With the clock ticking towards The Derby at Epsom on Saturday – and Ryan Moore confirmed as his rider – the unbeaten Saxon Warrior is a predicted hot favourite to give Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien a seventh victory in one of the world’s greatest races.
Saxon Warrior could be joined by as many as five stable companions. Indeed, the stable were also six-strong last year when the colt whose thrilling late swoop took the great Epsom Classic was not one of their main protagonists, but the unheralded outsider Wings Of Eagles.
And there is growing excitement amongst supporters of Saxon Warrior’s other rivals, including another Irish-trained runner in Dermot Weld’s Hazapour. That excitement has been enhanced by what’s called the ‘Frankie factor’ after the booking of 47-year-old legend Frankie Dettori for the chestnut colt.
Those searching for an alternative to Saxon Warrior – who looked imperious when winning the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket last month on his 2018 return – may point to some stamina queries on the dam’s side of the pedigree of this Japanese-bred son of Deep Impact. He is stepping up from Newmarket’s 1600m to Epsom’s 2405m.
They may also point to Saxon Warrior’s lack of experience over idiosyncratic Epsom, a roller-coaster of a track with its extreme gradients and camber. That is an old story however and, interestingly, in the last 10 years not a single Derby winner had run – let alone won – at Epsom before their Derby triumphs.
Hazapour’s owner the Aga Khan, trainer Dermot Weld and jockey Dettori certainly have Epsom-winning pedigrees. The Aga Khan has won the Derby five times going back to the famous Shergar in 1981, Weld winning it once (with Hazapour’s relation Harzand in 2016) and Dettori scoring on Authorized in 2007 and Golden Horn in 2015.
Dettori – replacing Pat Smullen, who is currently sidelined with medical issues – jetted to Ireland to partner Hazapour in a gallop on Tuesday. Afterwards, the jockey reflected: “I wasn’t pressing any buttons today. It was about getting a feel of the horse and getting to know his character. He was a very willing partner and everything went well.
“I’m on a colt who has won a major trial (last month’s G3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown) and who is trained by a master. I am hoping for a massive run,” says Dettori, who last rode a horse trained by Weld way back in 2001.
A small UK stable also plotting the demise of Saxon Warrior belongs to Lambourn-based trainer Harry Dunlop, who ran Robin Of Navan in last December’s LONGINES Hong Kong Cup. Dunlop – whose trainer father John twice won the Derby – believes that Knight To Behold can progress from his victory in last month’s Lingfield Derby Trial. Ridden that day by Saturday’s in-form rider Richard Kingscote, he stole a lead fully 1600m out, a lead that he never surrendered.
“Obviously Aidan O’Brien has better horses than the one we beat at Lingfield (Kew Gardens), particularly Saxon Warrior. But what I love is that I’m a 45-horse trainer going against the bigger yards with a colt who has a proper chance on Saturday,” says Dunlop.
Another electrifying happening on the simulcast programme is the “Dash” over Epsom’s downhill 1000m. Despite the intensely competitive nature of this handicap charge, Caspian Prince – now a nine-year-old warhorse – has won it three times for three different trainers. And he has yet another trainer – Michael Appleby – for this next assault on what is a famous prize for speedsters.
The ground is currently on the soft side of good, with most forecasts predicting sunny weather later in the week at the fast-drying Epsom track.