PAT KEANE: Ulysses the percentage bet in a very tricky Derby

The old adage has it that if you have five horses for the Derby then the reality is you actually have none!

The particular theory is set for a severe testing at Epsom this afternoon, with Aidan O’Brien throwing that many darts at the board.

This Derby is a complete puzzle and the fact O’Brien is running five simply complicates what was already a complicated contest anyway.

History tells us that when Ballydoyle travels mob-handed for this type of race then literally anything is possible.

O’Brien sees these horses every day and, you’d imagine, no one is better placed to know exactly who is the best of them. But here’s the thing, I’ll bet here and now that not even O’Brien can be adamant as to what will emerge best of his mini-battalion.

Ryan Moore partners US Army Ranger and, on that basis, he has to be the starting point when it comes to the Tipperary team.

US Army Ranger has long been a talking-horse, but the fact is being accompanied by four of his stable companions is not a good sign.

And his form leaves lots to be desired. The maiden he won at the Curragh has been repeatedly devalued and US Army Ranger really shouldn’t have won the Chester Vase last month.

He beat another O’Brien horse in Port Douglas, by a short head, and the runner-up would surely have prevailed had Seamie Heffernan given him a more forceful drive.

The other O’Brien horses look much of a muchness, although it would not be any great surprise to see one of them leaving his form well behind.

Jim Bolger has been very positive regarding Moonlight Magic, and his utterings have to be respected.

Moonlight Magic displayed a good attitude to win the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown, with three O’Brien horses, Shogun, Idaho and Beacon Rock respectively, filling the minor placings. Does that form, however, amount to a hill of beans?

If there was to further rain then Dermot Weld’s mud-lover, Harzand, would come into the picture big-time. The more testing the conditions the greater his prospects.

I like the chances of John Gosden’s Wings Of Desire, who was unraced as a juvenile. To be able to land the Dante at York, on the back of his previous form, was a solid effort.

He won his maiden at Wolverhampton, beating a horse called Mahfooz. That form is basically worthless, considering Mahfooz got well beaten next time at Bath.

Wings Of Desire, however, then totally ignored logic and was too good for Deauville, yet another O’Brien inmate, in the Dante. He has to be on the short list.

But, gun to the head time, my final choice would be Michael Stoute’s Ulysses, although rowing in with him does require a giant leap of faith.

Sixth at Newbury last season on his only outing as a two-year-old, he made his reappearance at Leicester and was beaten into second by Imperial Aviator.

Now Imperial Aviator only had a rating of 83, so that represents modest form. Raised just 2lbs, Imperial Aviator, though, bolted in next time to land a valuable handicap by four and a half lengths at Newbury. This week Roger Charlton supplemented his colt for tomorrow’s French Derby at Chantilly.

Stoute then produced Ulysses on May 13 to win his maiden at Newbury by eight lengths and there was a real swagger to that performance. Encouragingly, he fairly floated across the good to soft surface to boot.

Getting the trip should not be a problem, seeing as Ulysses is by Galileo, who won the Derby in 2001, out of Light Shift, successful in the Oaks in 2007.

RYAN Moore came in for a bit of criticism, after he partnered Washington DC to finish second to Only Mine at Naas last Sunday.

I’m not a massive fan of the horse, but did think him well capable of taking this Group 3 and behaved accordingly.

Washington DC had slammed Only Mine at Navan previously and was meeting his rival on 2lbs better terms. Wherever she finished, he was sure to be in front of her!

But Only Mine beat him two and three parts of a length into second and dinner later that evening just didn’t taste as nice as it promised to be.

Anyway, I’m a trifle puzzled as to what pundits think Moore did wrong. When he said go Washington DC emphatically said no. I doubt this beauty will ever carry a euro from this quarter again.

I’M well aware that Sunday is the big racing day in Ireland, but surely Saturday should be respected as well.

Take last Saturday at Navan, for instance. This was a meeting that housed five rubbish handicaps in a row and was a complete turn off.

Then Ballinrobe on Monday night was also at it, with four dreadful National Hunt handicaps one after the other.

Successive handicaps on this scale remind one of watching most soccer matches. You have nothing else to do and decide to tune into some game.

Then, after a while, you fall asleep on the couch, wake up half an hour later and know the likelihood is that the score is still 0-0 and you haven’t missed anything.

Those bloody handicaps are the same. A surfeit of them are simply boring, utterly boring.

ON the subject of Ballinrobe didn’t that track do a terrific job with the ground for their two-day meeting on Monday and Tuesday.

It was two days of National Hunt fare, under a baking sun, and yet the number of non-runners was of no consequence, which can only mean that the watering was exceptional.


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