A crack jockey, plus a colt called Cracksman, could add up to victory in tomorrow’s Investec Derby at Epsom, the supreme test of both rider and horse.
The mile and a half starts with a severe incline, bends right shortly after the start, rises for its first half, then falls precipitously. Oh, and for good measure, there is an adverse camber in the straight.
There are two really bad trips a horse can suffer in this race: the first is to be used up early from a low draw, running two-lengths harder than higher-drawn rivals to navigate that oh-so-influential elbow. The second is to be caught wide, covering ground that is very hard to give away unless the pace up front is overly strong.
On Cracksman, we should see Dettori put to his best. He isn’t too badly drawn in stall seven, but his mount lacks tactical speed and may not be truly at home on the track. Nevertheless, to my mind he produced the single most electrifying moment of any horse in the preps, running down the very smart Permian right here at Epsom, despite getting scant opportunity to engage his massive stride.
Surely a more expansive race will see Cracksman improve just like his victim Permian did in the G2 Dante Stakes at York last month. And that horse has a big chance here also – provided jockey William Buick doesn’t fall for the sucker punch of going off too hard from stall three.
In what may not be the strongest year for 3-year-old colts in Britain and Ireland, Cracksman’s performance is one of the rare exhibitions of outlying talent in the field. It is confidently expected that he can post a figure good enough to win the Derby; the question is can he do it in the Derby, and on the Derby course.
But Cracksman is in top hands. In our main classifications, Dettori is the second-highest ranked British-based jockey behind Ryan Moore. He has won the Derby twice: on Authorized in 2007 and - for Cracksman’s owner Anthony Oppenheimer and trainer John Gosden - Golden Horn in 2015. His mount this year is a son of fast-ascending sire Frankel (#38 this week in the TRC Global Rankings Sires classifications, despite his second crop of runners only just hitting the track).
TRC turf distance race rankings for British-based and Irish-based jockeys
There aren’t enough Group races run over a mile and a half at Epsom – the Group 1 Oaks and Coronation Cup there today are the only two others – for the TRC Global Rankings to construct meaningful classifications of jockey accomplishment at this unique, switchback track.
The next best thing – for which we can collect a meaningful collection of data – is distance races on grass. Here, we are defining a distance race as one at 11 furlongs or further. There are 12 riders with Derby mounts in the top 20 in this classification.
Cliffs Of Moher
Silvestre De Sousa
There are no prizes for guessing which rider heads this specialised ranking. Since he rides plenty of sons and daughters of Galileo – without doubt the world’s best distance sire on turf – Ryan Moore is once again our No. 1 jockey.
Moore was spoilt for choice in selecting from trainer Aidan O’Brien’s team of five Derby runners. He came down on the side of Cliffs Of Moher, who wasn’t exactly dazzling in his warm-up race, the listed Dee Stakes at Chester. Yet this colt was one of the most impressive maiden winners of 2016 at Leopardstown last October, posting a speed figure that ran into triple digits on most scales, a rare accomplishment.
Moore has won the Derby on Workforce (2010) and Ruler Of The World (2013) and has a huge lead in our specialised ranking of riders. So, only a fool would confidently count him out on a horse who hasn’t shown his best paces yet.
As for O’Brien, he is looking for Epsom Derby No. 6, and if it isn’t Cliffs Of Moher, Capri, Douglas Macarthur, Venice Beach and Wings Of Eagles all have claims of sorts.
Andrea Atzeni is second in the table. The Italian has posted impressive numbers and is an accomplished rider of middle-distance horses, patient when he needs to be but not afraid to make the running. An interesting mount for him is Crowned Eagle, fitted with cheekpieces by trainer Gosden, probably because the Oasis Dream colt comes from a quirky family, though one that tends to produce strong stayers.
Dettori is at #3, followed by Pat Smullen at #4 on our special classification of turf-based distance riders. And what a safe pair of hands he is – as he proved once again in last year’s Derby with victory on Harzand for his associate, Dermot Weld.
Khalidi, another of Gosden’s five runners, has shown uneven form, but he was good last time, clearing right away to win what used to be a more prominent Derby trial at Goodwood, the listed Cocked Hat Stakes. But Khalidi was hammered by Permian before that and seems like he is a little short of the required standard.