Lambourn trainer Ed Walker shares his thoughts with Tote on English King’s season so far and, of course, his chances in the Investec Derby on Saturday
The 2020 Investec Derby at Epsom will be a renewal like no other. The fanfare, noise and fashion will be replaced by the sound of rattling hooves, the commentator and little else. Lambourn trainer Ed Walker is responsible for a likely warm-favourite for the big race on Saturday and feels the event has its obvious perks and drawbacks under the circumstances.
“It is sad not to have the crowd, it is a part of what makes the Derby test so unique. The horses will benefit from it, but it will be the same benefit to all the runners.”
A low key juvenile season for immature English King
“He was quite impressive at Newcastle last year and beat some nice horses in a good time. Going into winter we thought we had an immature but talented juvenile who would be a really nice three-year-old. Given that he is owned by Mr Neilson, it was always a case of working backwards from the Derby”, said the trainer.
He added: “That obviously got a bit complicated when the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in. Ideally we’d have followed a more conventional route to Epsom and had another run, but again it’s the same for everyone.”
When did you realise he is a genuine Derby horse?
“The same time as you really! He’s not a flashy work horse, but he is a beautiful mover and very athletic. He’s got a very good attitude and was always going to make a three-year-old.”
Walker added: “His work has always been pleasing without being exceptional or mind blowing. I’ve never trained a runner in the Derby, so I’m not necessarily sure what it “should” look like at home.”
Taking over from Tom Marquard, English King also has a man on board who is no stranger to riding in the Derby and indeed, riding Derby winners. Frankie Dettori, despite his advancing years, retains every ounce of his riding ability and the exuberance of youth to match.
“Good luck, Frankie”
What sort of riding instructions do you give to a man like Frankie Dettori? Walker laughs and says: “Good luck, and bring him back in one piece. That’s about all you can say to Frankie.”
Having the Italian maestro in the saddle is a huge bonus to the chances of English King, but it also takes the right horse. It is the Derby, so your belief can only go so far, but the recurring theme is that trainers do seem to have a realistic, but healthy level of bullishness about them this year.
It is all up for grabs in the world’s most famous Flat race.
“You’ve got to believe in your own horse, haven’t you? Otherwise there’s no point being there. I’m not saying we’re going to go and win a Derby, I’m massively respectful of Andrew’s horse (Kameko), and all of the others.
Aidan’s going to run however many he’s going to run, perhaps there’s no obvious stars among them but they’re all unexposed. Hugo Palmer and David Simcock wouldn’t run theirs unless they were confident too, so what we have is an exciting Derby full of hugely unexposed three-year-olds.”
First Derby runner, first Derby favourite!
“It’s nice to have the favourite for the Epsom Derby and I’m not saying it’s unjustified, but it is a hard race. I wouldn’t swap him though and I mean that - I’m thrilled with him. Let’s find out. Andrew will find out if his horse stays and I’ll find out if mine is good enough.”
It could turn out to be that simple this year. Kameko has the proven feat of coming here as the 2000 Guineas winner, while English King was most impressive of the rest, in a lower key but significant trial over the Derby trip at Lingfield.
With so many well-represented trainers, owners and breeders in the Investec Derby, some racing fans and punters will look at English King and think he’s a bit of a short price. But the man handling his care is a rising force in the trainer ranks and in Frankie Dettori, Ed Walker has the right jockey to execute this plan perfectly come Saturday evening.