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The Derby Puzzle

There’s not much to go on for today’s Classic. A bunch of mainly beautifully-bred, well trained colts taking on the idiosyncracies of the Epsom course, it’s difficult not to make a reasonable case for most of them at least making the frame. There’s a good chance that the uneasy favourite Jan Vermeer will win, his jockey Murtagh said this morning he has got speed and balance, the key ingredients to win the race. That would be too boring for this blog, so we have a shortlist of three. The three are based on a vision of them all coming sweetly down the hill. If you’ve never been to Epsom it is hard to describe the fearsome camber that slopes away to the farside rail. Imagine yourself, not only running full tilt downhill, but on ground that is uneven under your feet and you will have an insight into what these lads face this afternoon.


Bullet Train


Cassia, who was absolutely brilliant company at the Oaks

Derby Day arrives – the final analysis – thank goodness!

On the Morning Line today Barry “Bismarck” Dennis made the following excellent point; that at this time of year 3yo colts can improve enormously and on a weekly basis.  He thinks 3-1 the field is what it should look like betting-wise and I think he has summed up the difficulties that I have been having.

As I am in a hurry, the Ballydoyle mob of 6 will have to put up with acronyms this morning!  AOB and Johnny M seem not to be able to sort theirs out so, frankly, what chance do the rest of us stand?  As it has severely messed with my poor head I am probably not going to back any of his (except maybe little BBI in a weak moment before the off if he looks particularly well) but I have narrowed the 6 down to FAG, MOTH and BBI, probably in that order of preference.

Sea the Stars is the master trainer, John Oxx’s, third runner ever in the Derby.  The others (Sinndar) won and the other whose name eludes me (sorry it’s early) I believe was third.  Mr Oxx says he himself is not sure of Sea the Stars will get the 1m4f so again we can’t know ourselves.  I have decided that, despite my doubts on that count, I will take a chance on him as a win bet.  The deciding factor in this was seeing a replay of Nijinsky’s win this morning which put me in mind of our Guineas winner.  Obviously they only have a Guineas win in common thus far, but I think Nijinksy had a bit of speed in the pedigree that he put to good use down the hill!  Perhaps Sea the Stars can do the same.

Gan Amhras ticked all the boxes on a narrowing down the field exercise I attempted yesterday.  I don’t have a particularly strong feeling about this horse but he will stay the trip, the trainer knows what he’s about, he looks progressive and he can quicken. 

Finally and in a crazy lady kind of way I will be backing Mick Channon’s Montaff.  He will need to fulfil Barry’s prediction of colts improving big time to figure but for reasons I couldn’t really share without risking being  committed he is going to be my each-way bet.  He has as many ?s and Xs in his boxes as he has ticks but he is by Montjeu (a successful Derby sire) and a big priced one usually places in this race.

So (and hurray it will soon all be over) I am backing Sea the Stars, Gan Amhras and Montaff this afternoon.

I can also recommend Spacious in the earlier filles and mares race.

In an Oaks postscript I was a little disappointed for Midday, but there was a lot to like about Sariska (and her burly attitude to her rivals!) and both fillies should go on to more good wins 🙂

Whomsoever carries your hopes and dreams today – enjoy.

AoA leads the way home from Montaff @ Lingfield

AoA leads the way home from Montaff @ Lingfield

Black Bear Island

I knew once I gave the Derby line-up some headspace the contenders would be galloping around relentlessly in there, giving me a headache, until the race itself.  The Derby can be, but not always, the most fiendish puzzle to solve.  As James Willoughby says in the Racing Post this morning, “let the guessing games commence”.  Well I like to think it’s not exactly guessing, but I know what he means.

In punting terms the worst thing that you can do is to be seen betting in a “guesser’s race”.  This is usually low-grade handicap fare with out of form horses where anything can, and usually does, happen.  Of course the Derby is nothing at all like this but when you are faced with horses from the same families, with short race careers and form that is nothing short of incestuous it doesn’t take long before you are in a fog of confusion.

So, in step the stats and systems to the rescue.  To reassure the man in the street that a) there is safety in numbers and b) he is not going mad.  Personally I am not governed by stats and times but I always try to note them at some point in my deliberations and sometimes factor them in depending on the race.  As Willoughby points out, the Derby is usually won by the best 3yo colt on the day i.e. the one that has made sufficient physical and mental progress to run the fastest on the first Saturday in June.  This does not always translate into being the best 3yo colt of the season or beyond as recent history shows. 

So I have had a little delve around the dosage system for our Derby entrants, this basically is a mathematical predictor for a horse’s likely ability to perform over various distances.  I don’t usually bother with it myself but people who don’t study pedigrees say they find it useful.

You can also take it further and look at dominant classicity!

Without wanting to sound supercilious it is fairly plain from the basic sire and dam information what type of distance might be the optimum for a horse.  You can then also look to see if, aside from the optimum number of dosage points, it is from a good family.  That for me usually suffices.

This (the last link I promise!) shows why you may not want to use these tools alone to analyse a race as the writer gets Ouija Board’s Oaks all wrong based on dosage points!

Which is the same rock I am breaking myself on over Sea the Stars, although, as I said yesterday, I can find more staying influences on Ouija Board’s pedigree than I can on this colt’s.  The people who believe he will stay are those that cite his dam, Urban Sea’s, win in the Arc.  My niggle is that when she has produced a foal with another predominantly miling sire, the offspring My Typhoon was a miler.

Anyway, this was meant to be about Black Bear Island as I woke with him on my mind.  He ticks the trip box (qualifies on dosage!), is from an excellent family being by Sadlers Wells and a brother to the Derby winner High Chaparral (dominant classicity ;-)) and is a superb looking animal to boot.  Crucially to my mind he also has the ability to quicken off a good pace as he came home so well to win the Dante.  I don’t watch these races with a stopwatch in my hand but Nick Mordin, who has some excellent stuff to say about most races and was probably born with a stopwatch in his mouth, is adamant that this horse did not stay on past tiring horses (an optical illusion many races are won by) but did indeed accelerate home.

This horse will be ridden by Ryan Moore on Saturday.  He just may be our winner; certainly Nick Mordin thinks so.  In any event I think he is probably a very good each-way bet before Saturday as any rainfall (now predicted for after racing on Friday) might herald a contraction in his price.  I’ve got a strong feeling for this one!

Black Bear Island pips Fremantle in the Dante - fairly barrelling home!

Black Bear Island pips Fremantle in the Dante - fairly "barrelling" home!

More Derby thoughts – will Sea the Stars stay?

One job that those St Leger types from Ballydoyle will be tee ed up for on Saturday will be pacemaking and in this instance it will be setting a strong pace to expose any stamina flaws in the Guineas winner Sea the Stars.  I can’t see how this will benefit Rip van Winkle but as they are running many they are clearly up for sacrificing a few lofty reputations anyway.

John Magnier has defended running so many, trotting out the well-worn cliche “they are all running on their merits”.  Remember this is the man that knocked Sir Alex Ferguson into a cocked hat over their misunderstanding over Rock of Gibraltar, ruthless would only begin to cover it, in my not so humble opinion.  He opines that Coolmore continue to “support the race” despite it losing some of its “gloss” as if the Derby were some sort of lame duck in the global racing calendar when in actual fact all he is doing is  increase the Coolmore stallion roster stranglehold on Derby winners.  C’mon John, ‘fess up, it’s your biggest annual shop window!

Sea the Stars is by Cape Cross, the Sheikh Mohammed Darley owned stallion.  He has a profile as a getter of milers and less primarily, but his most famous kid to date, Ouija Board, was a dual Oaks winner and won at least as many races over 1m4f as she did over 1m2f.  She was different in as much as she had a stout, stout staying influence in Alycidon (Ascot Gold Cup winner amongst other cups) on the dam’s side.  I have gone through the Sea the Stars pedigree today and funnily enough it shares two bloodlines with New Approach’s (last year’s winner) pedigree – the well publicised Urban Sea dam side and Ahonoora on the Cape Cross side.  Critically though, one of the missing lines is the Sadlers Wells line which has provided many a winner of the Derby in recent years.

So where I am is this.  The lads in dark blue will ensure a strong gallop so the winner will have to be a horse that can quicken off a strong pace.  This could be Sea the Stars but I would not be so sure as to bet on it.  He will be ably assisted in the saddle by Mick Kinane who knows what winning the Derby is about.  If there is a point in the race, and if his colt travels well (which I suspect he will) , where there is the opportunity for getting a breather in before swinging for home then it could be that he could quicken after the turn.  That said I believe John Oxx is not a tilter at windmills.  Many a good horse has had his immediate career smashed to smithereens on the Epsom Downs and if Sea the Stars is running out of gas I can’t see him being given a hard race.  He could easily drop back to 10f and have the world as his oyster, so there is sense in looking after him.  If he can’t win, I don’t think he will place either – oh dear I said that about the marvellous Denman!  The thing that stops me putting a line through his name is his undisputed class.

The other horse that I have been thinking about is Crowded House now it has been confirmed he will run.    In all seriousness, one run does not a bad horse make and he was a horse I liked a lot when he won the Racing Post Trophy.  Overall though his profile is not sufficiently compelling for me at the moment.

I will be taking Gan Amhras very seriously on Saturday.  He has no doubt about the trip and he has last year’s Derby winning trainer in his corner.  He has also beaten Masterofthehorse as a 2yo on good to firm.  As MOTH is by Sadlers Wells that is not be wondered at.  What should be noted is that he is a brother to Oaks winner Alexandrova and if the rain does come on Friday his chance should be respected…

I have a feeling that the Ballydoyle mob is going to drive me potty.  Whilst I’m at it, let’s also do a rain dance as I seem to be going round in circles anyway!  I don’t like to think of 3yos charging round that dodgy camber on firm ground.

Time to wrap up the ramblings I think.  The problem with this race is the wall-to-wall quality, it makes life difficult for the punter.  Final selections after 48 decs and 48 hour weather forecast!

My thoughts on the Epsom Derby 2009 – part 1

There may be endless parts I am afraid but at this point here it is.

Epsom have put 6mm of water on today but there will be no more watering before the meeting due to the forecast rain for Friday and possibly Saturday.  As we have no concrete way of predicting what the going will be until nearer the off all betting will be pretty speculative (well more so than usual if you see what I mean!).

Johnny Murtagh has plumped for Rip van Winkle of the Ballydoyle battalion and his price has duly contracted.  Obviously he knows best, riding work and all, but on pedigree I would have my doubts about RvW given that his dam is by the sprinter Stravinsky.  Fame and Glory, whose form is unbeaten in 4 starts, is by Montjeu and although I have heard it said he has beaten the same bunch twice and therefore has not had a true test, he looks more of a Derby type to me.  Likewise Masterofthehorse; he is by the peerless Sadlers Wells and although not winning in a joke race at the joke track which is Chester I wonder if Johnny has hopped off this one prematurely.  Personally, I do not like to see Ballydoyle fielding a great contingent (5 at the present time) in this manner.  Mr O’Brien is an intelligent trainer and whilst I grant they have great strength in depth I don’t wonder that they couldn’t shortlist a little more effectively.  I can’t even separate them out in extremes of going so I imagine we are going to go to post with the 5.

Another from Ballydoyle is Age of Aquarius, who like RvW is by Galileo. AoA beat Montaff a neck in the Lingfield Derby Trial (which has not provided a Derby winner for a while anyway…).  Montaff is trained by Mick Channon who I have a lot of admiration for.  In real terms we have to imagine that Age of Aquarius is a thorough stayer on breeding who could well be caught flat-footed coming down the hill from Tattenham Corner.  That can’t quite be said of Montaff who has the speed in his pedigree but little substance to his form.  That said, I am sentimental about this horse’s chances as Mr Channon seeks that elusive 1st classic winner and he could make a lively each way bet.

To summarise the Ballydoyle offering I am going to say:

Rip can’t Winkle

Black Bear Island / Age of Aquarius – Leger sorts (unless the ground comes up really, really soft)

Fame & Glory / Masterofthehorse – the two I prefer of the five but again if the ground is lively I wonder how they will pick up…

In the next post I will think about Sea the Stars and whether he will stay? Plus Gan Amhras, Crowded House (will he, won’t he?) et al.

Fame and Glory shows a good attitude to win a Group 1 in France

Fame and Glory shows a good attitude to win a Group 1 in France


Apparently there is a sixth from AOB – Golden Sword.  Ridiculous, and I refuse to discuss his runners further 😉

Circumzenithal Arcs in a Seaside Town (soon to be a city?)

Can you guess where I am yet?

Last week I was all set to start a blog about going stir crazy on the coast as I approach my third year of living here, after the lights and grime of London in my twenties and nearly all my thirties.  I wondered if other coastal dwellers felt the same way or if it was a feeling peculiar only to me.  I still think being perched on the edge of a land mass is slightly unsettling, if only because at least one of your escape routes requires a boat.  On reflection, I am not able to do the subject justice at the moment and I do not want to sound like a whiner ,so I will settle for saying that since living here we have see not one, but two upside down rainbows from our garden.  So it can’t all be bad.

makemeadiva & Dr Mitton are, sadly, not acquainted

makemeadiva & Dr Mitton are, sadly, not acquainted

The phenomenon, rarely seen outside polar regions, was spotted by astronomer Dr Jacqueline Mitton, 60, near her home in Cambridge.

Rainbows are caused by light penetrating raindrops.

But the inverted type, called a circumzenithal arc, happens when sunlight bounces off ice crystals high in the atmosphere sending the rays back up.

Dr Mitton said: “It was amazing.”

From The Sun June 2008

I am looking forward to doing a Derby preview for the big one this week.  My first thought is that if Aidan O’Brien thinks he has four potential Derby winners at Ballydoyle, he probably has none…