have such a gulf to bridge after splitting The Foxes and Passsenger in the Dante, narrowly failing to come from last to first. He had previously also come from well off the pace when landing the Ballysax Stakes. He will be a hostage to fortune if again being played late but he’s more than earned his chance, making light of the fact that the dam’s side of his pedigree is all about speed.


ANTE-POST VERDICT

We don’t know what the ground is going to be like or the draw, and both can be pivotal. Military Order looks a worthy favourite, while Dubai Mile, Sprewell and White Birch all have each-way claims at double-figure digits. The one who makes most each-way appeal, at this stage, is DUBAI MILE because of his versatility regards the ground. His exploits as a two-year-old now read better than they did at the time and he ran a perfectly respectable trial in the Guineas. The extra half-mile should show him in a much better light.

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