O'Brien looks to Cliffs to impose himself on Derby market
Homeserve Dee Stakes (Listed Race) | 1m2½f | 3yo | ITV4/RUK
As a Derby trial, the Dee Stakes has had little bearing on the Epsom showstopper since Kris Kin did the double in 2003 but there is good reason to believe Friday’s contest could have the biggest impact any race has had on a Classic market all week.
With the Investec-backed Derby in mind, it will come as little surprise to hear most of the intrigue surrounds yet another son of super sire Galileo from Aidan O’Brien's all-star Ballydoyle stable in Tipperary.
The colt in question is Cliffs Of Moher, the mount of Ryan Moore and who is a general 8-1 third-favourite for the Derby having impressed with a wide-margin success in a Leopardstown maiden last October.
O'Brien chases a sixth win in the race, yet not one of of his five previous Derby winners progressed from the Dee Stakes.
Statistics are there to be rewritten, though, and whereas O'Brien saddled four in Thursday’s Chester Vase - perhaps unsure of the pecking order - Cliffs Of Moher goes it alone for the man who has already pocketed the first two Classics of the season with the minimum fuss.
O'Brien, who heads the Derby market with 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill, said: "We always liked him last year and he was very green the first time before winning by nearly six lengths from Orderofthegarter, who is a very smart colt.
"We weren't sure whether we were going to get him out but if he was going to be ready for the Derby he had to run this week. He's just ready to start and will have to learn a lot here in a short time but we've been very happy with his work at home."
Sir Michael Stoute was the last man to compete the Dee-Derby double with Kris Kin in 2003 and unleashes another Derby entry in this year's race courtesy of Mirage Dancer.
The similarities do not stop there, as like Kris Kin 14 years ago, Mirage Dancer goes into the Dee off the back of a 7f maiden success at Doncaster last October.
A 33-1 shot for the Derby, he is yet another talented son of Frankel and, like his father, carries the famous silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah.
Lord Grimthorpe, the owner's racing manager, said of the Juddmonte homebred: "He's a work in progress. He's a scopey horse and took a little bit of time to come to hand this year but Michael has been pleased with him and we hope whatever he does he will continue progressing."
The Derby entries do not stop there, with connections of Fujaira Bridge and Star Of Rory also clutching golden tickets to the greatest Flat race in the world.
Having shown promise in three runs as a juvenile, including a second to subsequent 2,000 Guineas runner-up Barney Roy, Fujaira Bridge was off the mark at Ripon on his seasonal reappearance.
Trainer Roger Varian said: "He's a promising horse who will like the ground. The step up in trip should suit him, for all this is a jump in class."
Having failed to handle the track at Epsom last year, the Derby might not be on Star Of Rory's agenda but representing Chester specialist Tom Dascombe, warrants respect.
Dascombe said: "I thought he was one of my best chances of the week, especially if we get a bit of rain. I like this horse a lot and expect him to progress as the season goes on."
Bay Of Poets has already tested his Classic credentials when third behind Derby second-favourite Cracksman in Epsom’s trial last month, with the runner-up Permian already franking the form with an easy success at Newmarket since.
"I was pleased with his first run," said trainer Charlie Appleby. "At the present time, a mile and a quarter is his optimum trip."
Richard Hannon, who bids for back-to-back wins in the Dee with Majeste having struck last year with Viren’s Army, said: "He has developed well over the winter but off his work is suggesting he wants further.
"He ran no sort of race at Newmarket and so I will need to see how he runs before deciding where we are with him.”
Chester Cup-winning trainer Andrew Balding bids to cap a fine week with Max Zorin and said: "He has come on a bundle from his run in the Feilden Stakes. He's won at the track and the extra furlong should be to his advantage."
Fast ground could see Apex King head to Lingfield on Saturday instead, while Marco Botti fears Al Hamdany may find the opposition a little hot to handle.