‘He ticks many of the boxes you want to see ticked’ – Derby trainers talk about their Epsom hopes

Horse Racing Serpentine Epsom Investec Derby
Will there be another Derby surprise to follow Serpentine at Epsom? Photo: Racenews

By Nicholas Godfrey

GB: Twelve three-year-old colts are out to reach celebrated owner-breeder Federico Tesio’s historic piece of wood before their rivals in the 242nd edition of Britain’s senior Classic, the Cazoo Derby (4.30pm BST) at Epsom on Saturday.

UPDATE: Cazoo Derby: what you need to know as Adam Kirby guides Adayar to surprise Epsom triumph

For once, record-breaking trainer Aidan O’Brien is not mob-handed in the £1,125,000 contest after the Ballydoyle maestro cut down his six possibles to just a single runner in the shape of hugely impressive Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial winner Bolshoi Ballet, who is ridden by Ryan Moore.

Only twice before has O’Brien restricted his attentions to just one runner: Bolshoi Ballet’s legendary sire Galileo, who won in 2001, and Meath, last of 14 three years later. He has trained eight Derby winners altogether, including three of the last four.

Bolshoi Ballet has been a strong favourite ever since last month’s six-length Leopardstown romp but dangers abound, with unbeaten Dante Stakes victor Hurricane Lane heading Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin trio alongside fellow Derby trial winners such as Third Realm and Youth Spirit, who scored at Lingfield and Chester respectively.

William Haggas bids for his second Derby success 25 years after the first with Shaamit in 1996 as he saddles the progressive Mohaafeth – rain won’t help – while Frankie Dettori has jumped on John Leeper, named in memory of dual Derby-winning trainer John Dunlop and trained by his son Ed.

Epsom Classics: seven ways to find the Derby and Oaks winners

Irish veteran Jim Bolger bids for a second British Classic winner this term with Mac Swiney, who beat stablemate Poetic Flare, the Newmarket hero, in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Here’s what connections of some leading Derby contenders had to say from various sources, among them the Jockey Club news team, the Qipco British Champions Series and the Godolphin website.

Shall we talk about it?

“Adayar gained valuable experience in the two trials, particularly at Lingfield, where he fought on well, and he will see out the trip really well. He is lightly raced and with maturity will be a nice type. Placed in two Derby trials, he worthy of his place in the field. I feel he is a horse that will be better stepping up further in trip and you will see the best of him if it is a strongly run Derby and they go a good gallop as one thing he does is go a good gallop all the way to the line.”
Charlie Appleby

Bolshoi Ballet
“This has been Bolshoi’s target all the way. The plan was always to travel him last year so we wouldn’t have to travel him in the spring/early summer this year and that went well. The plan was to do the two trials in Ireland, both at Leopardstown. Both of those went well. He came out of Leopardstown well last time and everything has been smooth since.
“He is a very well-balanced horse. He seems to get the mile and quarter very well and he is very relaxed, very off-handed, and tactically he is very easy to place in a race. We always thought middle-distances wouldn’t be a problem to him. Obviously you are never sure until you run over the mile and a half, but we’ve always thought he would stay.”
Aidan O’Brien

Hurricane Lane
“Goes to Epsom unbeaten in three starts. He finished off strongly in the Dante, and stepping up to the mile and a half shouldn’t worry him. He lacks racing experience but he has done well since York and one of his great attributes is he is laidback.
“Sometimes, the occasion can get to horses on Derby Day, but I don’t think it will be any problem to him. I thought he showed character in the Dante. He’s a colt you can put anywhere in a race, so he should adapt to any tactical moves. He ticks many of the boxes you want to see ticked by a strong Derby contender. In an ideal world we would love it to be on the easy side of good but if it is good, good to firm in places it will be genuine safe ground.”
Charlie Appleby

John Leeper
“My father won the Derby twice and was champion trainer, to train a horse after his name – of course it puts some pressure on. The horse has no idea it’s his name probably, he’s nicknamed Johnny in the yard. So there is a bit more pressure, but good pressure.
“One dreams as a trainer to train a classic winner in England and none more than the Derby coming up. The best we’ve done is finish fifth and it would be truly great if we could do better than that.”
Ed Dunlop

“I think he’s got a chance but I’ve always felt that it’s not whether they’ll see it out but whether they’ll improve. Whether he’s better at a mile and a half than a mile and a quarter I’m not so sure, but there’s no better race in the world so we’ll be very keen to give it a go.
“When we bought him as a yearling, he was our ‘Derby horse’ in big inverted commas. When he went to Lingfield in March I didn’t think he was our Derby horse but I thought he could be an Ascot horse and it was really that effort in the Newmarket Stakes that appealed to everyone and brought him into focus.
“It could be that he was really flattered by that, but it also could be that the horse is making good improvement quite quickly, so I have taken the latter line and there’s no bigger race than the Cazoo Derby. We are greatly looking forward to it and whether he’s good enough we’ll find out, but he was visually very impressive at Newmarket and the form is very strong if it is to be believed.
“The handicapper’s view was that it was impressive and he stuffed him up 19lb so we’ll see – but he needs to be 120 to win the Derby.”
William Haggas

One Ruler
“Had a very good two-year-old profile, never out of the first three in five starts and the form with Mac Swiney, who recently won the Irish 2,000 Guineas, is very solid.
“We were not disappointed when One Ruler finished sixth in the G1 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. James Doyle got off him and said that he would appreciate the step up in trip. Also, he thought the ground was a bit quick for him that day.
“Stepping up to a mile and a half is a question mark but there is only one Derby and we felt he deserves his chance. If he stays he will be a big player. I can see him being one of the last off the bridle before going into unknown territory in that last half a mile.”
Charlie Appleby

Third Realm
“Third Realm is an uncomplicated horse and he is a horse that ought to suit Epsom, or at least not be inconvenienced by it. You can ride him anywhere, he relaxes and he is well balanced.
“When you are drawn one or two you are always nervous about where that leaves you on the track. I’m happy with the horse which is the main thing and we can’t do anything about the draw or ground. It was a good performance at Lingfield and he did it well. The form stacks up as the runner-up is going for the Derby so they still rate that horse.
“I thought he was a bit more value than his winning margin was as he had been in front on that testing ground for a fair way. It showed he handled an undulating track and he showed on that ground that he gets the trip. In the Derby you need to see out the mile and a half strongly and he possesses all the credentials you need for what a Derby serves up.
“He has only run three times and I’m sure he is an improving colt. He keeps a little bit for himself at home and then shows it on the track which is very much like what Kingston Hill did.”
Roger Varian

Youth Spirit
“We always liked the horse and it was a relief that he stayed the mile and a half at Chester well as that was the one big question mark. He is one of the few in the field we know will get the trip and that has got to be to his advantage in a very deep race that will take some winning.
“Whether he is as effective on faster ground, that is another question. The ground was not an issue at Newmarket; he had been off the track for a long while and he was a bit rusty. It has been more circumstantial than by design that he has mainly raced on softer ground. We never really felt he had to have soft ground, he just seems to handle it and we will find out on Saturday whether he goes on a quicker surface.
“He is a very solid work horse and always shows good ability at home. It would be lovely if we could go one better than last year but the owner, trainer and jockey would be very satisfied with a podium finish.”
Andrew Balding

• Visit the Cazoo Derby Festival website and the Qipco British Champions Series website

‘I think she is extremely talented’ – Oaks trainers reveal their hopes for the Epsom Classic

Derby update: Ed Dunlop feels the pressure with John Leeper, named after trainer’s late father

Joseph O’Brien targets Belmont Stakes Festival as Baron Samedi bids to extend win streak to seven

‘If it’s good or faster, we’re up for it big time’ – William Haggas on Derby hope Mohaafeth

‘We’ve always thought he would stay’ – Aidan O’Brien on Bolshoi Ballet and his Derby and Oaks team

World top 20 active racehorses | World top jockeys and trainers

Visit the Horse Racing Planet home page for more great racing stuff