THERE are just under five weeks to go until the Investec Derby Festival but this afternoon racing fans get the chance to sample some intriguing action at this most unique of venues.
The highlight is the Investec Derby Trial (3.20pm) and great credit must go to the sponsors for securing a field of nine, comfortably the largest line-up in the past decade. That is due to the excellent prize money on offer and a wild-card entry into the Investec Derby if a horse isn’t already entered.
Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting that any of this afternoon’s contenders will be good enough to win next month’s flagship event, but it is an interesting and competitive race nevertheless.
Andrew Balding won this race last year with Goldoni and he has the highest rated animal in the field in the shape of Operation Chariot. The son of Refuse To Bend held some esteemed company last season but was found wanting at the higher level. This is more realistic, but there are others with stronger claims.
Many punters will be siding with Mark Johnston’s Mister Impatience after a stunning nine-length success at Doncaster last time. That was on soft ground, however, and this quicker surface would have to be a major worry for connections.
Another Cocktail is one of only three in the line-up to hold an entry for the big one next month, but his trainer Hughie Morrison has expressed a concern that today’s 1m 2f trip might be a shade too short for this Dalakhani colt. In any case, I’m not sure he’s quite good enough.
The one who I’m most drawn to is Richard Fahey’s GABRIAL’S KAKA who is the only course winner in the field. That win was in a three-runner conditions event last September and, despite swishing his tail in the closing stages, he looks the most progressive horse in this field.
Fahey has made his customary quick start to the season and you can be certain he will be sending down Gabrial’s Kaka as fit as a fiddle for his first start of the campaign.
John Gosden has won this race twice in the past six years and his Hoarding has to be respected despite conceding weight all round. That said, I’ve never been truly convinced by this one and I’m happy to swerve him.
Mirsaale can’t be ignored for the in-form James Tate stable, but in a trappy contest I’m happy to stick with Gabrial’s Kaka for the in-form trainer-jockey combination of Fahey and Paul Hanagan.
Looking ahead to next month’s Investec Derby and Sir Michael Stoute’s Telescope has assumed 5/1 favouritism with Coral. He was scheduled to run at Sandown later this week, but is now due to have his prep race at either York or Chester.
The son of Galileo is impeccably bred and Stoute could really do with a big Classic win following two disappointing seasons.
Aidan O’Brien’s Kingsbarns is looking increasingly like he is going to miss the race and Ballydoyle’s number one candidate may well end up being Ballysax winner, Battle Of Marengo, at 8/1 with Coral. Mars is shorter at 6/1, but he is yet to reappear and has only won a Dundalk maiden so far in his career.
Toronado could aim to give Richard Hannon a first Derby win and he will be shorter than the current 7/1 available with Coral if he wins next month’s 2,000 Guineas. That said, the same applies to hot favourite Dawn Approach if he is successful at Newmarket. Stamina is the big worry for both of those contenders at Epsom, though.
GABRIAL’S KAKA 3.20pm Epsom