The road to the 2017 Investec Derby - the key trials before Epsom

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Sat 3 Jun 2017

What has passed in the build-up to the Investec Derby on June 3? Watch expert analysis and race replays plus read analysis by Andy Stephens

By Andy Stephens

This year’s Investec Derby looks like being one of the most open renewals for years. A big field seems likely and the bookmakers are going 9-2 the field.

The traditional trials have come and gone without revealing an outstanding candidate.

There have been plenty of clues, but what do they all mean? Here is how events have unfolded since late April.

 April 26: Epsom

Investec Derby Trial

This time O'Brien threw only one dart at the board but he again hits the bullseye with Cliffs Of Moher.

An impressive winner of a mile maiden at Leopardstown in late October, form which had been franked by the runner-up, Cliffs Of Moher was sent off the 4-5 favourite and asserted in the closing stages under Ryan Moore after tracking the front-running Max Zorin, who ended up finishing third.

Moore was complimentary afterwards and liked the way the Galileo colt, who he described as rusty, went about his business in the final furlong. Certainly, it looked like an extra quarter of am mile would not be a problem and, with the cobwebs blown away, he could be a different proposition on the first Saturday in June.

The problem, for those weighing up whether the 13-2 offered immediately afterwards represented value or not, was the bare form.

Bay Of Poets, representing the muddling form, ran on to be a length and a half second but he is not considered Derby material by Godolphin. His limitations were exposed as a two-year-old and, on his previous start, he had finished a length and three quarters behind Cracksman at Epsom, perhaps offering a neat comparison.

Max Zorin, beaten little more than two lengths, went into the race rated 95 and for a brief moment it looked like he might make all under a canny ride. He is not entered at Epsom.

Mirage Dancer, previous narrow winner of a maiden, did not enjoy the run of the race and was an eyecatcher in fourth, but his connections were also inclined to rule out running him in the big one.

For the record, 14 years have slipped by since Kris Kin won the extended ten-furlong event and followed up in the Derby under Kieren Fallon.

May 13: Lingfield

Betfred Derby Trial Stakes

The Lingfield trial is routinely overlooked, with the last to use it as a springboard to Derby glory was High-Rise in 1998.

After events of the previous week, most assumed O'Brien would continue his domination and Sir John Lavery was sent off at 11-8 to beat his seven rivals - which became six when Zamfir was pulled up and dismounted.

However, balance and dexterity are required at Lingfield - just as they are at Epsom - and Sir John Lavery never looked comfortable. It was evident some way out he would not be winning and he trailed home a well beaten sixth.

The way was left clear for the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Best Solution, the highest-rated runner in the line-up, to score in commanding style from Glencadem Glory, although the value of the form is dubious because the runner-up, admittedly getting 5lb, had previously been beaten five lengths in a Sandown handicap off a mark of 86.

At least Best Solution, quoted at 16-1 afterwards, was showing a couple of tame efforts in Meydan earlier this year had left no lasting mark on him.

May 18: York

Betfred Dante Stakes

Usually the pivotal Derby trial. Since 2004, North Light, Motivator, Authorized, Workforce and Golden Horn all ran in it before winning on the Downs.

Before them, going back to 1986, Shahrastani, Reference Point, Erhaab and Benny The Dip also pulled off the double.

Golden Horn had to be supplemented for Epsom after his Dante win two years ago and, if he is to win at Epsom, so will Permian. The £85,000 will represent pocket change to his connections with the winner, who is owned by a son of Sheikh Mohammed.

Permian won a well-run renewal on merit, and in a decent time given the softish conditions, but Franny Norton, his 46-year-old rider, made some interesting observations minutes after the biggest win of his career. He suggested that a mile and a quarter was perfect for his mount and that his horse's fitness was pivotal.

He voiced concern that the Derby might "sort him out" and he meant it in a negative way.

No sooner had Permian crossed the line, then pundits were making the link to the compliment he had paid Cracksman, who had been an intended runner only to be pulled out in the morning because of the going.

Bebatl, the runner-up, was never far away and will head to Epsom, but Crystal Ocean, a promising third, apparently will not.

Rekindling, who had won the Ballysax Stakes, was a one-paced fourth - in the process not doing much for the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial form.

May 19th: Newbury

Martin Gray Memorial EBF Stallions Maiden Stakes

In such an open year, could the winner come from out of left field?

Dubai Thunder did not race as a two-year-old and Derby winners who make their debuts just a few weeks beforehand are a collectors item. The last to do so was Morston in 1973.

The bookmakers are taking no chances, quoting the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained colt at just 12-1 after he had slammed 17 rivals by at least 10 lengths.

Visually, it was a striking display and he is bred for the job - being by Dubawi out of a dam who has Group 1 winning form on her CV, and has already produced the top notch Farhh.

However, we have no idea of what Dubai Thunder beat and the winning time - 10 seconds outside standard - was slow even allowing for the soft ground.

It might have been a case of him coping with the conditions and his rivals not.

In such a year, though, it is no surprise Godolphin are prepared to throw another hat in the ring.

SUMMARY: A puzzling picture, reflected by the ante-post betting. In terms of raw ability, Churchill sets the standard but the chances of him lining up seem slim to non-existent. Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, could still be mob-handed. The principal Coolmore contender looks to be Cliffs Of Moher. The unbeaten Cracksman, a son of Frankel, won an unsatisfactory contest at Epsom at the expense of Permian but that form was boosted by Permian's subsequent Dante success. Eminent, another Frankel colt, did not have the pace required to make an impact in a steadily-run 2,000 Guineas but should not be understimated moving up in distance.


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