Thistle Bird and Gregorian set for more Epsom glory

Bill Esdaile
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MUCH talk in the lead-up to the Investec Derby Festival is about the uniqueness of Epsom and it’s not a point to be underestimated.

Some horses handle it and some don’t. Today’s action looks tricky so perhaps it’s best to focus primarily on those that have proved themselves at the track.

THISTLE BIRD was a winning tip for us in the opening Princess Elizabeth Stakes (1.35pm) last year and Roger Charlton’s mare can reward the decision by connections to keep her in training by repeating that success in the Group Three contest.

She’s 4lb clear on official ratings yet is getting weight off Mango Diva and her main rival in the market, last year’s Irish 1000 Guineas heroine Just The Judge, looks to have regressed and couldn’t be backed with any confidence.

James Doyle’s mount needed the run badly on her reappearance at York last month but that should have put her spot on and all her wins have come over slightly shorter anyway.

The 5/2 with Coral for Thistle Bird should be snapped up.

The Investec Diomed Stakes (2.45pm) looks a good renewal with five of the seven runners holding decent claims.

But GREGORIAN won this in good style in 2013 and is another top-rated runner that’s getting weight off some of his rivals.

John Gosden’s horse has an exceptional record fresh and you get the impression this has been the long-term plan for Gregorian as he’s been off the track since October.

Graphic is a big threat but this is the first time he’s ever contested a Group race and the five-year-old is up against some seasoned rivals.

The Godolphin pair, particularly Windhoek, are beginning to get frustrating. French Navy is consistent and beat his stablemate last time, but is looking exposed now.

Windhoek has been second in four of his last five races and whether the will to win is there is questionable.

Penitent was a shock 33/1 winner on the weekend but the admirable veteran will struggle against these better opponents and, all things considered, Gregorian at 5/2 with Coral looks the bet.

The Investec Mile Handicap (3.20pm) is always a fiendish affair for punters but the market is framed around one horse and that means there’s plenty of value to be had.

Abseil is as short as 2/1 today on the back of a huge market move on Sir Michael Stoute’s runner for the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot next month.

The ante-post favourite for that needs to win this to make the cut and unsurprisingly is considered a good thing here.

But you’d be mad to back such an inexperienced horse up against 15 handicap-hardened rivals, especially as he’s giving weight to all but two of them.

Instead I’m going to chance FURY for the final time. He’s off a career low mark ─ 15lb below his peak ─ and is a veteran of these big handicaps.

The grey was sent off favourite at York last month despite reportedly being unfit. He showed up for a long way that day but tired late on. I’d like to think he could be more competitive today and at 11/1 with Coral it’s worth finding out. I’ve saved my best bet until last as I’ll be really disappointed if THAT IS THE SPIRIT can’t land the Investec Surrey Stakes (4.45pm).

It’s not often you’ll see a horse having just his second start go off at 5/2 favourite in a competitive 18-runner handicap at York’s Dante meeting, but that was the weight of support behind That Is The Spirit last month.

And David O’Meara’s inmate didn’t let backers down with an authoritative success that marked the Invincible Spirit gelding out as a very good horse.

It would be no surprise to see him winning Group races later in the season and he has to be taken to make it three out of three.

Parbold is a really disappointing sort now, having not won since debut, and was flat on the weekend. He laboured to finish third as favourite and will need the first time visor to spark serious improvement.

William Haggas’ Penny Drops is talented but one win and five places from six starts proves she’s also frustrating and this Listed race really looks like it’s my selection’s to lose.

THISTLE BIRD 1.35pm Epsom (today)
GREGORIAN 2.45pm Epsom (today)
FURY e/w 3.20pm Epsom (today)
THAT IS THE SPIRIT 4.45pm Epsom (today)