The 241st Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday will go down as one of the most extraordinary; a month late but not as late as the 1917 edition, no crowd and an empty Hill but possibly its biggest worldwide television audience and less form to go on, perhaps less to confuse us.
In terms of quality it may be a great Derby, it could equally be an ordinary one but, with Monday’s one-off £10,000 entry stage, it is unquestionably the most interesting for years with, in among the usual suspects, five jockeys and four trainers making their Derby debuts which can only be good for softening up the race’s elitist image.
If ever it was set up for one of the more romantic editions this is it. Even Aidan O’Brien, who fields six in a bid to collect the spoils for a record eighth time, conceded this year’s winner could come "from out of the clouds" opening it up, even, for his Amhran Na Bhfiann, though one supposes he might have special duties, or Jessica Harrington’s Gold Maze to become the first maiden to win a Derby since Merry Hampton in 1887.
It is the Grand National that is usually the race to produce the stories but were Willie Muir to win it with rags-to-riches colt Pyledriver, led out of the ring unsold at £10,000 as a yearling, out of a failed hurdler by a sprinter, it would be due reward for 30 years graft as a mid-sized trainer.
It would also be a second win and third Epsom Classic for Evertonian jockey Martin Dwyer who rode Sir Percy to win in 2006. He thinks he is lucky round Epsom and, as any sports psychologist will tell you, think you are lucky and you probably will be lucky.
Then there are the Coles, the experienced Paul who won it with Generous in 1991, now in partnership with his son Oliver. They run Highland Chief, who showed a stunning turn of foot to come from almost last turning in to win the Golden Gates Handicap. The last horse to win a handicap at three and go on to win the Derby was Trigo, the head winner of the Berkshire Handicap at Newbury, in 1929.
Highland Chief, below, might benefit from half an inch of rain as would the under-the-radar Max Vega, a good value each-way shot. He was one of the smarter two-year-olds among this bunch as his victory on soft ground in the Zetland Stakes last autumn proved and Ralph Beckett has a knack of getting the best out of Lope de Vega’s offspring.
His run, behind Pyledriver on the all-weather at Kempton, was passable and he will have come on a lot for the run round a track which was all wrong for him. David Simcock’s Mohican Heights is another I would not be in a rush to put a line through either after appearing to use the Edward VII Stakes as more of trial.
It may be that, by the off, Mogul, nearly five lengths behind Pyledriver that day and seemingly first choice of O’Brien’s sextet is favourite. Ryan Moore clearly believes he is open to more improvement than the Ascot winner Russian Emperor who was having his third start of the year.
Vatican City looked like he would improve for further when second in the Irish Guineas while Serpentine was a wide-margin maiden winner.
There are two horses, however, which stand out for me; Kameko, the 2,000 Guineas winner, and English King, the Lingfield Derby Trial winner.
The Guineas form is very solid and this looks like a genuine chance for Andrew Balding to emulate his father’s feat of winning it with Mill Reef in 1971.
If he stays he wins. But his pedigree raises doubts. He is out of a miler by a US sire, Kitten’s Joy, whose progeny do not tend to get much beyond a mile and a quarter and my feeling is that Oisin Murphy will get a whiff of rapidly evaporating petrol fumes as, winning post in sight, he enters to the final furlong.
A day before he won the 2,000 Guineas, English King won the Lingfield Derby Trial beating Berkshire Rocco 2¾ lengths but drawing a long way clear of the third. Berkshire Rocco was beaten a similar distance in the Queen’s Vase by Santiago who went on to win the Irish Derby.
That is excellent form and he gets the trip, he handled the savage contours of Lingfield and probably learned quite a lot at the same time. He is yet to get a smack behind the saddle and he has the class to overcome a potentially trappy draw.
When I saw the Lingfield Derby Trial I thought to myself that I would not have to look too much further to find the Derby winner. Watching replays only reiterates that belief and the €210,000 Camelot colt can win it for Ed Walker and his Derby-obsessive, Epsom-raised owner, Bjorn Nielsen.