Rarely has there been a more open Epsom Derby than renewal number 237.
The trials, supposedly the mechanism for providing clarity, have served merely to muddy the waters. Consequentially, it’s hard to completely dismiss the chances of as many as half the 16 runners.
This has led to suggestions today’s renewal is a sub-standard one. That may or may not be the case. The reality is it’s impossible to judge at this juncture.
For instance, last season’s Derby, won by subsequent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe hero Golden Horn, is now remembered as a very good one.
Yet before his emergence in the Dante, the consensus was the 2015 crop of three-year-olds was a distinctly average one.
At the other end of the scale, the 2012 renewal would now be remembered far more positively had Camelot not fallen short in his Triple Crown bid in the St Leger later that season.
The lesson of history is that judging the quality of a Derby before it takes place and even in its immediate aftermath is not the wisest move.
The other hoary old chestnut doing the rounds in recent weeks is that if Aidan O’Brien has multiple Derby contenders then, in reality, he has none.
However, his most recent Derby winner, Australia in 2014, was one of four Ballydoyle runners. A year earlier, the race was won by Ruler Of The World, one of five O’Brien runners and a colt who was not considered his main contender.
The lesson? Write off the O’Brien team at your peril.
There are, however, many willing to do just that. US Army Ranger, who O’Brien considers his principal hope, won few friends when scrambling home a short head in front of Port Douglas in the Chester Vase.
Deauville was beaten by Wings Of Desire in the Dante; Idaho was third to the Jim Bolger-trained Moonlight Magic in the Derrinstown while Shogun was stuffed by Awtaad in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Of the O’Brien quintet, Port Douglas makes the most appeal. At Chester, he was only barely beaten by a colt to whom he was conceding 4lbs. That display suggests they should be trading at similar prices.
However, US Army Ranger is as short as 4/1 while Port Douglas is as big as 16/1. That is, in part, due to O’Brien’s confidence US Army Ranger is his principal contender but from a purely form perspective the discrepancy seems far too big.
How good a trial was it? Like the Derby, we’ll only know in the fullness of time. However, the fact US Army Ranger and Port Douglas finished seven lengths clear of the third, Ormito, suggests it was pretty decent.
Indeed, had US Army Ranger not run at Chester, Port Douglas would probably be vying for favouritism today.
Port Douglas will sport blinkers today, an interesting move but one that worked the oracle in the Beresford last September and might just do so again today.
Holes can of course be picked but that goes for the entire field. Wings Of Desire only made his debut less than two months ago and his lack of experience counts against him. He does, however, hold Deauville on Dante form.
Of the others, French raider Cloth Of Stars is fancied by many but he was only three lengths clear of a thoroughly exposed rival in Kidmenever on his most recent start, Ulysses, though impeccably bred, has only won a maiden and needs to take a massive step forward while the fact that less than three lengths separated Moonlight Magic from the fifth home in the Derrinstown raises questions about the strength of that race.
Ultimately, in a puzzle as tricky as this, it’s worth looking for value. At 16/1, Port Douglas offers that and he looks a decent each-way proposition.
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