The huge throngs that have made a beeline to Epsom on Derby day for well over two centuries will be absent but the penultimate race on Saturday’s (4 July) seven-race simulcast show is, as ever, attracting worldwide anticipation.
The 2020 G1 Derby (2405m) certainly isn’t a match between just two colts with seven-time Derby-winning trainer Aidan O’Brien sending some strong contenders as well as other intriguing candidates in this three-year-old clash. Nonetheless the Derby conversation over the last couple of weeks has revolved around two names – English King and Kameko.
The Derby Trial (2321m) at Lingfield has not often been a great guide to the Classic itself but the programme alterations in Britain due to the Coronavirus, and the sight of English King sweeping past rivals and powering clear in that 5 June encounter moved that Listed event to centre stage.
It was rising 21-year-old star Tom Marquand who steered the bay Camelot colt to victory then, but it will be the 49-year-old veteran Frankie Dettori who will be on board on Saturday.
English King’s owner Bjorn Nielsen is great friends with the Italian rider who has partnered Nielsen’s champion stayer Stradivarius to 10 victories, most recently in last month’s G1 Gold Cup at Ascot.
Trainer Ed Walker said: "Of course it is hugely disappointing for Tom but Frankie has so much big-race experience. The Derby is usually a rough and tumble race with a lot of pressure and no one handles the big occasions better. Frankie is Frankie!"
Of English King Walker said: "He’s got a playful character, and a great mind. He saves all his energy for the finish. I wanted to run him at Lingfield because of its similarities to Epsom, and he will have learnt plenty from that."
Meanwhile Dettori – who had 14 attempts before riding his first Derby winner and is now searching for his third victory in the Classic – sounds bullish regarding Saturday’s assignment: "He ticks all the boxes," said the Italian maestro.
According to facts and figures Kameko has twice performed to a higher level than any of his rivals on Saturday. First he powered to a superb victory in the G1 Futurity (1605m) on Newcastle’s all-weather track last November, returning to bag G1 Classic glory over Newmarket’s famous Rowley Mile in last month’s delayed 2,000 Guineas (1600m).
Trained by Andrew Balding, he is owned by Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad Al Thani who responds with quiet optimism to the big issue as to whether this son of US stallion Kitten’s Joy has the essential stamina for the demanding Epsom Derby course and distance.
"We don’t know if he is going to stay or not and in his pedigree there are mixed signals. The best way to win a Derby is not knowing whether you are going to stay or not. If you know you’re going to stay the mile and a half usually you have a horse that isn’t quick enough to win a Derby because you need the tactical speed to go through a gap when you need to," Balding said.
Kameko’s rider Oisin Murphy has also had umpteen questions directed at him regarding Kameko’s stamina for Saturday’s task.
"I’m just not going to focus on that for the time being," said Britain’s reigning champion jockey this week.
Instead Murphy draws confidence from how strongly Kameko has hit the line in his two G1 wins, especially remembering back to that Newcastle win.
"He was only a two-year-old then but he was so strong at the end I could barely pull him up when the race was over," he added.
Current predictions are that the Epsom turf will ride good on Saturday when the other G1 Classic is the Oaks where some brilliant three-year-old fillies are set to do battle over the same distance as the Derby.