Mark your card, my dears, this Saturday is Derby Day!
Epsom Downs on Derby day is a bizarre amalgamation of a gypsy carnival and Ascot’s Royal meeting.
Top hats vie with fairground waltzers and cotton candy stalls to be the backdrop to the world’s premier horse racing classic, which is undisputedly the finest three-year old contest the world over.
Sure, our Gallic chums may scoff at this notion as they scoff on their escargots and delightfully chilled Chablis from the elegance of Chantilly. Or, the yanks – their back teeth swimming in mint Juleps and gumbo – will cry “baloney” from the balmy stands of Churchill Downs.
Forget it chaps there is only one Derby and that is run at Epsom Downs in leafy Surrey.
You cannot stifle history – no matter how much our American cousins try to – and, dear reader, just look at the bally name! The race, which others take to form a title, was first run in 1780 and named for Edward Smith-Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby.
Sadly I shall not be clipping my trotters along the manicured grass nor – as leading trainer John Gosden claims to do – be breathing in the atmosphere on the namely baptised Poundland Hill for an hour.
No I shall be sipping some gin or a glass of fizz, accompanied by a plate of delightful cucumber sandwiches from the comfort of home.
This year’s contest is, as we all know, the 238th running of the blue riband event for three year olds – not wanting to insult the mathematical wherewithal of my readership.
But, unusually, there is no standout entrant on which to pin your colours. This year’s renewal is a mystery wrapped inside a riddle.
The undulating course, which climbs the equivalent of Nelson’s column, requires a colt to maintain its balance, as it turns right and left, ultimately makes a horse out of a colt and hero out of a jockey – most probably Ryan Moore if this season is anything to go by.
It is, however, far easier to choose the stable than the winning colt comes from this year; Gosden saddles five, whilst the imperious Aiden O’Brien has six and Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor three. Indeed, there are serious arguments for many – or none, given its openness – and it is equally probable that the winner will be of super-sire Galileo or his son Frankel.
Despite looking a bit ploddy, Cliff of Moher – by Galileo – is the choice of the finest jockey riding today and the champion trainer in Moore and O’Brien; and, largely on this basis is the race’s favourite.
That said, the Irish trainer’s second string, Venice Beach, appears to be woefully overpriced at 14/1. However, I have come to learn that Moore, O’Brien’s retained rider, usual picks the correct one.
There are small overtures for Best Solution and Rekindling from some quarters. Not for this old bean.
I am more inclined to follow the Frankel route and suppose that the great horse will sire his maiden Derby winner this year. I have been told by a respected gentleman in bloodstock that it is Martyn Meade’s Eminent that has the best breeding for the one mile and four furlong trip.
Needless to say that however much I do acquiesce to superior knowledge, I am but a fool and I stupidly trust in my waters when it comes to a punt.
This means that I am hanging my Splendid Red hat on the colours of the Gosden-trained, Anthony Oppenheimer-owned Cracksman, who is ridden by the garrulous genius Frankie Dettori.
Best of British on a wonderfully English day!
Nb. Don’t forget that this is a two day meeting and one can always whet their beaks Friday’s Oakes.
Double – Journey (3.10) and Rhododendron (4.30)
Each way – Daddy’s Lil Darling (4.30)
To win – Cracksman (4.30)
Each way – Venice Beach (4.30)