Permian gives Cracksman a big boost as he stays on best
Permian made the best use of his stamina and his street wisdom as he caused a major tremor, if not an earthquake, in a Derby market still filled with uncertainty by landing the Betfred Dante Stakes at York by three-quarters of a length from Benbatl.
In a race run at a good gallop on ground that was still officially described as soft in places, he stayed on strongest under Franny Norton after being presented to lead inside the last two furlongs.
Permian is not entered in the Investec Derby, but he has already come a long way from defeat in an admittedly valuable Bath handicap on his reappearance, and it is unlikely his interloping will stop here, as trainer Mark Johnston explained.
"He was supplemented for this race, so I don’t imagine the [£85,000] fee for Epsom will be an issue," said Johnston.
"John [Ferguson, racing adviser to owner Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Sheikh Mohammed's son] kept mentioning the Dante after Newmarket, we kept coming back to it and committed about six days ago to run here.
"As John said, you find out in the Dante whether they’re an Epsom or Ascot horse, and he's proved that now."
He added: "Permian's come from humble beginnings, but clearly progressed through the spring. To see him at Epsom and Newmarket you could see he'd come on and you could see it again today.
"Franny has kicked him on, just like at Epsom, but you could see two furlongs out today he was travelling so well."
The Derby picture can sometimes be signed and varnished after the Dante. This year it is not yet even clear who the subject is, but at least we have a thread that runs through the image. Permian's Epsom run was in the Derby Trial, when he went down by a nose to Cracksman.
Bookmakers took Permian's win primarily as a reason to cut Cracksman, who was pulled out of the Dante in the morning of the race owing to the ground.
He is now 5-1 co-favourite on several lists alongside the Ballydoyle pair Cliffs Of Moher and Churchill, having been 9-1 before the race. On that evidence alone, he would have done well to run as good a trial had he taken his chance.
Cracksman's trainer John Gosden said: "He might well go to Breakfast With the Stars and straight to Epsom; that would be the plan. He's in great form but I didn't want to get him involved in a bit of a battle 16 days out. I wish the Derby were tomorrow, he's in great form."
Permian, surely an improved model from his last meeting with Cracksman, can be backed at 16-1 for the Classic.
"It's great to have any sort of chance in the Derby – I can't remember the last time I had one with a live chance," said Johnston.
"Although I'm usually considered a trainer of middle-distance horses and stayers, I have lots more runners in the Guineas than the Derby."
Even top trainers get excited about having one for the Derby. So do top owners, according to Ferguson.
"It's great for Sheikh Hamdan to have a horse with a chance in the Derby," he said. "Permian will need to be supplemented, but when they win like that it would appear to make it an easy decision. Franny said afterwards that he couldn't pull him up."
No matter how the final field looks on Derby day, we can already say with certainty which horse will have worked hardest to earn his place in a stall.