Ryan Moore and Aidan O'Brien
Ryan Moore and Aidan O'Brien, who team up with City Of Troy in the Derby

How to approach the City Of Troy conundrum ahead of the 2024 Betfred Derby?

City Of Troy and the Derby: discuss.

It could have been simpler. If the Justify colt had blitzed his rivals in the Guineas, if he had gone to the line as strongly as he had gone to the line on his racecourse debut at The Curragh last July, when Ryan Moore struggled to pull him up before he got to the Ridgewood Pearl statue, then it would be a short discussion. In that instance, City Of Troy would be long odds-on for the Derby and we would be playing for places and Frankelesque reputations.

Or if he had finished a gallant second in the Guineas, beaten a length and a half, or a staying-on fourth, beaten by three and a quarter lengths. That would have been disappointing, of course, but at least a run like that would have had a rationale, there would have been a solid basis for evaluation.

As it is, it is difficult to rationalise the performance that City Of Troy put up at Newmarket. Even if his superiority over his peers last season was purely down to precocity, he wouldn’t have been beaten by the distance by which he was beaten in the Guineas, or as far from the winning line. His Guineas run was so far below all his three runs last season, you know that it wasn’t his true running.

Aidan O’Brien rationalised the performance afterwards. City Of Troy was late going into the stalls at Newmarket and, when he went in, he spooked, he reared. When that happened, said his trainer, his heart rate would have gone up so that, when the stalls opened, he probably started off racing with a heart rate of around 150 beats per minute. That heart rate probably would have gone up to 200 beats per minute by the time he got to half-way and, in that situation, he was never going to get home. Underlying all of this is an unshakable confidence that the champion trainer has in his horse’s Derby prospects, and that is obviously significant, coming from a man who has trained nine Derby winners, more than any other trainer in the history of the race.

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That confidence is given extra ballast by the Auguste Rodin experience, just 12 months ago. The similarities between City Of Troy now and Auguste Rodin then are uncanny. Auguste Rodin won three times as a juvenile too, he made his three-year-old debut in the Guineas as well and, sent off a warm favourite, he was well beaten. He finished 12th, 22 lengths behind the winner Chaldean.

That wasn’t his running, Aidan O’Brien told us after the Guineas. You will see a different Auguste Rodin at Epsom.

Like his trainer, rider Ryan Moore retained faith in Auguste Rodin last year, he chose to ride him in front of two stable companions. The market listened to a degree, but only to a degree. They sent the Deep Impact colt off the 9/2 joint second favourite for last year’s Derby, the same price as Military Order, a half a point bigger than Arrest.

Auguste Rodin won the Derby last year, battled on strongly under the Ryan Moore drive to get up and beat King Of Steel by a half a length, the pair of them coming clear of their rivals. It was a remarkable turnaround from the Guineas, up there with Aidan O’Brien’s most noteworthy achievements to date as a racehorse trainer.

There is precedent.

The market is listening more intently to Aidan O’Brien this year. Before the Guineas, you couldn’t have got any bigger than 7/4 about City Of Troy for the Derby. After the Guineas, you could have got 7/1 or 8/1. Since then though, impacted too by some high-profile Derby defections, the Justify colt’s Derby odds have been contracting so that, now, you won’t get any bigger than 2/1.

Betfred Derby, Epsom, June 1, Sky Bet odds

  • City Of Troy 7/4
  • Ambiente Friendly 4/1
  • Los Angeles 6/1
  • Ancient Wisdom 12/1
  • Dancing Gemini 12/1

Odds correct at 1500 BST on 25/05/2024, click here for live prices

It is difficult to evaluate City Of Troy’s chance of winning the Derby, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not 2/1 is value. If you back him, you are effectively betting on a double: (a) that he will bounce back to his best or close to his best on Saturday, and (b) that his best or close enough to his best will be good enough to carry him to victory in the Derby. Even if he does bounce back to his best, remember, he still has to handle the track and stay the distance and do everything that Derby winners do.

Say you think that it is even money that Aidan O’Brien will have his horse back at concert pitch on Saturday, then, if you think that it is shorter than 1/2 that a concert-pitch City Of Troy will be good enough to win the Derby, 2/1 is value. If you think that it is 1/2 that he will bounce back to his best, but you think that it is odds-against that his best will be good enough to win, then 2/1 is not value.

It’s a fascinating conundrum, and it’s a conundrum that will add a layer of intrigue to this week’s Derby build-up.

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