Form points to success for O’Brien

THE absence of St Nicholas Abbey takes some of the intrigue from today’s Investec Epsom Derby but, for all that the Ballydoyle team will miss the horse they believed ‘could walk on water’, the stable dominated the major trials and appears to hold all the aces today.

Even prior to St Nicholas Abbe’s defection, Jan Vermeer had seized favouritism from his stable-companion.

Part of the reason for that surge of money came from a very easy victory in the Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh where he made light of a seven-pound penalty.

He earned that penalty having won the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint Cloud as a two-year-old and that remains the only winning form at this level among today’s 12 runners.

What’s been most impressive about the son of Montjeu – and possibly the antithesis of what is expected from progeny of the once brilliant but quirky racehorse – is that he seems decidedly straight-forward.

Sent to the front early when winning the Criterium on soft to heavy ground, he bowed his head and raced on determinedly to win with something to spare. It was a similar story when trouncing some useful but limited rivals at the Curragh on his seasonal debut and he looks the ideal type to cope with the undulations of Epsom.

There has been some good support for stable-companion Midas Touch ever since he came from off the pace to win the Derrinstown Stud Stakes at Leopardstown. That race has been particularly informative as a Derby Trial in recent times but there was a distinct sense that the horse was not entirely in love with the fast ground.

He appeared to be taken off his feet early and, for all that he has been well regarded for a long time (he was the preferred choice of Johnny Murtagh when fourth behind Jan Vermeer at Saint-Cloud last season), he’s not certain to relish today’s ground or track.

Michael Stoute’s Workforce has a massive reputation and he made the perfect start to his career with an easy victory in a maiden last year. Returning for just his second ever outing, he was beaten by another Ballydoyle inmate, Cape Blanco, in last month’s Dante. There were some mitigating circumstances as the bit came through his mouth but, even allowing for that, it’s uncertain that he’d have had the wherewithal to beat the winner.

That he is being allowed to take his place indicates that he’s improved markedly in the interim but he’s very inexperienced for this task and looks plenty short enough in the betting to be given a wide berth. The Godolphin Team is making a three-pronged attack at today’s race and they’ve been making particularly positive sounds about one of their runners.

Although not the most favoured in the market, Al Zir is the horse in question and his odds have been contracting steadily all week. He was well beaten behind St Nicholas Abbey in the Racing Post Trophy last season and never managed to get involved when a reasonable but uncompetitive ninth behind Makfi in the 2000 Guineas.

Clearly the belief is that he will improve markedly for the step up in trip but there must be a doubt that this stamina will hold our all the way to a mile and a half.

Godolphin would appear to have a better chance with recent Cocked Hat Stakes winner Rewilding, who has been developed through Andre Fabre’s French Academy.

He looked a real star of the future with victory at Goodwood but he also looked to be unbalanced at a couple of stages during that race and the suitability of Epsom must be in doubt.

His trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni, sees him as a horse for next year and I would agree that this race might just come too soon for him.

It’s a similar story with Henry Cecil’s Bullet Train who was coltish in the paddock prior to winning a substandard Lingfield Derby Trial. He was allowed a soft lead when winning that race with ease but this is a different prospect altogether and it’s disconcerting that his trainer was looking past the Derby in the aftermath of that race. The preliminaries are likely to test him and his best days are likely to lie further ahead.

Coordinated Cut and Ted Spread shouldn’t be underestimated but their best hope of Classic glory is likely to lie in the autumnal beauty of Doncaster and the St Leger. Azmeel was put in his place by Chabal when second in the Sandown Derby trial but he battled gamely to win the Chester equivalent. That was an admirable show and he has place prospects but he doesn’t make immediate appeal as a Derby winner.

Just 24 hours ago Jan Vermeer was an unappealing 7-4 chance but the bookmakers have acknowledged that those odds were on the skinny side and there’s every reason to believe that the firms, headed by William Hill, will push him out beyond 3-1 this morning.

Repeated inspection of the form returns one to the favourite and now that he’s drifting in the market, he’s not just the most likely winner of the race but also the value bet to give Aidan O’Brien a long overdue Derby success.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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