Top tipster and commentator Simon Holt looks ahead to Betfred Derby day at Epsom.
2pts Sprewell in 1.30 Epsom at 12/1 (General)
1pt win Can To Can in 2.45 Epsom at 15/2 (General)
1pt Ancient Times in 3.20 Epsom at 10/1 (General)
ITV/ITV4 selections: Highland Avenue 12.50 Epsom (ITV), SPREWELL 1.30 Epsom (ITV), Roman Mist 2.10 Epsom (ITV4), CAN TO CAN 2.45 Epsom (ITV4), ANCIENT TIMES 3.20 Epsom (ITV4), Torito 3.55 Epsom (ITV4), Caius Chorister 4.30 Epsom (ITV4), Probe 5.05 Epsom (ITV4)
SATURDAY'S Betfred Derby looks as wide open as any renewal in recent memory with most of the field on the improve and likely to stay well, but SPREWELL could be the one to take the required, giant step forward on Epsom Downs.
Beaten in his two starts last year, but improving from the first to the second, this son of Churchill won a slowly-run contest over a mile at Naas first time out before progressing again to win the Derby Trial at Leopardstown where he appeared to relish a first attempt at a mile-and-a-quarter, and was doing his best work up the stiff home straight inside the final furlong.
That race, formerly sponsored by the Derrinstown Stud, has not produced a Derby winner for some years but, overall, has been a hugely significant nursery for top class middle distance horses having been won in the past by the likes of Golden Fleece, Sadler's Wells, St Jovite, Sinndar, Galileo, High Chaparral and Dylan Thomas.
This will be the fastest ground that Sprewell (named after an American basketball player and pronounced Spree-well) has encountered but his action suggests that should be no problem and neither does his pedigree. Although Churchill (also sire of The Foxes) was a top class dual Guineas winning miler, he has been getting horses that stay (eg, Vadeni, Grand Alliance, Scriptwriter) and two of Sprewell's close relations won at a mile-and-a-half. Moreover, his smart dam Lahaleeb acted on any going winning the E P Taylor Stakes at Woodbine on ground described as firm.
Therefore, one suspects this longer trip - and the conditions - are likely to suit him. He looks well balanced, very straightforward, has drawn well in stall 6 and victory would produce the best news story of any recent Epsom hero as his veteran trainer Jessica Harrington has been battling breast cancer and would become the first woman to send out a Derby winner.
And the Harrington team could hardly be in better form after a treble at Roscommon on Thursday.
Others have a similar profile but Godolphin's Military Order has to be a major player after fluent victories at Newbury and Lingfield and, while a big horse, looks a slightly more racy individual than his heavily-built full-brother Adayar who won in 2021.
The Lingfield trial has been influential in recent years and William Buick's mount found plenty to beat Waipiro after getting a dream run round the inside but, overall, it is the Dante at York which has long been most informative.
At York, the Wood Ditton winner Passenger was probably a bit unlucky not to beat The Foxes and White Birch, and it must be significant that Sir Michael Stoute, who sent out Desert Crown to win last year and boasts six Derby successes, has encouraged the inexperienced colt's connections to stump up a £85,000 supplementary entry fee.
However, only two lengths covered the first five home in the Dante which must cast a little doubt on the value of the form.
The great conundrum is Auguste Rodin, the Vertem Futurity winner at Doncaster last October, who was talked up a storm through the winter by Aidan O'Brien only to flop badly in the 2000 Guineas.
He has a beautiful pedigree by Deep Impact out of the high class Rhododendron (second to Enable in the 2017 Oaks) and, in his defence, Ballydoyle suffered several disappointments over the Guineas weekend.
O'Brien is now in tremendous form and, with a record eight Derby wins, only a fool would disregard his number one hope even if it might need a leap of faith to back him.
Finally, the other big story would, of course, be a third Derby win for Frankie Dettori in his final season. He has already won the 2000 Guineas this year on Chaldean and must have chances on the wide-margin Chester Vase winner Arrest, though connections would ideally prefer much softer ground than is likely to prevail and the horse has a wide draw.
Epsom's downhill five furlongs must be one of the fastest tracks in the world and the traditional Derby Day Aston Martin Dash Handicap can go to the previous course winner ANCIENT TIMES.
That local victory was over six furlongs in 2021, but the five-year-old has since looked well suited to the minimum distance and won his first two starts last season at Doncaster and Musselburgh before splitting Celsius and Tees Spirit, last year's winner of this race, at Newmarket off a 2lb lower mark than here.
Likely to be all the better for a recent reappearance back at Newmarket, the booking of in-form 7lb claimer Kaiya Fraser looks a big positive as is the form of the Harry Eustace stable.
For the first time, there is a three-year-old equivalent of the 'Dash' - the Aston Martin 3YO Dash Handicap - and CAN TO CAN could take some catching.
Fitted with blinkers for the first time at Newcastle last month, this lightly-raced filly produced an explosive performance to make all by five lengths so confirming some of the potential she showed last year when trained by Charlie and Mark Johnston.
Now with Adrian Nicholls, who is fast emulating his late father David as a smart handler of sprinters including the aforementioned Tees Spirit, Can To Can has gone up 10lb in the rating for that win but could rate much higher in the future, particularly on pedigree being out of the smart Listed class sprinter Ridge Ranger.
Moreover, Nicholls has his team in good form (three wins from his last four runners) and, in recent days, has celebrated winners ridden by both his son Jack and daughter Mia.
Updated at 1740 BST on 02/06/23
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