Kingston to conquer Epsom
Simon Holt previews Saturday's Investec Derby at Epsom and conditions look likely to come right for Kingston Hill.
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Form, pedigree and reputation suggest that Australia is a worthy market leader for Saturday's Investec Derby but heavy rain is forecast for Epsom Downs and, come the moment, conditions could turn to the advantage of the well-backed second favourite KINGSTON HILL.
Australia has a middle distance pedigree to die for being by Derby winner Galileo out of the Oaks heroine Ouija Board and made an excellent reappearance to finish third in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket; the form of that race is easily the best on offer here.
On the day, it looked a messy renewal with the large field splitting into two groups and market rivals Kingman and Australia racing on different sides of the course and succumbing to Night Of Thunder in the closing stages.
But, crucially, Kingman has since boosted the form by confirming the Guineas placings with fourth placed Shifting Power in brilliant fashion in the Irish version while tenth-placed The Grey Gatsby has gone on to win both the Dante Stakes and the French Derby.
With Australia almost certain to be suited to this big step up in distance from a mile, his chance is an obvious one BUT he has a fast ground action and trainer Aidan O'Brien has made it clear that confidence would be reduced if the rains come.
Unless the weather forecasters have got it completely wrong, a Derby Day deluge is on the cards - accompanied by thunder and lightning - and any change in ground conditions could be made for Kingston Hill.
Roger Varian's grey colt was never truly competitive encountering fast ground for the first time in the 2000 Guineas, looking outpaced most of the way after a sluggish start but then keeping on well to finish eighth.
In most years, his effort would have been regarded as a fine Derby trial and, like the favourite, this step up in distance has to be in Kingston Hill's favour.
On pedigree, the son of star miler Mastercraftsman could be more of a 10-furlong horse than a 12-furlong horse but he races like a resolute stayer and the fact that his dam is by Rainbow Quest offers hope that he will have more than enough stamina.
It might also be worth bearing in mind that The Grey Gatsby, another son of Mastercraftsman, is less stoutly bred on the dam's side (out of an Entrepreneur mare) but stayed an extended ten-furlongs very well in France.
A straightforward horse with a very good attitude - a horse who was unbeaten in three starts on a soft surface last season - Kingston Hill looks the one that the favourite's followers must fear most.
Meanwhile, O'Brien (seeking a third successive Derby victory after Camelot and Ruler Of The World) also fields Geoffrey Chaucer, Orchestra and Kingfisher.
The well-bred Montjeu colt Geoffrey Chaucer appeared caught out by a slow pace when third behind Ebanoran and Fascinating Rock in the usually significant Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown where the placings of the first two were reversed following interference.
It is difficult to know what to make of that form as it was a truly pedestrian affair which developed into a sprint but all three colts are clearly of high calibre and all look pretty certain to stay a mile and a half. Geoffrey Chaucer, the mount of Ryan Moore and unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, was at a disadvantage making his seasonal debut whereas the other two were race-fit but it remains to be seen if he has enough pace to win a Derby.
Orchestra is a strapping son of Galileo who travelled very well in the Chester Vase before only scraping home from the fast-finishing Romsdal. An eight-length gap back to the third suggests that form is well above average and, of course, Ruler Of The World took the same prize last season en route to Epsom glory.
While Orchestra appears to have plenty of scope for improvement, it was hard not to be taken with Romsdal's head-down attitude and there may not be too much between them again. His stable-companion Western Hymn certainly gives trainer John Gosden a strong hand and the son of Derby winner High Chaparral has a good turn of foot despite a somewhat ungainly action.
The chosen mount of stable jockey William Buick, he is a talented contender but is not certain to handle the track in my opinion and his dam side looks a bit short on stamina.
O'Brien's other runner Kingfisher took the Dee Stakes at that same Chester meeting but the form looks weaker.
In this country, the Dante at York has often been a key Derby trial and The Grey Gatsby's victory in France certainly gave a boost to the prospects of runner-up Arod and third-placed True Story.
Having won by a wide margin at the Newmarket Craven meeting, the latter was a little disappointing on the Knavesmire despite showing a more professional attitude in the preliminaries. True Story could be better than that effort suggests and being a son of Manduro (out of a Darshaan mare) there must be hope that he will stay but any softening in the ground would reportedly not be in his favour.
Arod kept on well having been held up off the pace but, to my eyes, he still looks a bit raw though his trainer Peter Chapple Hyam knows what it takes to win here after his victories with Dr Devious and Motivator.
In conclusion, if it stays dry, then Australia is clearly the horse to beat but conditions seem very likely to ease and, if that proves the case, then the soft-ground-loving Kingston Hill is taken to capitalise.
Earlier, that great French horse Cirrus Des Aigles should add another Group One victory to his glittering career record in the Investec Coronation Cup, his task having been greatly eased by the defection of Ruler Of The World.
The eight-year-old seems as good as ever this season, finishing second to Gentildonna (Ambivalent third, Empoli fourth) in the Sheema Classic in Dubai, defeating last year's brilliant Arc winner Treve in a memorable Prix Ganay and, latterly, winning the Prix d'Ispahan.
None of his rivals can match such credentials but last year's Oaks winner Talent could well be suited by conditions on her return to the scene of her finest hour and Flintshire looked very smart in France last season (winning the Grand Prix de Paris) before finishing eighth to Treve at Longchamp.
They could conceivably make a race of it but, with Cirrus set to start a short price, this is a race to merely watch and enjoy.