Investec Derby and Oaks Preview

Despite missing a stand-out contender, the Investec Derby is still full of intrigue, littered with any number of horses who are open to vast amounts of improvement.

The logical starting point is to look at Aidan O’Brien’s contenders. The master trainer has made a blistering start to the season bagging the first two Classics’ of the season with Churchill and Winter, who both respectively went on to complete the Anglo-Irish Guineas’ double last weekend at the Curragh.

O’Brien is likely to be strongly represented, but it may well transpire that his two winners from Chester will turn out to be the best of his battalion. Cliffs Of Moher hails from a family that these connections’ know well and is certainly bred to be a top class performer. He impressed with his attitude at Chester despite looking green and somewhat raw. He will undoubtedly strip fitter for that and O’Brien will have him cherry ripe for this grand assignment.

The other of main interest from the O’Brien camp is Venice Beach. On the face of it, he is another who needs to substantially improve but we know he will have no problem with the demanding mile and a half trip of the Investec Derby. He is half-brother to the magnificent Danedream, who progressed enormously with experience and it will be no surprise to see this son of Galileo follow suit and enhance the family reputation.

If any trainer can attempt to match O’Brien in terms of squad depth in this renewal, it is John Gosden. His most likely chance is Cracksman. Cracksman hails from Frankel’s first crop and will be bidding to give him his first Classic success in Europe. Cracksman is unbeaten in two starts and beat subsequent Dante winner Permian on his seasonal reappearance at Epsom. He missed the Dante on account of the soft ground but remains open to any amount of improvement and bids to give his owner a second success in this race following the victory of Golden Horn in 2015.

Gosden may also have a dark horse in the form of Crowning Eagle. The son of Oasis Dream needs to improve markedly to feature having previously won a Windsor handicap off a mark of 85 but he won with any amount in hand. He is half-brother to top class performers Eagle Top, Wings Of Desire and The Lark and promises to improve as he steps up in trip as his stamina is tested. He is a long shot but a bold showing from Crowning Eagle is not out of the question.

Outside of the O’Brien and Gosden contenders, the Godolphin owned Dubai Thunder is a fascinating prospect. A half-brother to the mighty Farhh, Dubai Thunder could not have been any more impressive on his racecourse debut two weeks ago, slamming his rivals with the minimum of fuss. Whether he will be streetwise enough for this challenge is another question, the engine is certainly there and it will be interesting to monitor his progress throughout the season.

With Frankel strongly represented in the Investec Derby, Nathaniel, the horse he beat on his racecourse debut, is strongly represented in the Oaks with his daughters Enable and Natavia. Enable is trained by John Gosden, but she may be overshadowed by her bigger priced stablemate Coronet.

Coronet was unbeaten in two starts as a two-year-old, with her second victory coming in a listed race at Newmarket, the form of which has worked out extremely well. She made her seasonal reappearance in France in the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary where she was beaten by the re-opposing Sobetsu but did extremely well to even finish third given how the race panned out. With a stronger pace and the extra two furlongs in her favour, Coronet is very much a likely contender.

However, on all know form, the one to beat is the Aidan O’Brian trained Rhododendron. She won the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile on her final start as a two-year-old before finding trouble in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas when finishing a never nearer second behind her stablemate, Winter. Whilst connections’ are quietly confident she will improve greatly for the step up in trip, which also backs up the visual impression, it is countered with mixed messages from her pedigree given the female side of her family are very quick – this may be enough for some value seekers to look elsewhere.

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