December 1, 2020

O’Brien fields seven of 20 in Epsom Derby

Aidan O'Brien and his jockey-turned-trainer son, Joseph, will compete against each other in Saturday's Epsom Derby (Photo by © Breeders' Cup/Weasie Gaines )

As of Monday’s entry stage, trainer Aidan O’Brien had seven of the 20 horses in line for Saturday’s Derby (G1) at Epsom. Heading the Ballydoyle battalion is Cliffs of Moher, who is currently vying for favoritism with Cracksman, himself one of a handful representing John Gosden.

Cliffs of Moher, a dominant maiden winner in his second start last October at Leopardstown, vaulted into prominence by taking the May 12 Dee S. at Chester. That 10 1/2-furlong contest hasn’t been a key Derby trial, with the last Dee winner to score at Epsom being Kris Kin in 2003. But the lightly raced son of Galileo is entitled to keep progressing, and the betting market hints that Ryan Moore will side with him.

Venice Beach, a Galileo half-brother to Danedeam, stepped up to capture the Chester Vase (G3) straight from his Tipperary maiden score. In the process, he spearheaded an O’Brien trifecta over Wings of Eagles and The Anvil. Rounding out the septet are Douglas Macarthur and Capri, respectively the first and third from the May 7 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G2) at Leopardstown, and Finn McCool, a full brother to Kingfisher who was third in Sunday’s Gallinule (G3). Six of the seven are by Coolmore supersire Galileo, with Wings of Eagles the exception as a son of Pour Moi.

There’s an eighth O’Brien trainee involved in the Derby, if you include the human connections in the form of Aidan’s son Joseph. Now a trainer in his own right, Joseph O’Brien sends out Rekindling, who beat his father’s Douglas Macarthur and Capri in the Ballysax (G3) prior to his fourth in the Dante (G2).

Galileo’s celebrated son Frankel has two solid chances to come up with a Derby hero in his first crop, courtesy of the aforementioned Cracksman as well as Eminent.

As a Sir Anthony Oppenheimer homebred trained by Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, Cracksman reunites the team of 2015 Derby champion Golden Horn. He has won both of his starts, a mile maiden at Newmarket in October and the 10-furlong Epsom conditions race billed as the “Derby Trial” in his April reappearance. Although entered in the Dante, Cracksman swerved that key prep when the ground came up unsuitably soft, and instead he limbered up at Epsom’s “Breakfast with the Stars.” His form has held up in his absence.

Permian, just denied by Cracksman at Epsom, went on to romp in the Newmarket S. and upset Godolphin’s Benbatl in the Dante. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s son Hamdan, Permian was not eligible for the Derby at the time. But the upwardly mobile Mark Johnston trainee earned his way into being supplemented Monday for £85,000.

Also added to the Derby Monday was Gosden’s Khalidi, a well-beaten third behind Permian at Newmarket. That subpar performance was bookended by a pair of listed wins in the April 18 Feilden, besting Salouen (who’d twice placed at the Group 1 level at two for Sylvester Kirk), and a course record-setting romp in last Friday’s Cocked Hat at Goodwood. Gosden can also call upon Glencadam Glory, no match for Godolphin’s Best Solution in the Lingfield Derby Trial; last-out Windsor handicap winner Crowned Eagle, an Oasis Dream half-brother to Wings of Desire, The Lark, and Eagle Top; and 100-1 shot Pealer, who was Cracksman’s workmate at Breakfast with the Stars.

Regally bred Eminent is the only Derby contender who exits the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, where the Frankel colt was a one-paced sixth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Churchill. The Martyn Meade pupil shaped as though he really wants a step up in trip at this point. Eminent had won his first two career starts at a mile, notably the April 20 Craven (G3) over Rivet and Benbatl, but he’s bred to go much further. Out of Group 1-placed You’ll Be Mine, he counts multiple classic-placed highweight Quarter Moon as his second dam in this star-studded family.

Saeed bin Suroor has three engaged for Godolphin. Dubai Thunder is bred to be a star as a Dubawi half-brother to Farhh from the extended family of Fame and Glory and Legatissimo. And he ran up to those exalted bloodlines when bolting up in his unveiling at Newbury on May 19. If he can overcome the experience deficit in just his second lifetime start, Dubai Thunder may have the requisite talent in an open-looking year. His stablemates are the aforementioned Best Solution, who doesn’t have the typical Derby profile after going unplaced twice on the dirt at the Dubai Carnival, and the promising Benbatl. A son of Dubawi and Grade/Group 1 victress Nahrain, Benbatl crushed them first time out at Doncaster before his third to Eminent in the Craven and runner-up effort to Permian in the Dante.

The 20th runner is a 1000-1 no hoper, the filly Diore Lia. Beaten out of sight in two maidens so far, she’s reportedly competing to support a charity, the Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her participation may help to raise awareness, but her ability to earn a check here is doubtful.

Final declarations for the Derby, Britain’s richest race worth £1.625 million, will be announced Thursday.