Less than 12 months after we saw Serpentine lead the field a merry dance under Emmet McNamara, the 2021 running of the Epsom Derby is almost upon us.
The victory for the son of Galileo was a record eighth win in the race for trainer Aidan O’Brien, and he looks set to have a good crack at making that nine wins in the classic.
Bolshoi Ballet ready for the big stage
The master of Ballydoyle has been responsible for half of the Derby favourites in the past decade, though you have to go back to 2014 for the last O’Brien-trained favourite to pass the line in front.
Bolshoi Ballet looks likely to carry the mantle of favourite this year and for good reason. Decent as a juvenile, the colt has clearly come of age as a three-year-old, winning both starts at Leopardstown.
While those were both at Group 3 level, he was supremely impressive in the way he went about things.
His trainer has sent eight of his last 10 Derrinstown Derby Trial winners to Epsom, with two placed efforts courtesy of Fame And Glory and Dylan Thomas the best returns since High Chapparal did the double in 2002.
He could be a superstar, but he’s unlikely to be much of a dividend for a horse who has yet to try track or trip.
O’Brien runners likely to return a bigger dividend include Sir Lamorak who won a handicap in a quicker time on the day Bolshoi Ballet won the Ballysax, and Wordsworth who is a well-bred brother to Kew Gardens.
Look to the trials
In the last 15 years, two-thirds of Derby winners had run their final prep for Epsom in either the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Chester Vase or the Dante Stakes - something favourite Bolshoi Ballet hasn’t.
Of those that ran in the first classic of the season, O’Brien’s Van Gogh looks the most likely type to appreciate the Derby trip. He was out the back most of the way on the Rowley Mile, and plugged on past beaten horses at the death.
The other two main trials look more likely to have a Derby contender. Youth Spirit represents connections that saddled Khalifa Sat to second in last year’s event and might have another place contender again.
He battled well to score on the Roodee at the start of May. He stays the trip, has handled the often tricky tracks of Newmarket, Goodwood and now Chester, so one would hope Epsom would be fine, and he looks a likely outsider.
The Dante at York looks the most likely of the trials to reveal a Derby winner. High Definition was a well-touted Epsom fancy before arriving on the Knavesmire after two come-from-behind victories in Ireland.
In truth, he did nothing quickly and gradually got up for third late on. This further trip will probably suit but he does need to find more.
Winner at York Hurricane Lane looks a real contender for the team that saddled Masar to victory in the Derby in 2018. He too took a while to hit full stride and reel in Roman Empire at York, but was a decent winner of the Group 2 nonetheless. Neither of them were exactly flashy on the Knavesmire but look to have the staying power to go another two furlongs.
Best bets for the Derby
There’s no getting away from how impressive Bolshoi Ballet was when winning at Leopardstown last time out, but how much substance there is to those wins remains to be seen, and he’s hardly likely to reward punters with a big dividend.
Taking a pop at a couple at a price, especially considering recent Derby events, might be the way to go.
Youth Spirit didn’t look to be stopping when finishing off strongly at Chester, and looks a well-balanced sort that will go well around Epsom.
After sending out Poetic Flare for a surprise in the Guineas, talk of Jim Bolger’s faith in Mac Swiney has been very interesting. He didn’t look fully wound up when behind Bolshoi Ballet last time out, and as a Group 1 winner, has the back class to threaten, especially if getting the rain.
Tote betting for the Derby
Favourites haven’t done particularly well in recent runnings of the Epsom Derby with just three jollies going in over the past 12 years.
With outsiders winning some of the races of late, it’s thrown up some good Tote dividends.
In fact, seven of the last 10 Derby winners have returned more on the Tote than at SP. These have included overpays including
- 2020 - Serpentine - £32.50 vs 25/1
- 2017 - Wings Of Eagles - £56.60 vs 40/1
- 2016 - Harzand - £8.40 vs 13/2
Plus, with Tote+ boosting dividends by 10% if betting direct and the World Pool set to offer more liquidity into the pools, the value could be better than ever when the next classic comes around.
Check back nearer the time for tips for all the big races across Epsom’s Derby and Oaks meeting.