Matt Brocklebank was on track for Roaring Lion's impressive Dante Stakes victory at York - but will he run in the Derby? Our man considers the pros and cons and what connections are hinting.
By Matt Brocklebank, York
For the second day in succession here we ended with a “lovely problem to have.”
And while those willing to listen closely enough left with the distinct impression that Wednesday’s Classic trial winner Give And Take would fulfil an owner’s dream and take up her place in the Investec Oaks at Epsom - despite the trainer’s inclination to look towards a Group One in France - that was not necessarily the case following the Betfred Dante Stakes today.
They say you should never run scared of one horse, especially in a Derby. And nine times out of 10 that is generally the stance adopted, no matter how terrifying the prospect of beating that one horse may be.
But when John Gosden puffed his chest out and tried his damnedest to impersonate the physically daunting stature of 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, it became clear he wasn’t just playing coy regarding the prospects of his runaway Dante hero Roaring Lion reversing Newmarket form with Aidan O’Brien’s Triple Crown hope in the Derby.
So could it really be the QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly on Sunday June 3 for the grey, rather than the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday June 2?
Let’s consider exactly what connections have to weigh up in the next few days.
Roaring Lion should run in the Investec Derby because…
- Roaring Lion was a top-class two-year-old, and has now conclusively proved that he has trained on to be a top-class three-year-old
- He has won a race widely regarded as Britain's best Derby trial. By four and a half lengths
- He is the only horse to ever really give Saxon Warrior a fright in last year's Racing Post Trophy
- The Derby is the most influential race in the world when it comes to bloodstock and future earnings
- His sire, Kitten's Joy, has had success over a mile and a half in the past, and he was never better than at the line in the Dante
- He is hard-fit, already seriously experienced at the top level and seems a reformed character
- After committing Sevenna Star and Crossed Baton to Royal Ascot's King Edward VII and Tercentenary Stakes respectively, John Gosden has no other obvious Derby candidate
- Who honestly cares about the French Derby?
Roaring Lion should run in the QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club because…
- There is next to no chance of him reversing 2000 Guineas form with Saxon Warrior
- He is clearly an out-and-out 10-furlong horse and should now be kept to his optimum trip
- His sire's 12-furlong winners have come in America, where there is considerably less emphasis on stamina given the nature of their flat, turning, oval tracks
- Finishing second in the Derby is far worse than winning the French Derby, from a breeding perspective
- Roaring Lion has in the past displayed the kind of temperament that could easily see him boil over in the pressure-cooker of a Derby-day atmosphere
- Sheikh Fahad's Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO) sponsor the race
- He is an 8/1 chance for Epsom; he's already 5s for France and could be more like 2/1 on the day
What are connections saying?
David Redvers, bloodstock advisor to Qatar Racing Limited head-honcho Sheikh Fahad: "Everyone can see the easy option.
"Any student of pedigrees or bloodstock would look at his pedigree and go 'he’s a ten-furlong horse'. The thing that gives you hope is the way he hit the line and it took a while for Oisin (Murphy) to pull him up.
"“But Epsom is nothing even approaching York, it's a completely different kettle of fish. In some ways the track will suit, but in some ways it completely won't.
"They may decide to go to the QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club as we sponsor that and it's another fine stallion-making race that we'd love to be involved with.
"It’s a lovely problem to have.
"But logic makes me realistically think that if he was mine and there was no pressure on it at all I'd go to France. But that's just me. Not John Gosden, not Oisin Murphy, and not Sheikh Fahad - most importantly.
"Having said all that, there is only one Epsom Derby, it's the greatest horse race in the world. And I know it's the race that Sheikh Fahad and his brothers would like to win more than any other race on the planet."
Oisin Murphy, jockey: "I honestly have no idea."
John Gosden, trainer: "It was a very good performance, he's galloped all the way and he hit the line well. We'll just have to work out whether to go to the Derby or the Prix du Jockey Club as one is on the Saturday and the other is on the Sunday – you can't do both.
"He's obviously very comfortable at this trip and I always knew this was his trip really. But Kitten's Joy is a sire of mile and a half horses in America.
"No decision will be made in a hurry and we've enormous respect for Saxon Warrior. They are the two outstanding colts of this crop and maybe it'd be great if they met again at Epsom and maybe we should go the other way, I don't know.
"He's beaten us twice and I thought he was imperious in the Guineas. He looked marvellous, just a big powerful horse. It'd be fabulous if they both went there together and the form is obviously solid.
"It's not for me to make the final decision, we'll see how the horse is in the next few days and talk to the owner and to David Redvers and to Oisin Murphy.
"His temperament is getting a whole lot better. He's a complete playboy at home – his favourite act is rearing up, but he's not reared up for two weeks as I've finally got him fit and in the zone and he's concentrating on business. So to that extent I think he'll be fine at Epsom. The more people the merrier for him to be honest – he's a complete show-off!"
"A bad draw in the French Derby and you're completely f*****. It's a horrible race."
That quote shall remain unattributed, but it's fair to say the general consensus in the York press room on Thursday afternoon was that connections of Roaring Lion had no choice to make whatsoever.
And yet that simply cannot be true, given the form with Saxon Warrior, the blatant stamina fears and the fact that Epsom on Derby day could blow this horse's top completely.
The Derby is the Derby but there are so many top 10-furlong races to be won with this horse further down the line that there must be a temptation to stick to that route before making a long-range plan to win the Champion Stakes.
After all, it's another event backed by QIPCO and the horse has already shown a propensity for softer ground, as well as the much quicker conditions he faced on the Knavesmire.
Perhaps the lure of the Derby and the possibility of Saxon Warrior having an off-day will prove too strong, but going to Epsom could ultimately do more harm than good and in many ways I suspect it's not quite as cut and dry as some are making out.