The only certainty about the prelude to this year’s Epsom Derby is that it seems to be set in a twilight zone where there is no certainty. It is a place where trials raise more questions than answers, Aidan O’Brien has nothing at a single-figure price and an impressive winner of the Dante Stakes, supposedly the best Derby trial of all, is only a possible at Epsom on June 6th.
Golden Horn did everything that could be expected of a potential Classic winner in the Dante here yesterday, travelling smoothly though the first mile and then producing a decisive turn of speed to sweep past Jack Hobbs, his stablemate at the John Gosden yard, inside the final furlong. Elm Park, last year's Racing Post Trophy winner, gave the form a solid foundation back in third place, while O'Brien's two runners, Ol' Man River and John F Kennedy, were second last and last of the seven runners respectively.
Yet in the immediate aftermath of what was expected to be this year’s definitive Derby trial, only Elm Park was confirmed as a definite starter at Epsom in a little over three weeks’ time.
Jack Hobbs, who made his racecourse debut on the all-weather two days after Christmas and even now has only three races behind him, could be “more of a horse for the future and the King Edward VII [at Royal Ascot]” according to Gosden.
Golden Horn, meanwhile, has an issue that no amount of experience can rectify: his genes. Anthony Oppenheimer, who bred Golden Horn and then kept him to race when he could not find a buyer as a yearling, is convinced that his stamina will not stretch to 12 furlongs.
Golden Horn is entered only in the French Derby, over 10 furlongs, and while he could be added to the field at Epsom for £75,000 a few days before the race, Oppenheimer said yesterday that it was “emphatically not the case” that Golden Horn will get a supplementary entry.
Gosden, meanwhile, seems happy to go to Epsom with both colts or neither if that is what their owners – including wife Rachel Hood in the case of Jack Hobbs – choose to do.
“Mentally, he [Golden Horn] knows what he’s about now, whereas the other horse is still a little bit – not clueless, but a little bit lost sometimes,” Gosden said. “That’s purely a matter of racing experience and he’ll be a sharper horse next time. It was a long distance back to the fourth and I think the front three horses can take full merit from the race. Elm Park is the real benchmark, he’s a Group One winner and a proper horse.”
Bookmakers reacted to the result by making Golden Horn the new favourite for the Derby at around 2-1 "with a run" and 3-1 all in. Zawraq, unbeaten in a maiden and a listed race for Dermot Weld, is next at a top 6-1, while Jack Hobbs, favourite prior to the Dante, is out to 8-1 (from 4-1) with Ladbrokes. Elm Park is also 8-1, and it is 12-1 bar the four. – (Guardian Service)