The burning question: who has the staying power for the Derby and the Oaks at Epsom?
Will the horse stay? The question that has burned holes in the minds of exasperated punters since racing began.
A question that dominates the build-up to the Grand National every year as we decide who to trust with our each/way money in the world’s greatest steeplechase marathon.
And one that triggered raging debates during that yawning void between King George Day and the Cheltenham Festival earlier this year as we grappled with the dilemma surrounding VAUTOUR’S chances in the Gold Cup.
But not even Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins can pour cold water on the stamina quandary that is always at its most prevalent at this time in the racing calendar. When we move inexorably from the Guineas to Epsom and attempt to second-guess which three-year-old colts and fillies will find the required stamina-reserves to tackle the Investec Derby and Investec Oaks.
Last week, we touched on the cavalier analysis of some experts about the effectiveneness of Qipco 1,000 Guineas heroine MINDING over 12f, given that parts of her pedigree suggest she has plenty to find. The latest twist to the same theme concerns the Qipco 2,000 Guineas winner, GALILEO GOLD, after trainer Hugo Palmer took the unusual step of enlisting the Irish genetics company, Equinome, to determine his stamina DNA.
Oh, how the cynics sneered as Palmer asked scientists at University College in Dublin to provide a definitive answer to that age-old question: will he stay the Derby trip? And oh, how the critics jeered as Equinome revealed that Galileo Gold can be categorised as a CC colt, meaning his optimum distance is always likely to be between 5f and 1m -- rather than a CT, which would put him in the 7f to 12f bracket, or even a TT that would make him a 10f-plus animal.
To those who study pedigrees, the results of the genetics test weren’t surprising for the son of a crack miler, Paco Boy, who won the Queen Anne and the Lockinge, and a colt closely related to a King’s Stand sprint winner, Goldream, who is the son of a July Cup winner, Oasis Dream. Nor were they to race-readers who like to make their judgements via visual evidence, rather than facts and figures. For Galileo Gold was always plenty keen enough in his races as a juvenile and while he settled better in the Guineas, despite his wide draw, he showed bags of pace to lay up early doors and sprint clear at the death.
Hats off, I say, to Palmer, who will now switch his star colt from the Derby to the Irish 2,000 Guineas and concentrate on all the top-quality mile events. I can’t remember any other Classic-winning trainers seeking out scientific evidence to override saloon-bar conjecture.
Certainly Richard Hannon might have been advised to give Equinome a call about HUMPHREY BOGART. He didn’t even enter the son of Tagula for the Epsom Classic because he couldn’t believe he’d stay 10f, never mind 12f. It was an extraordinary decision given that he’s a full brother to 2m hurdle winners, while the dam, who won over 13f, is a daughter of a Derby winner, Kahyasi. And it was made to look even more extraordinary on Saturday when Humphrey Bogart won the Lingfield Derby Trial. What’s more, on his previous start, he proved that he handles the quirks of Epsom.
Of course, with the greatest modern-day Classic-winning trainer of them all, Aidan O’Brien, punters do not have to occupy their minds too much about stamina limitations. The overbearing influence of Galileo on large swathes of his string sees to that. But a head-scratching puzzle of a different variety has emerged this year. Namely, exactly WHICH of his middle-distance colts should we expect to see, never mind support, at Epsom.
If we accept that the Coolmore team are not minded to jump on the media-motored bandwagon by diverting Minding to the Derby (and my information is that they won’t), then we enter a veritable minefield littered with potential land-mines that go by the names of US ARMY RANGER, IDAHO, PORT DOUGLAS, THE GURKHA, SHOGUN, BLACK SEA and DEAUVILLE etc etc.
The vibes and the market suggest last week’s Chester Vase winner, US Army Ranger, is top of the O’Brien pecking order. So how do we explain him only scrambling home, despite receiving 4lb from stablemate Port Douglas, who was having his first run of the campaign? To my eyes, the runner-up looked the likelier Derby candidate, and yet the trainer’s post-race assertion that he is “a solid Group Two horse” hardly instilled confidence for Epsom.
Much controversy has been stoked up over the ride Seamie Heffernan gave Port Douglas. It is scandalous criticism. On a natural front-runner, Heffernan set a solid gallop that he noticeably quickened about half-a-mile out. The cutaway on the home bend forced him into a wider passage than ideal into the straight, where his mount rallied very gamely after the favourite had edged to the front. For each backhander that Heffernan applied, Port Douglas leaned left into the winner, so his decision to finish with driven hands and heels was perfectly acceptable, especially for a colt making his first appearance for seven months.
If Heffernan is to be knocked, it should be for his ride four days later on Idaho in the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown. With Ryan Moore on Shogun, quite why Heffernan was on board at all is a bit of a mystery, considering the way the colt had been shaping up as a likely Derby contender and also the market support he had attracted for both this race and Epsom. But quite why he was given so much to do in rear, considering he was proven over the trip, was an even bigger mystery. The way Idaho kept on in the straight to finish a never-nearer third suggests he will eat 12f and should still be on the Epsom radar.
Mind you, the Godolphin winner, MOONLIGHT MAGIC, whom Idaho hammered on his seasonal re-appearance, didn’t look bad either, did he? And he has not only Galileo in his blood, but also two more spectacular Derby winners in Lammtarra and Sea The Stars. No need to call Equinome there!
More money might not mean better quality at Chester
Chester is a racecourse not afraid to dip its toe into original waters. Witness its in-house equivalent to the Tote.
The May meeting last week heralded the launch of a revolutionary appearance-money scheme, guaranteeing owners at least £400 if they had a runner and designed to bump up field sizes. Naively, the scheme was welcomed by many, but on last week’s evidence, it is in danger of backfiring. The prospect of bigger fields at the sharpest, tightest track in Britain increases the potential for traffic problems and an impossibly high draw, which is more likely to put off, rather than tempt, the connections of good horses. Last week’s 21 races attracted only ten more runners than the same meeting in 2015, despite better ground, and the quality was distinctly down.