DERBY TRIALS May 11th
With Derby trials everybody wants to know, nobody actually knows, and just occasionally as when hot favourite Greatwood was pulled out at rain swept Lingfield yesterday, you never even get the chance to know. But hey, the best trial of all is set for this afternoon at Leopardstown.
You had to feel sorry for Lingfield. Energetic marketing had gathered a packed and lively crowd. Secret Gesture won the Oaks Trial so well that she was cut to as short as 6-1 for the Oaks itself, and in Greatwood it looked as if the course’s long established Derby Trial had a runner that could challenge the decision to demote the race to mere “Listed” status. But the rains came sluicing down in hair-plastering fashion and the Highclere connections opted not to risk their colt on the now soft conditions.
Greatwood’s promising first run this year had seen him installed as 1-2 favourite yesterday and the lack of strength in depth of this five runner field can be seen from the fact that the Aidan O’ Brien runner Nevis was then installed as a 4-9 shot before duly despatching his unsung rivals by nine long lengths in the soggy Lingfield straight. It might sound harsh to crab a horse that has now won two of its four races but any enthusiasm that one might have got by the extent of Nevis’ victory was dampened by the sight of Ryan Moore driving him right out as if he was either unsure of what was beneath him or was himself badly in need of exercise.
Moore and O’Brien had also combined to win the weeks two other Derby trials, the Chester Vase and the Dee Stakes with Ruler Of The World and Magician respectively. Both were impressive in what they did, but both beat small and largely undistinguished fields and while Ryan Moore said that they were both “nice horses”, he would say that wouldn’t he? Ruler Of The World won by six lengths over a mile and a half, Magician by four over a mile and a quarter. Ruler Of The World is still unbeaten and some rate him the higher of the pair. But he already needs cheekpieces to liven him up, a piece of equipment yet to be sported by a Derby winner and, visually at least, there was a bit more to like in the acceleration Magician showed to put his race to bed.
The absent Greatwood might now be re-routed to Thursday’s Dante Stakes but in that he would be opposing another Highclere horse in Telescope who, at 5-1, is by far the best backed British Derby entry. “They are owned by different syndicates,” said Highclere chief Harry Herbert (Sir Alex Ferguson is in the Greatwood one), “so they could run against each other but it is hardly ideal. The horse’s other option is to wait for Goodwood a week later, miss the Derby and aim for the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.”
That seems almost two chapters away and the search for the best horse to test Dawn Approach’s suspect stamina at Epsom now centres on today’s Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown in which Battle of Marengo, widely regarded as the principal flag bearer for O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable will be tested by Dawn Approach’s unbeaten stable companion Loch Garman. At this stage the two colts fit that enviable but still unhelpful description of “could be anything.”
Battle of Marengo ended his two year old career with a handsome victory in the Beresford Stakes and has already made an impressive winning reappearance this season. Loch Garman didn’t race until winning a minor event at Navan in October and then collected the Group One Criterium International at Saint Cloud a week later. Battle of Marengo has been on many Derby short lists since he spread-eagled his field by 11 lengths for his first victory last August, is now as short as 5-1 for the Derby and will be even shorter if he wins well this afternoon. But the fact that horses like Kingsbarns and Mars have at times been hailed as the Ballydoyle number one means success today is essential to confound the sceptics.
Loch Garman has not been on many people’s radar but he has been on Bolger’s. He was out at exercise alongside Dawn Approach when I visited one morning in February and suffered not at all by comparison. He is a tall handsome bay son of Teofilo with that gorgeous mix of power and quality that every thoroughbred lover seeks. Today will tell us how he has actually developed over the winter but a remark at Newmarket last Saturday sticks in the memory. As one of Jim Bolger’s key lieutenants bathed in the euphoria of Dawn Approach’s 2,000 Guineas victory he leant across and said. “Remember we have got another lovely horse at home. He’s that Loch Garman.”
But at Lingfield the biggest winner was the weather and for that I blame Derek Thomson. As the fillies paraded before Special Gesture was such an impressive winner in the Oaks Trial, the irrepressible “Tommo” told his captive listeners “if you look at the telly you will see that it is absolutely pelting down at Ascot. But don’t worry it won’t come here.” Can the ever-ebullient announcer never learn? For it was he who in an earlier life surveyed the black clouds about to deliver the biblical deluge that would cause the abandonment of the 1997 Dubai World Cup and uttered the immortal prophesy – “don’t worry folks, it is only a passing shower.”