The Investec Derby: Trials on trial ahead of Epsom Classic

Sir Dragonet is a striking winner of the Chester Vase
Sir Dragonet is a striking winner of the Chester Vase

We rate the Investec Derby trials ahead of Saturday’s Classic at Epsom, weighing up historical significance and the strength of this year’s renewals.


P.W McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes, April 6, Leopardstown

1st – Broome
2nd – Sovereign

An hour and a half before Tiger Roll recorded a historic second Grand National win at Aintree, a son of Australia was bounding away by eight lengths in the first of the season’s Derby trials. The Ballysax. And the three-year-old Broome looked very good, better than the two-year-old Broome that had finished sixth behind Phoenix Of Spain in the Acomb and second behind Madhmoon in a Group Two at Leopardstown. The step up to 10 furlongs clearly was a factor in that, but he looked stronger, too. Sovereign was easily brushed aside by his stablemate in a trial won in the past by Galileo, High Chaparral and Harzand, who all went onto Epsom glory.

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Investec Blue Riband Trial, April 24, Epsom

1st – Cape Of Good Hope

Cracksman has done an awful lot for the status of the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom, but the finest son of Frankel that we’ve seen so far could only manage third in the Derby itself. That means it’s 80 years since the Epsom trial was won by the Derby winner; Blue Peter back in 1939. This year’s winner, Cape Of Good Hope, is sixth or even seventh in the Aidan O’Brien pecking order, if you believe the betting, and it’s easy to see why. O’Brien traditionally runs his best Derby colts in Ireland and at Chester, while Cap Francais, the second, was five lengths closer to Cape Of Good Hope than he was Anthony Van Dyck in the Lingfield trial.

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Cape Of Good Hope (centre) beats Cap Francais (left) and Turgenev
Cape Of Good Hope (centre) beats Cap Francais (left) and Turgenev


Bet365 Classic Trial, April 26, Sandown

1st – Bangkok

Bangkok had already beaten Telecaster at Doncaster by the time he lined up for the Sandown Classic Trial, and with that rival franking the form in style at Windsor Andrew Balding’s horse was sent off as 10/11 favourite in Esher. Another son of Australia, he travelled sweetly at Sandown and picked up nicely under Silvestre De Sousa to win easily from Technician, with plenty in hand. The King Power Racing colt has yet to run beyond 10 furlongs, but it’s reasonable to expect improvement up in trip given he’s by a Derby winner and related to a whole host of middle distance winners. Bangkok will be bidding to become the first horse to come out of the Sandown Classic Trial and win the Derby since Benny The Dip in 1997.

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Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes, May 4, Newmarket

4th – Madhmoon

Sir Percy did it. New Approach did it. Australia did it. And last year Masar did it. Now Madhmoon bids to become the fifth horse to be beaten in the 2000 Guineas and win the Derby in the last 14 years. He ran well in the Guineas, in fourth, and the way he rallied to finish his race off nicely bodes well ahead of Epsom after being outpaced at a crucial point at Newmarket. He was on the unfavoured far side, too, and when you go back through his two-year-old form you’ll see he beat Broome by two-and-a-half lengths in a Leopardstown Group Two. Whether he has the stamina for a Derby is the big question.

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MBNA Chester Vase, May 8, Chester

1st – Sir Dragonet
2nd – Norway

Aidan O’Brien’s grip on the Derby got tighter at Chester when Sir Dragonet sauntered clear in the Chester Vase to win by eight lengths. That was just 13 days after his racecourse debut at Tipperary, his two wins seemingly taking connections by surprise given his SPs of 14/1 and 13/2. Indeed, he wasn’t even in the Derby, but Coolmore paid the £85,000 supplementary fee on Monday after a tremendous Chester success in which he streaked clear following exaggerated hold-up tactics. Technician, second to Bangkok at Sandown, was 14 lengths behind in fifth, and while he could’ve been flattered and the softer ground might’ve been a big factor, he was undeniably impressive. O’Brien has won the Derby with two Chester Vase horses in recent years; Ruler Of The World and Wings Of Eagles. The latter was second in his trial, giving a smidgen of hope to Norway supporters.

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Homeserve Dee Stakes, May 9, Chester

1st – Circus Maximus

Oath and Kris Kin both won the Dee Stakes before triumphing at Epsom in 1999 and 2003 respectively and Circus Maximus may be a little underestimated in his bid to follow in their hoofprints. Third to Persian King and Magna Grecia in the Autumn Stakes at two, he was behind the latter in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster, as well, with both those pieces of form working out positively. On the back of it he was sent off 5/4 favourite at Chester, as his body of form was head and shoulders above the rest of the field, which is the problem – he hasn’t really been tested at three. He should relish the 1m4f at Epsom, though, and his status as Ballydoyle-fifth-string-or-something shouldn’t put you off if you think he’ll be good enough.

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Circus Maximus wins the Dee Stakes at Chester
Circus Maximus wins the Dee Stakes at Chester


RaceBets Derby Trial Stakes, May 11, Lingfield

1st – Anthony Van Dyck
8th – Hiroshima

You have to go back 21 years and to High-Rise in 1998 to find the last Lingfield Derby Trial winner to record victory at Epsom, but Anthony Van Dyck would be one of the classier winners in that timeframe. A Group Two winner as a juvenile, Anthony Van Dyck was four lengths behind Too Darn Hot in the Dewhurst and then he couldn’t justify joint-favouritism when only ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf after that. However, this son of Galileo has clearly trained on, as you would expect, after a comfortable Lingfield success that came on the back of an interrupted preparation.

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Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes, May 12, Leopardstown

1st – Broome
3rd – Sovereign

Broome’s performance in the Derrinstown trial can be viewed one of two ways. If you’re a glass half full person, then he was well on top at the line and the extra distance in the Derby looks sure to suit. On the other hand, he was scrubbed along before the home turn and you just wonder if he’ll be outpaced by speedier types in the middle part of the race at Epsom. At 9/2, it’s probably a bit of a concern, although he’s clearly high up the Ballydoyle pecking order. Those jockey bookings will be fascinating. Sinndar, Galileo and High Chaparral all won the Derrinstown before winning the Derby.

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Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes, May 16, York

1st – Telecaster
3rd – Surfman
4th - Japan
7th – Line Of Duty

Finally, the Dante. A bit closer to the Epsom Classic this year, given it’s the earliest possible Derby, a mere 15 days between trial and main event. That was the main concern for connections of Dante winner Telecaster as they pondered the supplementary fee, but he’s here and thank goodness for that. He looked superb on the Knavesmire, racing with enthusiasm in a prominent position before seeing off the challenge of Too Darn Hot, subsequently second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, well in the closing stages. Erhaab, Benny The Dip, North Light, Motivator, Authorized and Golden Horn have all done the Dante-Derby double in the last 25 years and Telecaster could well add his name to that list. Workforce became the first horse to win the Derby having been beaten in the Dante, giving hope to Surfman and Japan. The former, particularly, shaped well, but he does have the French Derby as a serious option and he does have work to do if he’s to reverse form with this impressive winner.

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