Last updated December 10th, 2020
With little over 10 days until the Epsom Derby (Saturday, June 1), we take a close look at the ante-post market in search of the best value each-way betting tip.
Dawn Approach (11/10) is a worthy favourite. Of all the Derby Trials, the 2000 Guineas itself appears to be the strongest. The unbeaten son of New Approach, himself a Derby winner for trainer Jim Bolger (pictured), strode clear in the manner of a champion and more importantly of a stayer. He was pulling away from his field, not stopping over the mile trip, and his breeding suggests middle distances should hold no fears. There is no apparent chink in the favourite’s armour, save that he has not won beyond a mile merely because he has never been asked to. He is a very short price to bring up the eight-timer over the mile-and-a-half trip at Epsom. While there is always room for conjecture as to his ability to handle that unique track, a world away from Newmarket’s straight mile, he has impeccable connections.
His handler Jim Bolger is the true master of his craft and surely the shrewdest man in racing today. If life was a game of Monopoly then we could declare him the winner now. It is no longer relevant that Bolger bred the horse, made the horse and sold 51% of it for a vast sum to Sheikh Mohammed. I think the tired old cliche rolled out by every bookmaker’s PR is “life-changing amount.” However Bolger has performed the trick so many times it would barely register.
What is relevant is that any of the doubts relating to Dawn Approach’s chance should be allayed by the knowledge it is Bolger now preparing the horse for Epsom. He knows he has the best horse in the race, it is just a matter of whether he is the best at the 1m4f distance and on the idiosyncratic track. One thing puts me off, and that is the price. Even as a gambler I would rather watch the horse win at evens than lose money on it at that price. If you are not holding fancy ante-post tickets then I would not be keen to jump on the bandwagon now.
Is there an unexposed horse lurking in the wings to challenge Dawn Approach? There could be several. It is still early in a horse’s career to contest a Classic and the favourite excepted, there are several who might improve on what we have seen.
The second favourite in the Epsom Derby betting odds is Battle of Marengo (9/2), spearheading Aidan O’Brien’s team. Unbeaten in his last five, some were disappointed by the nature of his Leopardstown Derby Trial victory last time. It may not have exuded the dominance the hype demanded but it was ‘job done’ and this beautifully bred son of Galileo must enter calculations.
Maiden winner Telescope (7/1) (UPDATE: Now A Non-Runner) has missed his trial race after suffering a minor leg injury being loaded onto a horse box. If the twice-raced colt is that green in a horse box, what will he make of bustling Epsom on Derby Day? Irrespective of the hidden talent Telescope possesses, things have not gone to plan and 7/1 does not quite price in the doubts for me. My one disclaimer concerns Michael Stoute, a tremendous trainer and five-time Derby-winner who would not run unless everything was right.
French raider Ocovango (8/1) is unbeaten in three and takes the Pour Moi route, so successfully executed by his trainer Andre Fabre in 2011. That alone puts him high on the threat list.
Of the other Aidan O’Brien horses, Ruler Of The World (9/1) looks slightly over-priced, and that is the first horse that can be said of. It almost seems that whatever horse wins the Chester Vase becomes ignored in terms of Epsom credentials, yet O’Brien has sent several subsequent multiple Group 1 winners to that race, including Treasure Beach (a head second to Pour Moi in his Derby at 25/1) and Soldier of Fortune (nine-length Irish Derby winner in 2007). Donkeys may run in the Chester trials, but not when they come from Ballydoyle.
O’Brien’s Magician (16/1) was another Chester victor, this time in the Dee Stakes. Again the bare form is hard to assess and he may have beaten nothing but that is not his fault. He beat nothing well, pulling away in convincing fashion to win by four. He too belongs in the Ruler of the World category – done everything asked of him, unexposed and could be anything.
Mars (14/1) was only having the second run of his life and was a massive eye-catcher when eighth in the 2000 Guineas, running on. While it may be a stretch to think he can turn tables with Dawn Approach, many of Aidan O’Brien’s disappointing Guineas horses have improved no end. Power was 17th of 18 in 2012 and then won the Irish 200 Guineas next time out. Do not dismiss this one – there may yet be life in Mars.
One general word on the Ballydoyle runners, history has shown that they will run mob-handed and some of the least fancied runners can outperform the shorter-priced stablemates. Whatever anyone tells you, there is no such thing as a second or third string from O’Brien’s yard. There are so many examples of this, not least the yard’s At First Sight who was second at 100/1 to Michael Stoute’s Workforce in 2010.
Then we come to a horse from the wrong side of the tracks, Libertarian (20/1). At least that is how it must seem to most people because after winning the most prestigious of all the trails, the Dante at York, he can still be backed today at 20/1.
Let me ask you a little question, if Aidan O’Brien had saddled the winner of the Dante what price would it be for the Derby? You ponder before I tell you what I think as I add some meat to the bone.
The winner came from near last to first, staying on powerfully through the entire field in a truly-run race and was pulling away at the end. That last factor is indicative of Libertarian’s ability to stay the extra couple of furlongs at Epsom.
Now my answer to that question: If an O’Brien horse had posted the same performance he would be a top-priced 4/1 second favourite to Dawn Approach for Epsom.
Libertarian, who achieved all that, beating a Bolger horse and the O’Brien Dante favourite is 20/1. The reason? He is trained by Karl Burke (licence officially held by his wife Elaine, but that is a whole different story).
This is not a trainer with a Group 1 pedigree, though he did win at the top level in France in 2009 with Lord Shanakill. Burke is more likely to be seen plying his trade on the sands of Lingfield or Wolverhampton than a Grade 1 track. However he has always been cleverer and better than that. He is so sharp that he has the proven capability to cut himself.
Burke is not a trainer, as we often see through the years, who defies bad training methods to fluke a Group 1 success or two with one horse that outperforms below-par parentage (see some past results of the Nunthorpe Stakes). Burke has always been seriously talented but without the material to match.
Now in Libertarian he has a horse, like Dawn Approach, by New Approach and whose stamina-laden dam has produced black type winners. Barring an accident at home, this horse will turn up on the day – in both senses of the phrase. The same can not be said for some of the other shorter-priced contenders
The trainer may not have Blue Riband credentials yet and that is the only reason you are getting a best-priced 20/1 only with Ladbrokes about a horse that would be 4/1 and should be 6/1. If you want to take the 20/1 odds about LIBERTARIAN for the Epsom Derby, then do it each-way now as it won’t last to the day.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.