With the eagerly awaited running of the Epsom Derby just days away, the big question is who has what it takes to land the 1m 4f premier Classic for three-year-old colts and fillies which takes place on Saturday, 1 June?
All-conquering Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien could have as many as eight runners in the race, for which 18 entries remain after the latest forfeit stage, as the Ballydoyle maestro bids to win it for a record-equalling seventh time.
With all the key trials for the Group 1 contest now over, we look at the credentials of five leading Epsom Derby contenders for the £1,500,000 contest.
Ireland’s 21-time champion Flat trainer O’Brien has a whole host of top class talent at his disposal for the premier Classic, with a number of his team landing most of the recognised trials in the build-up.
Among them is Sir Dragonet who has won his two career starts in the manner of a hugely exciting prospect.
After quickening clear to score by three lengths in a 16-runner maiden at Tipperary, this son of Derby winner Camelot took the step up into Group 3 company is his stride when landing the Chester Vase in runaway style.
Donnacha O’Brien settled Sir Dragonet at the rear of the seven-runner before making a move two from home.
He then swept to the front at the furlong marker and showed an instant turn of foot to stretch effortlessly clear and beat stable companion Norway by eight lengths.
It was an ultra-impressive display and one similar to that of Shergar, who ran out the wide-margin winner of the race in 1981 before romping to success in The Derby.
O’Brien also saddled Ruler Of The World to complete the Vase/Derby double in 2013 and his Wings Of Eagles, who finished runner-up in the Vase, went one better next time up at Epsom in 2017.
There was talk of Sir Dragonet potentially swerving The Derby and heading for the French equivalent at Chantilly, the Prix du Jockey Club, the following day.
However, the Coolmore triumvirate of John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor are now favouring supplementing the colt for the Epsom showpiece at a cost of £85,000.
That looks a shrewd move as Sir Dragonet looks very special and is a strong traveller with a potent turn of foot – the ideal attributes for the prestigious contest.
Anthony Van Dyck
A solid case can be made for several O’Brien entries, but Anthony Van Dyck is arguably the second string to Sir Dragonet and looks a big player.
This son of Galileo shaped well on debut as a juvenile when seventh at The Curragh, before going on to rattle-up a hat-trick of successes.
In the last of those he dug deep to score by half-a-length from Christmas in the 7f Group 2 Futurity Stakes.
Anthony Van Dyck then chased home Quorto when a 1 1/4 lengths runner-up in the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at The Curragh and backed that up with a solid four-length third to Too Darn Hot in another juvenile Group 1 – the Dewhurst at Newmarket.
He then bombed out in the Juvenile Turf Breeders’ Cup race at Churchill Downs, but that came at the end of a long season and he always appealed as the type to come into his own as a three-year-old when stepped up in trip.
That view was confirmed when Anthony Van Dyck made a winning return to action in the Listed 1m 3f Derby Trial at Lingfield where, after taking up the running a furlong from home, he found plenty to comfortably beat Pablo Escobar by 2 1/4 lengths.
The form of that race does not look strong, but Anthony Van Dyck is sure to come on a bundle for the outing and is undoubtedly a classy sort.
He is a grinder rather than a flashy type, but finds plenty for pressure and is a battle-hardened sort who relishes a scrap – so it would be folly to underestimate his chances.
Ian Balding saddled the brilliant Mill Reef to land The Derby back in 1971 and his son Andrew looks to have a leading contender in this year’s renewal in the shape of Bangkok.
The Kingsclere handler believes the son of Australia, who is owned by the increasingly powerful King Power Racing, is up there with the best three-year-old colts he has every trained.
After three starts without success in 2018, Bangkok defeated Telecaster in a maiden at Doncaster on seasonal reappearance in March when taking up the running at the three furlong marker and keeping on strongly when pressed to score by 1 1/4 lengths.
Bangkok has since followed-up with a dominant success in the Group 3 Classic Trial over 1m 2f at Sandown, where he came from off the pace and showed a smart turn of foot to decisively beat Technician by 1 1/4 lengths.
Balding has been delighted with his work at home since and compared him to the very smart colt Elm Park, who failed to stay the 1m 4f trip of The Derby when 11th of 12 to Golden Horn in 2015.
The way in which Bangkok finishes off his races suggest stamina is unlikely to be an issue.
He is also very well-balanced, so should cope with the unique undulations of Epsom; has a wonderful pedigree and looks just the type for the race.
Bangkok will also have the services in the saddle of champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa, who is two from three on him. He has yet to win The Derby, but in Bangkok has a progressive partner capable doing just that.
Trainer Hughie Morrison and owners Castle Down Racing are undecided as to whether to supplement Telecaster for the race but – judged on what this son of New Approach has achieved in three starts this season – it will be a crying shame if they don’t.
After shaping with bags of promise when a tenderly handled staying on 1 1/4 lengths runner-up to Bangkok in a 17-runner maiden at Doncaster, Telecaster could not have been more impressive when making virtually all to score very easily by nine lengths at Windsor,
That success earned him a crack at the Group 2 Dante Stakes over an extended 1m 2f at York – a leading Derby trial – and Telecaster put in most taking performance to get the better of champion juvenile and the hitherto unbeaten Too Darn Hot by a length.
The race was run at a blistering gallop form the off, so it was to Telecaster’s credit that he raced up with the pace and found plenty for pressure to win in gutsy fashion.
He hit the line hard, so the extra two furlongs in The Derby should hold no fears. The first two home also pulled five lengths clear of the third home Surfman, who trainer Roger Varian holds in the highest regard.
That gives the form a rock solid look and to beat a rival rated 126 on just his third start shows that Telecaster has the potentially to go right to the very top.
Connections are worried that he may have had too hard a race in the Dante as The Derby comes just 16 days after.
But Morrison has made no secret that he is the best colt he has ever trained, and he may well not get another with the credentials to actually win Flat racing’s most cherished prize – so hopefully he will let Telecaster take his chance.
Veteran Irish trainer Kevin Prendergast is set to be represented by Madhmoon who finished a fine fourth to Magna Grecia in the the first Classic of the season at Newmarket – the 2000 Guineas run over the Rowley Mile.
The Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned colt was held-up in touch in the centre group and held every chance two from home, before getting outpaced at the furlong marker.
He then rallied and ran on strongly inside the final furlong to be beaten 3 1/2 lengths. Madhmoon finished second in his group which had no chance with the first two home, who were both drawn high.
It was a terrific effort, given how the race panned out, and the way in which the son of Dawn Approach finished off the race offered optimism for him getting The Derby distance.
The 2000 Guineas is also considered the best trial for the race and it’s worth noting that Madhmoon was a top class juvenile.
He was very impressive when beating Broome by 2 1/4 lengths in a Group 2 at Leopardstown over 1m, and that form has been boosted by the runner-up going on to finish second in a Group 1 and winning both his starts this season.
Madhmoon won twice over a mile as a two-year-old and that is usually a good indication for longer trips at three – provided horses train on over the winter.
He is also a straightforward sort and victory for him would be a dream come true for 96-year-old Prendergast, whose father never won The Derby but had several horses placed in it.