EPSOM is ready to stage the 241st running of Saturday’s Investec Derby (4.55pm) behind closed doors.
The build-up has been like no other with the global coronavirus pandemic forcing the race to be delayed by a month.
A dramatically revised racing schedule means that the majority have taken unorthodox routes to Epsom and plenty have had rushed preparations.
Kameko unquestionably brings the best form to the race with his 2000 Guineas win at Newmarket last month signalling him out as the leading contender.
That was his second success at the highest level following last season’s win in the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy at Newcastle and he is unquestionably a very talented colt.
The big issue with him will be stamina as on breeding the dramatic step up in trip doesn’t look sure to suit.
Connections seem confident he will stay 10 furlongs and are bravely opting to roll the dice.
However, at just 4/1, I am prepared to let him run as plenty with similar profiles have failed in the past.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien saddles six runners as he attempts to win the race for a record-breaking eighth time.
His stable jockey Ryan Moore has opted to partner Mogul who has been their leading hope for the race since his two-year-old days.
Yet, the beautifully bred son of Galileo has never shown on the track what he obviously does at home and he has now been beaten more often than he has won.
Having followed a debut defeat with two wins, he could only finish fourth behind Kameko at Newcastle on his final start as a juvenile.
He was again sent off favourite on his reappearance in the King Edward VII Stakes but finished a well beaten fourth behind Pyledriver and Mohican Heights.
There is no doubt he will improve dramatically for that run, but on bare form he will need to.
O’Brien has gone on record saying that it has been a race against time to get him to Epsom and he would have preferred to have got one more race into him ahead of this assignment.
The pick of the Ballydoyle team on preparation alone would have to be Russian Emperor who arrives here on the back of two good prep races.
He was narrowly denied when staying on well in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial early last month and went one better in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last time.
Once again, he was doing all his best work late on and shapes as though the step up to this trip will suit.
The most interesting of the other O’Brien runners looks to be the lightly raced VATICAN CITY who flew home to finish second in the Irish 2000 Guineas on his reappearance.
That was an incredible run on only his third racecourse start and his first race out of maiden company.
His ability to stay this extra half mile is taken on trust, but one thing for sure is that his turn of foot will be a dangerous weapon if he does.
He can be backed at 10/1 each-way and that looks a fair price to me with plenty of firms offering four places.
Of the other O’Brien runners, SERPENTINE looked smart when winning a maiden at the Curragh last week.
He looks sure to be ridden positively again and could surprise a few at a big price.
He is available to back at a general 25/1 but could be worth supporting as huge odds on the Tote (tote.co.uk) as he is exactly the type of horse to be overlooked on the day.
I remember siding with a similar forward going O’Brien horse in Treasure Beach a few years ago in Pour Moi’s Derby.
He may just go very well from the front and take some pegging back if given a soft lead.
I’ll also be looking to play a small stakes combination exacta including Vatican City, Russian Emperor and Serpentine with the tote.co.uk.
That equates to six lines and could yield a healthy profit if any combination of the three fill the first two places home as we are leaving out the more fancied runners.
As for the rest, Mythical was bitterly disappointing on his reappearance, but the fact that he takes his place in the line-up suggests that there was a genuine excuse for that failure.
The final O’Brien runner is Amhran Na Bhfiann who is the most inexperienced of the six.
He finished fourth behind three stablemates in another maiden at the Curragh on his reappearance and takes a massive jump in class here.
It is worth noting that the three horses who finished ahead of him that day finished second, third and fourth in last weekend’s Irish Derby.
The horse likely to be sent off favourite for the race is English King who is partnered by Frankie Dettori and will be trainer Ed Walker’s first runner in the race.
He was hugely impressive when breaking the track record in the Lingfield Derby Trial last time and looks an exciting prospect.
That was the same route that last year’s winner, Anthony Van Dyck, took to Epsom and it would be no surprise to see him win.
Berkshire Rocco finished second to him at Lingfield and ran with credit when runner-up to Santiago in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.
That form looks even stronger now following Santiago’s success in last week’s Irish Derby.
He is pretty short though at around 11/4 and has been done no favours with the draw in stall one.
Highland Chief booked his ticket here by carrying a big weight to success in a valuable handicap on soft ground at Royal Ascot.
He has some smart form as a two-year-old and could surprise a few if the rain comes.
Khalifa Sat and Emissary fought out the finish for the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood last time but will have to step up again to figure here.
Worthily only made his racecourse debut at Newbury less than a month ago when winning his maiden.
This requires a huge jump and Frankie Dettori has jumped off him to partner English King.
Vatican City e/w 10/1 4.55pm Epsom
Serpentine e/w (tote.co.uk) 4.55pm Epsom
Combination Exacta (6 lines)