Saxon Warrior has always looked like a colt for middle distances – O'Brien
Investec Derby (Group 1) | 1m4f | 3yo colts and fillies | ITV/RUK
Saxon Warrior, who has been all the rage for the Investec Derby since landing the 2,000 Guineas last month, will be attempting to give Aidan O'Brien a seventh victory in the Epsom Classic.
The son of Deep Impact will be only the third of O'Brien's nine winners of the 2,000 Guineas to contest the Derby. King Of Kings, who failed to stay, trailed in last in 1998, and the double was not attempted by a Ballydoyle colt for another 14 years until Camelot pulled it off in 2012.
Saxon Warrior carries an unbeaten record into Britain's most valuable contest and O'Brien reports the big-race favourite in good shape.
"All has gone well with Saxon Warrior since Newmarket," he said. "We can't be certain he'll stay the trip as he showed lots of pace in the Guineas. But he looked a stayer when he won the Racing Post Trophy and we always looked on him as a colt who would get middle distances."
Saxon Warrior was backable at odds-against on Friday, for the first time since May 9, after being drawn in stall one, from which only Blakeney, Roberto and Oath have won the Derby since stalls came into operation in 1967.
O'Brien added: "I'd imagine Ryan [Moore] will probably take his time on him. Hopefully the ground will dry out a bit – the better it is, the more he'll like it. We're very happy with him."
Ballydoyle's back-up team can never be overlooked in the Derby, as Wings Of Eagles showed when springing a 40-1 shock a year ago, and Saxon Warrior has a supporting cast of four stablemates.
Seamie Heffernan rides Delano Roosevelt, who stayed on for second behind Hazapour in the Derrinstown at Leopardstown last month.
"Delano Roosevelt is in good shape," said O'Brien. "We always thought he'd get a mile and a half and he does handle easy ground."
The Pentagon, third behind Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy, has failed to win in two starts this season but O'Brien reports Wayne Lordan's mount in "very good form" and is hoping ground conditions improve.
He said: "The Pentagon took a big jump forward from his first run of the season to finish a close third in the Derrinstown. The better the ground, the more it will suit him and we always thought a mile and a half would suit him well."
Kew Gardens, runner-up in the Derby Trial at Lingfield and the mount of Donnacha O'Brien, and Dante third Zabriskie, ridden by last year's winning jockey Padraig Beggy, complete the Ballydoyle team.
"Kew Gardens is in good form," said O'Brien. "He's a straightforward, honest colt and we've always looked on him as one who would get the trip.
"Zabriskie improved a good bit in the Dante. He hasn't done much since and we're looking forward to seeing how he fares over a new trip."
Pros Clear form pick and worthy favourite to give trainer seventh Derby win
Cons The trip could be an issue depending on how soft the ground is, and draw far from ideal
Pros Solid performer who finished well for second in the Derrinstown and should have no problem with the distance
Cons Possibly lacks a gear and perhaps has place chances at best
'As exciting as it gets'
Arod finished fourth in 2014, Elm Park 11th in 2015 after starting a 9-1 chance, but emphatic Dante Stakes winner Roaring Lion gives Qatar Racing their best shot yet at winning the Derby.
Roaring Lion, who finished fifth in the 2,000 Guineas, won the York trial by four and a half lengths to secure another opportunity to tackle Saxon Warrior, having come so close to beating him when there was just a neck between them in last year's Racing Post Trophy.
Sheikh Fahad Al Thani won the 2011 Melbourne Cup with Dunaden a year before he founded Qatar Racing, of which he is chairman, with his brothers, but his passion for racing is rooted in Britain.
"The Derby is the race Sheikh Fahad most wants to win in the world," said David Redvers, the owners' racing adviser. "To go there with a horse like Roaring Lion from his impressive Dante win is about as exciting as it gets.
"We've got a breeding programme as well and, while winning the Melbourne Cup was the highlight of all our racing lives to date, winning the Derby, with its relevance to the breed, takes it to another level. We might just be in with a shout."
Roaring Lion's trainer John Gosden is in agreement, having needed a few days to check how the colt took his York experience before committing him to the Derby, in which he is ridden by Oisin Murphy.
Gosden said: "He had a difficult spring but is in good form and seems to be improving with his racing.
"He's run in both of the best trials for the race and showed a pleasing turn of foot in the Dante, which should stand him in good stead around Epsom.
"Like many in the field he's trying a mile and a half for the first time and he may struggle to stay if it's too testing, but if not he goes there with a good shout."
Gosden made an even later call about the participation of Sevenna Star, winner of the Sandown Classic Trial, who was expected to wait for Royal Ascot. He will be a first Derby ride for Robert Havlin.
"I've run St Leger-type horses like Lucarno in the Derby before and they've usually run well, and he's a big horse who will get that sort of trip," he said.
"He's a progressive type who won a recognised trial for the Derby and will be suited by the ground more than some of the others, especially if they get further showers."
Pros Back on an upward curve after impressive and clear-cut win in Dante
Cons Twice beaten by Saxon Warrior and Masar, so still more to prove
Haggas hopes Rascal hasn't yet hit the ceiling
William Haggas does not take a willy-nilly approach to running horses in the Derby.
Only three colts have represented him, the first of which, Shaamit, triumphed in 1996. In Young Rascal, the shrewd Yorkshireman may have unearthed the thoroughbred to bridge a 22-year gap.
The colours of Bernard Kantor, managing director and co-founder of race sponsor Investec, will be worn by James Doyle aboard the Chester Vase winner, who made such a big impression with his strong late surge on the Roodee.
"If you're in you have a chance," said Haggas. "Of all the horses born in 2015 there aren't very many who have made it to our biggest race. To be in it is a great thrill.
"As for expectations, I think he's getting better and I don't yet know whether we've hit the ceiling with him. If we haven't hit the ceiling I'm sure he'll run a good race.
"I think it was good news for all of us that the favourite was drawn one. In the old days that didn't appear to be a good draw, although now the stalls are in the centre it's a bit easier. All of us need lots of things in our favour to give the favourite a run for his money."
Having Doyle on his side is surely in Young Rascal's favour.
"James has ridden the horse twice this year on racecourses and a few times at home," added Haggas.
"He knows him and doesn't need me to complicate things. You don't need to give instructions to a good jockey, and a bad jockey can't carry them out."
South African Kantor said: "To win would be so huge in my world, in my life. But I won't let my mind wander there. There isn't a better race, a better trophy, in the world, and I'll be delighted to hand the prize to whoever should win it."
Pros Has plenty of untapped potential and his proven stamina could be a big asset
Cons Hard to say the Chester form is strong and he may not have the pace of some rivals
Hazapour has right connections
Two years after achieving a lifetime ambition when Harzand won the Derby, Dermot Weld is on the trail of further Epsom glory with Hazapour, on whom Frankie Dettori will be seeking a third win in the Classic.
Hazapour, a son of Shamardal out of a half-sister to Harzand, booked his place when landing the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown last month, a race last won by a subsequent Derby hero 16 years ago, when High Chaparral was successful.
Dettori, snapped up by Weld for his Epsom experience in the absence of Pat Smullen, will be wearing the Aga Khan's famous green and red colours for the first time in almost 12 years, and for the first time in Britain for nearly 16 years, although the 47-year-old's association with the owner goes back 30 years to his apprentice days with Luca Cumani.
Dettori, meanwhile, has ridden just four times for Weld in Britain and Ireland – and not since 2001.
Weld said: "Frankie has ridden for us a few times but hasn't ridden a winner for the yard. We're hoping that will change.
"Hazapour, who is a well-balanced colt with a good temperament, is in very good form. We've been very happy with him since his Leopardstown win.
"He won his maiden on soft ground at Galway last year when he handled the downhill and uphill parts of the track well, so we're very hopeful he'll handle Epsom."
Victory for Hazapour would give the Aga Khan a sixth Derby win, following Shergar (1981), Shahrastani (1986), Kahyasi (1988), Sinndar (2000) and Harzand.
Pros Did the job nicely in his trial at Leopardstown and every chance there will be more to come; has won on soft ground
Cons Two Ballydoyle colts (Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon) he beat in a close finish at Leopardstown last time are rated inferior to favourite Saxon Warrior
Family track record
Harry Dunlop grew up in a Derby-winning environment – his father John won the race with Shirley Heights in 1978 and Erhaab in 1994 – but training his first runner in the Classic, the Lingfield Derby Trial winner Knight To Behold, is a new sensation.
"I've not experienced anything like this," he said. "It's fantastic to have a horse good enough to be there among such illustrious names as Aidan O'Brien. I'm looking forward to it."
Knight To Behold was so keen early in the Lingfield race that he was sent into the lead by Richard Kingscote for the last mile, where he stayed, beating the reopposing Kew Gardens.
"I'm sure they'll go a much stronger pace this time," said Dunlop. "At Lingfield everyone was a little nervous about the ground. Hopefully he can slot in, but if he jumps well and goes forward it wouldn't be the end of the world either."
No horse has won the Derby drawn in stall two, and Dunlop added: "I've watched quite a few Derbys and from his draw you've got to make up your ground early. I hope he's pretty versatile, but Richard is so good in front as well."
Masar a solid contender
Saxon Warrior is not the only horse to have beaten Roaring Lion – Masar has done so twice as well and yet he is double Roaring Lion's odds.
The Godolphin colt beat the Dante winner by more than nine lengths in the Craven and there was just under a length between them when Masar finished third in the 2,000 Guineas with Roaring Lion fifth.
Unsurprisingly Charlie Appleby likes his chances.
"That Guineas form is solid," said the trainer. "I still believe it to be the best trial for the Derby this season and, of course, the winner Saxon Warrior is the one we all have to beat.
"Masar is much more mature mentally these days. The travel to America and Dubai has benefited him. He’s grown up a lot. I think he has the right mind to go to Epsom.
“On pedigree he should stay, and he's now mentally where you'd like a horse who's stepping up in trip to be. He’s very relaxed in his work. He’s also a well-balanced horse and he learned plenty on those tight bends at Del Mar last November."
Johnston runner no forlorn hope
James Doyle has been allowed off Dee Ex Bee to ride the horse who beat him in the Chester Vase, Young Rascal.
But one advantage Dee Ex Bee has over Young Rascal and the rest of the field is that he is the only runner with course-winning form.
"He knows the track," said trainer Mark Johnston. "He's won at Epsom, and he's won at Goodwood, both very difficult tracks.
"I think we're in a nice position in that we've got a live outsider who's not on the radar. He's no forlorn hope. We'd fancy our chances of beating William Haggas's horse with another two furlongs, even at Chester."
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