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Talent, versatility and luck are needed to win the Epsom Derby, and that applies to punters as much as to horses. After reading tea leaves, studying form and pedigrees and listening to gossip, it is hard to get away from Motivator. A first-crop son of Montjeu (also sire of King’s Quay and Walk In The Park), Motivator is bidding for a fourth straight win.

Gypsy King was very green, yet still won at Chester, and his breeding, by Sadler’s Wells out of a Daarshan mare, is ideal for a potential Derby winner.

Dubawi’s breeding is less convincing, for while his dam’s family contains enough stamina influences, his sire, Dubai Millennium, failed to stay the Derby distance. In addition, Dubawi showed so much speed in the Irish 2000 Guineas that he will need to be in Nijinsky’s class to reproduce it in the Derby. He might be that good anyway, but in a race that lacks star quality in depth, he has every chance of making the frame, even in he is running on empty at the end.

Oratorio will tempt punters, but his dam has produced too many ordinary horses, while Walk In The Park races too keenly to be backed with confidence.

The Vodafone Derby — Saturday, 4 June at 4.20pm

Almighty

Yet to live up to his name, but won a maiden on soft ground at Navan in October, and second to Hattan at Chester on latest start (ahead of First Row and Kalamkar). Will improve and won’t lack stamina — by Sadler’s Wells, who has produced four Oaks and two Derby winners, while this colt is a half-brother to Arc winner Sagamix — but likely pacemaker for better-fancied stablemates.

Dubawi

An intriguing horse for many reasons, not least because his dad, Dubai Millennium, is racing’s equivalent of James Dean (brilliant, but died young). The weight of expectation has passed to this colt, the first son of his sire to win and also the first Classic winner (Irish 2000 Guineas). Victory at Epsom would make him, in Sheikh Mohammed’s eyes, the second equine coming. Dubawi’s dam has plenty of stamina associations, but a question mark hangs over her son’s ability to stay the Derby trip. Perhaps the influence Sheikh Mohammed wanted Dubai Millennium to impart to his stock will prevent the best of them fulfilling the ultimate dream.

First Row

Showed his aptitude for this trip when winning a 11/2-mile maiden on soft ground at Leicester in April, but beaten by Hattan over a similar trip at Chester. Sire, Daylami, produced last year’s Irish Derby winner Grey Swallow, but hard to see this colt being in the first row near the shadow of the post.

Fracas

A €100,000 yearling, now unbeaten after three outings. Latest victory came in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown, a useful guide to the Derby picture in recent years, but his short-head win over Alayan (Grand Central third, beaten 1l) hardly bristled with authority and did not cause a fracas among punters eager to back him for Epsom. Beat Hattan in April at Sandown, and should stay the trip (granddam Sorbus was disqualified in Irish Oaks), but has only raced on soft ground.

Grand Central

Impressive maiden winner at two, but has failed to show the same authority this season. Probably unlucky not to finish closer to Fracas at Leopardstown on latest start, but needs to improve to win a Derby. Jazzy pedigree (by multiple champion sire Sadler’s Wells out of Coronation Stakes winner Rebecca Sharp).

Gypsy King

Looked a Cheltenham candidate when deftly jumping a path during Chester’s Dee Stakes, but overcame greenness to cut down Im Spartacus in the final strides. The runner-up has won since and this colt seems certain to improve for the experience, although yet to race on firm ground. Major contender from a powerful stable and represents the Sadler’s Wells-Darshaan cross that produced 2002 winner High Chaparral. In addition, this colt’s granddam won over 12 furlongs.

Hattan

Member of a family that has produced an Italian Derby winner in Luso — the Epsom version tends to be a lot tougher. Showed tenacity to land the Chester Vase, having finished third to Fracas at Sandown. Optimistic trainer thinks this colt has a better chance than Terimon, whom he saddled to take second behind Nashwan in 1989.

Kings Quay

Two wins from nine starts is not the sort of victory ratio associated with Derby winners, although this 32,000gns yearling has won most of his cost back and given his owner some fun. Failed in bid to be king over Kong in Lingfield Derby trial on latest start.

Kong

Has been making steady progress and won the Gr 3 Lingfield Derby Trial on latest outing, beating Walk In The Park by a neck (King’s Quay 6th). Bred for middle distances and dam has produced two good horses in Preseli and Snowfire. Carries same colours as last year’s third, Let The Lion Roar.

Motivator

Unbeaten in three outings, including the Gr 1 Racing Post Trophy at two and the Gr 2 Dante Stakes (The Geezer, second) on his seasonal debut this year. His sire was brilliant at 11/2 miles, and this colt was not stopping at the end of 10 furlongs in the Dante, although his damsire provides speed rather than stamina. Yet to prove his ability to cope with fast ground, but a class act with many favourable credentials.

Oratorio

One of the most experienced horses in the field and a regular participant in big races. Second to Dubawi in the Irish 2000 Guineas, but the Derby is a very different contest. By Danehill, who sired last year’s winner, North Light, but that colt had an abundance of stamina on his distaff side — Oratorio’s dam won up to a mile, and he’s not certain to improve over the Derby trip.

Shamardal

A top-class two-year-old, this colt reaffirmed his merit when winning France’s 2000 Guineas. However, looks to be a miler, despite the fact that his granddam, Helen Street, won the Oaks.

The Geezer

Failed to win on all-weather surfaces, but has matured and achieved good things on turf, notably when second to Motivator in the Dante Stakes (beaten 1l). The choice of jockey Richard Quinn (could have ridden Kong or Unfurled), who says this colt will not be far away from his York conqueror, but pedigree tends to confuse stamina issue (dam won over 7f, while sire was talented up to 10f).

Unfurled

Won a Goodwood maiden in April and returned to that course to win the Predominate Stakes last month. A likeable horse, bought for 85,000gns as a yearling. Sire imparts stamina and dam won up to a mile.

Walk In The Park

Tends to race keenly and poor wins-to-runs ratio, but undoubtedly useful. Pulled too hard when second to Kong at Lingfield, but handled Epsom in a recent spin round the course under jockey Alan Munro. Dam won an Irish Guineas and sire is making a mark, but not many Derby winners are sold at the end of their two-year-old season — this one changed hands for 270,000gns.

All you need to know about Epsom

  • On Friday, 3 June (Vodafone Ladies’ Day), the first race is at 1.45pm, and the Vodafone Oaks is at 4.10pm. Grandstand tickets cost £27.
  • Silvrikin is sponsoring a “Style on the Downs” competition, where the person judged to be the most stylishly dressed wins a new Jeep Cherokee.
  • On Saturday, 4 June (Vodafone Derby Day), the first race is at 2pm and the Vodafone Derby is at 4.20pm. Grandstand tickets cost £33, but may be sold out. Other enclosures cost £11.
  • The racecourse is a few minutes from Epsom town centre on the B290 Epsom Downs road, or alternatively, just off junction 9 of the M25. AA signs will make all major approach routes. Allow plenty of time for heavy traffic.
  • From Waterloo, Victoria or Guildford stations, trains run directly to Epsom. There is a free bus to the racecourse. Alternatively, you can walk across the course from Epsom Downs or Tattenham Corner stations.
  • For more information, contact Epsom Racecourse (tel: 01372 470047) or visit www.epsomderby.co.uk
  • Today’s Horse & Hound (2 June, ’05) includes a number of special features on the Vodaphone Derby meeting, including a full form guide to the Oaks, as well as the Derby, and is on sale now


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