Britain's premier Classic and richest race, the £1.5 million G1 Investec Derby, is staged at 4.30pm on Saturday (June 2) before a big crowd at Epsom Downs and a worldwide television audience.
The unbeaten Saxon Warrior heads the 14 3-year-old colts confirmed today for the 2018 Investec Derby, the world's greatest Flat race, which is run over a mile and a half.
He is set to be the first odds-on favourite for the Classic since Camelot, also trained by Aidan O'Brien, won the 2012 Investec Derby at 8/13.
Unitbet, the official betting partner of the Investec Derby Festival, makes Saxon Warrior the 8/11 favourite at the moment.
Camelot, like Saxon Warrior, won two G1s and was unbeaten coming into the Investec Derby. They were the same G1s, the Racing Post Trophy over a mile at Doncaster at two and Britain's first Classic, the G1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas, over the straight mile at Newmarket on May 5 on seasonal debut at three.
Saxon Warrior is a son of top Japanese stallion Deep Impact and there is immense interest in Japan as he bids to become the third horse this century to complete the QIPCO 2000 Guineas/Investec Derby double after Sea The Stars (2009) and Camelot.
O'Brien, Britain and Ireland's champion Flat trainer and world #1 in the TRC Global Rankings, has six other colts still engaged in the Investec Derby and there is every prospect that five will line up along with his stable star Saxon Warrior, set to be ridden by Ryan Moore.
Alan Cooper, Racing Manager to the Niarchos Family's Flaxman Holdings, the owner/breeder of Zabriskie (50/1), revealed today that the O'Brien-trained son of Frankel is on target for the 2018 Investec Derby.
Fresh from welcoming a Classic winner yesterday at the Curragh, in the shape of the Jessica Harrington-trained Alpha Centauri in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Cooper said today: "Zabriskie is an intended runner in the Investec Derby after his good third in the Dante Stakes at York.
"Aidan says he is an improving horse and Zabriskie gave me the impression at York that he would stay a mile and a half.
"His half-brother Bago (by 1989 Derby winner Nashwan) won the Arc over a mile and a half so there is stamina in the pedigree.
"Zabriskie handled the track at Epsom very well when he ran in the Investec Blue Riband Trial in April.
"That was his first start of the season and he needed it to get him going for the year.
"The Investec Derby has been the hope for a long time. Aidan has not yet finalised the jockeys for his Investec Derby runners."
The Niarchos Family's best placing in the Investec Derby came with Main Sequence, the five-length runner-up to Camelot in 2012.
Zabriskie won one of his three starts at two when capturing a Tipperary maiden over nearly a mile in September. He finished sixth of eight in the Investec Blue Riband Trial over 10 furlongs on April 25, beaten less than five lengths, and kept on to gain third behind Qatar Racing's winner Roaring Lion(John Gosden/Oisin Murphy, 11/2) in the Dante Stakes over an extended 10 furlongs at York on May 17.
O'Brien's other five include Delano Roosevelt (12/1) and The Pentagon (20/1) who had to settle for minor honours behind Hazapour (Dermot Weld IRE/Frankie Dettori, well-backed recently and now at 9/1 with Unibet) in a bunched finish to the G3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown on May 13.
Rostropovich (40/1) winner of the Listed Dee Stakes at Chester, but more likely to challenge for the French Derby, the Prix du Jockey Club, at Chantilly, on June 3, Listed Lingfield Derby Trial second Kew Gardens (40/1), G3 Ballysax Stakes winner Nelson (33/1) complete the O'Brien confirmations as the trainer chases a record-equalling seventh Investec Derby victory.
Godolphin's Masar (Charlie Appleby/William Buick, 16/1) and Roaring Lion, third and fifth to Saxon Warrior at Newmarket, both re-oppose on Saturday.
The ultimate race
Roaring Lion has since posted an impressive four and a half-length victory in the G2 Dante Stakes at York on May 17. Trainer John Gosden's previous two Investec Derby heroes, Benny The Dip (1997) and Golden Horn (2015), both won the extended ten-furlong trial en route to Epsom Downs.
William Buick, Masar's regular rider, remarked today: "Masar is a fast-ground horse.
"He ran lovely in the Guineas and he should stay. He ran like he will definitely get further than a mile and obviously we meet the winner again, Saxon Warrior, but the Derby is the Derby - it is the ultimate race.
"It is a tough race and a lot needs to go right for you in it whatever horse you are on.
"Masar has had plenty of racing experience, the balance and a really good attitude. He should relax nicely and we are very positive about him.
"It is a big weekend and I am looking forward to all of it (Buick also rides Wild Illusion in the fillies' Classic, the Investec Oaks, and Hawkbill in the G1 Investec Coronation Cup, both on Investec Ladies' Day at Epsom Downs, Friday, June 1)."
William Haggas has G3 Chester Vase victor Young Rascal (James Doyle, 11/1) who had his first experience of Epsom Downs last week when working at the Breakfast With The Stars event (on Tuesday, May 22), going forward. The Newmarket handler won Derby at his first attempt with Shaamit in 1996 and saddled the 2015 third Storm The Stars from just three Investec Derby runners to date. Young Rascal is owned by Bernard Kantor, Managing Director of Investec, sponsor of the Investec Derby Festival.
Lambourn trainer Harry Dunlop is eagerly anticipating saddling his first Investec Derby runner in Knight To Behold (Richard Kingscote, 20/1) who defeated Kew Gardens decisively in the Listed Derby Trial at Lingfield Park on May 12, for owner/breeder Neil Jones.
Sandown's G3 bet365 Classic Trial scorer Sevenna Star (John Gosden, 25/1) together with G3 Chester Vase runner-up and Listed Investec Blue Riband Trial second Dee Ex Bee (Mark Johnston/Silvestre de Sousa, 28/1), a winner at Epsom Downs last season, third in the Investec Blue Riband Trial and second in the Chester Vase, complete the 14 Investec Derby confirmations.
Unibet bet - Investec Derby: 8/11 Saxon Warrior, 11/2 Roaring Lion, 9/1 Hazapour, 11/1 Young Rascal, 12/1 Delano Roosevelt, 16/1 Masar, 20/1 The Pentagon, Knight To Behold, 25/1 Sevenna Star, 28/1 Dee Ex Bee, 33/1 Nelson, 40/1 Kew Gardens, Rostropovich, 50/1 Zabriskie, each-way 1/5 the odds 1, 2 & 3.
Latest Going News
Andrew Cooper, Clerk of the Course at Epsom Downs Racecourse, changed the going description at 3.45pm to Good, Good to Soft in places from Good to Soft after a hot and dry day on Sunday and so far today.
The forecast suggests possible showers this evening and early tomorrow (Tuesday). It could be slightly cooler and drier at the end of the week for the Investec Derby Festival.