As “bombshells” go, Aidan O’Brien announcing on Wednesday afternoon that Bolshoi Ballet would be his sole runner in the Derby takes some beating.
And, frankly, I was amazed they entered just one horse at the overnight stage at 10am on Thursday. It was a big call with just under 55 hours to go to the race.
O’Brien’s change of heart
If something happens to the favourite (pictured below) – that will be ridden by Betfair Ambassador Ryan Moore – before race-time at 16:30 on Saturday, then they will be left without a runner in the most important stallion-making race of their season.
It was only last week that one rag was claiming he was set to run all of the eight he then had in the race – a story subsequently denied by the trainer, in the grand tradition of red-top accuracy – and there was no hint of what was to come in a lengthy interview with Nick Luck on Racing TV on Sunday or any written press with the trainer thereafter.
Poor communication at the very least.
There was clearly a change of heart after Tuesday’s work morning, and the Wednesday blood tests, and his Epsom six-pack have been handed new ring-pulls.
Bad news for their ante-post backers, and most notably those of second favourite High Definition.
However, he has probably done right by the Dante third, who surely will be better suited to the Curragh than the demands of Epsom, not least because he doesn’t have to face a horse of the calibre of his stablemate Bolshoi Ballet.
The Derrinstown winner has predictably hardened into around 11-8 favouritism on the exchange on the back of Wednesday’s news and it was hard to argue with that price assessment. After the incessant rain on Friday he is out to around 15/8+ now, though.
The one thing he didn’t have in his locker going into the Leopardstown race last time was a noteworthy performance on the clock, and many will now be of the opinion that if he stays, he wins (though we all know staying is relative).
And as a brother to Southern France, placed in an Irish St Leger and a Yorkshire Cup, I don’t think many are expecting too many problems there.
The form of the Derrinstown has admittedly been mixed – the second and fifth have been well stuffed since, though the third won at Leopardstown on Thursday and the fourth, Mac Swiney, has obviously won the Irish 2000 Guineas since – but I would argue that it is the key form line going into the Classic.
Southern Lights still a fair bet
That led me to put up Southern Lights, who met plenty of trouble in finishing sixth in that race, in my ante-post column on Tuesday when he was trading at 60.059/1 on the Exchange.
For those who didn’t read the piece, I will briefly re-state the case here.
Basically, he would have finished second had the door not been shut on him when he was making his run up the inner at the furlong pole. And, for a horse having only his third start, that was a very promising run.
He also looks like a horse who’s set to improve markedly over 1m4f, as he doesn’t do anything quickly over 1m2f.
He only got up in the closing stages when winning his slowly-run maiden over 1m2f at Leopardstown in April and his jockey was niggling at him early enough last time, too.
I think he is a stayer, for all his pedigree gives mixed messages on that front, and he will surely be ridden to finish off his race. Sea The Stars is a big stamina influence and this horse’s run-style has 1m4f written all over it.
He is still a fair bet, though there is no point me recommending him again win-only.
A draw in three could have been a lot better, but it could have been worse. His maiden win came on ground that Timeform called good to soft.
Rain could bring other runners into reckoning
I backed Mohaafeth at 12s, 10s and 8s in the immediate aftermath of his 1m2f Newmarket Listed race last month.
However, I have cooled on him more than a touch – the quicker the better for him so he could definitely have done without Friday’s rain, even though Saturday looks a drying day and it sounds like his participation will be decided after connections walk the course – for all that he remains a colt with a lot of form upside and, hopefully, unlimited potential. I have certainly not written off the bet by any means but his current price of around 15/2 is certainly not a press-up opportunity for me.
I do think Bolshoi Ballet will take a fair bit of stopping, so the way to play this now is probably in the without favourite market, but to be honest I really am struggling to fancy much outside of Southern Lights and Mohaafeth, though the rain, far more heavy on Friday than was forecast, is bringing the Group 1-winning mudlovers Mac Swiney and Gear Up bang into the equation.
It is probably soft now, and could get deeper, hence the Friday money for Mac Swiney and Gear Up, currently 11-2 and 33s respectively on the exchange.
It may be predictable – even in spite of Friday’s weather – but I suggest Southern Lights at 12/1 each-way, three places, in the without the favourite market with the Betfair Sportsbook.
But to small stakes.
Solent Gateway could thrive on speedy track
We will take the rest of the ITV races in chronological order starting with the 1m2f handicap at 14:00 in which the favourite King Frankel will take a fair bit of beating.
He has been raised 6lb for getting beaten four lengths at Newbury last time but actually he could have got off lightly there, as the winner looks a Group horse in waiting and they pulled a mile clear of the third.
I don’t think around 11/4 on the Exchange is that bad a price but I am drawn to an each way bet against him in the shape of Solent Gateway at 25/1, three places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
He was a big drifter when doing little over an extended 1m2f at Chester last Saturday, a race in which he never had much of a chance of getting competitive in from his position in rear and his move around the final bend, six wide, soon petered out.
It was a throw-out run, as many are at that track.
But he has been dropped 2lb for it and he is now just 2lb higher than when second at Wolverhampton last year, a race in which the winner came out and won his next two, going up 11lb in the process.
I am not totally sold on this horse’s stamina over this trip, especially in worsening ground, but this is a speedy track and I think he is worth backing to small stakes off a decent mark.
I was hoping for at least 7/2 about Maamora in the 1m113yd Group 3 for fillies and mares at 14:35 and in truth probably a touch bigger.
So while I like her chances, based on her win in a strong Group 3 at Sandown last season and a promising enough reappearance (a reproduction of that win in Esher would make her hard to beat, as it read more like a Group 2 contest), I can just about let her go, especially as this front-runner could have attention on the front end and could have done without the rain.
But if she drifts to 4/1+ on the Exchange, and the ground isn’t too bad on Saturday – all her form has been on good or better – then I will probably get involved.
Century Dream looks at stand-out
I know the Princess Elizabeth Stakes is for the girls, but it does seem a touch odd to put another open-age Group 3 over the same distance for the boys in the very next race at 15:10. Surely they can mix and match?
It is probably all about the Pattern and opportunities, but even so. However, the field sizes have held up, so I will stop moaning (again) and put up Century Dream at 3.1511/5 or bigger.
Not my usual kind of price, but he looks a stand-out to me at his best, especially with main rival Maximal a late non-runner on Friday afternoon.
I expected him to make the running in the Lockinge on his reappearance but James Doyle wisely let the blitzing Lord Campari get on with it. However, it was a disappointing run whatever way you cut it.
Hopefully, he needed it badly and the drop in grade will see him back to form.
Certainly, if he returns to the level of Newbury and Goodwood win last season would see him pretty hard to beat here, and he also won this very race in 2018, so the course form box has been ticked, too.
Any 5/2+ is very fair, and Friday’s rain is a bonus, though he is ground-versatile.
The other race on the ITV card is the 5f Dash at 15:45 and I am not inclined to play, sorry.
Sunday Sovereign seems to be coming to the boil nicely after a second to Pendleton at York last time and I like his draw in 19 near the stands’ rail, but he was raised 3lb for that and has been incredibly well found in the market at 7.613/2 on the Exchange, having opened up at 11s on the Sportsbook, who are paying five places.
He would still be my token choice – he has been rated as high as 108 in the past (runs off 98 here), he is lightly-raced for a 4yo and the rain is a positive for him – but no bet for me as his price has plummeted.