THE Epsom Derby is the highlight of the flat season and takes place today on the famous Epsom Downs Racecourse.
It looks an excellent renewal with the John Gosden-trained English King edging favouritism from the 2000 Guineas winner Kameko.
Of course Aidan O’Brien has a number of challengers, including impressive Royal Ascot winner Russian Emperor while the master of Ballydoyle has talked up the chances of Mogul during the week.
There is a real bonus for racing fans as the Oaks takes place today due to the truncated nature of the racing.
Aidan O’Brien has a warm favourite here with Love, although John Gosden’s Ribblesdale Stakes winner Frankly Darling looks a very dangerous opponent under Frankie Dettori.
English King is the 2/1 Derby favourite for Gosden and will also have the services of the brilliant Dettori.
The son of Camelot was an impressive winner of the key Lingfield Derby trial. The Italian jockey has enjoyed a phenomenal autumn to his career and Dettori outlined the importance of the Derby during the week.
“I‘ve been lucky and will be chasing my third victory in the Derby. For us it is the most important race of the year,” Dettori said.
“In any sport you’ve got your signature event. Like the Monaco GP for Formula 1, or the Masters in golf, and the Superbowl.
“The Derby for us is everything. It is the race that when you’re born and you want to be a jockey you want to win.
“It means a lot, despite the fact that this year’s race is behind closed doors, the nature of the race itself, it will be just as good.
“Although there will be no crowds present, two owners per horse will be permitted to attend race meetings from Saturday.”
O’Brien is chasing a record eighth victory in the race and outlined his likely runners.
Of his seven possibles for the race, the only one likely to miss Epsom is Armory. The Irish 2,000 Guineas fourth, a 25-1 chance, is set to head to Chantilly for the Prix du Jockey Club on Sunday instead.
It will be left until the last possible minute before deciding what Ryan Moore will ride in his search for a third Derby, but the master trainer spoke in glowing terms of Mogul and said the only way he could win the Derby this year was by running him in the toughest trial, the King Edward VII Stakes, in which he finished fourth.
“I would say we will run five anyway, possibly six at Epsom. We had to do an unorthodox thing with Mogul — we wanted one race to do the job of two at Ascot,” O’Brien said.
“To give him a chance of winning a Derby, we had to run him in the toughest trial. The risk was that he was going to get beaten, but we felt it was a risk worth taking.
“What we’ve seen since has really impressed us — he’s bounced out of Ascot with a big smile on his face begging for more. Russian Emperor will run.
“He’s tough, hardy, and relaxed. He’s come out of the race at Ascot lovely and he’s definitely in the mix with regard to what Ryan might ride.
“He was a fit horse at Ascot as he had two runs before it. We obviously don’t know whether Vatican City will stay the trip or not, but we’re hopeful he will.
“That was a very good run from him in the Irish Guineas and he’s come forward nicely from it. He only just made it to the Guineas, he was only just about ready to run.
“I would imagine it will be one of those three who Ryan will ride.”
Gosden has conceded that Love is the worthy market leader for the Investec Oaks ahead of his main contender Frankly Darling. Britain’s champion trainer, who could yet be two-handed in the Epsom Classic, is bidding to win the fillies’ showpiece for the third time in just four years.
Frankly Darling proved she stays the mile and a half Oaks trip when landing the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot.
“Frankie came and rode out Frankly Darling during the week and we’re happy with her going into the Oaks,” Gosden said.
“But Love looks a worthy favourite in what she achieved in the 1,000 Guineas. She’s a Classic winner with solid Group 1 form from last year whereas we are stepping up in grade.
“We were thrilled to win the Ribblesdale with Frankly Darling, but we’re going a whole grade higher this time.
“We know she’ll get the trip and is versatile as regards ground, so we expect her to give another good account in what looks a good Oaks.”
Kinsale jockey Ben Curtis is on the crest of a wave after his recent success at Royal Ascot.
He will ride Highland Chief in the Derby after a late call-up from the Whatcombe stables of Paul and Oliver Cole.
“It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s the phone call any jockey wants to receive and, in a year when the Derby looks very open, he looks to have a fantastic chance,” Curtis said.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve obviously watched all his races. He looks like a horse who’s progressing with every run and goes into the Derby with what I think is a live chance.”