June 19, 2024

Sir Dragonet spearheads Ballydoyle brigade in Epsom Derby

Sir Dragonet leaped to Derby favoritism in the Chester Vase (c) Dan Abraham-focusonracing.com

Just denied in the Oaks (G1) when Pink Dogwood was collared by Anapurna, trainer Aidan O’Brien, jockey Ryan Moore, and sire Camelot team up again in Saturday’s Derby (G1) with top threat Sir Dragonet.

Surprisingly for a Coolmore partnership not hesitant about classic nominations, Sir Dragonet had to be supplemented to the Blue Riband for £85,000. The blueblood had in fact held a Derby entry originally, only to be taken out in March. That’s an indicator of how rapidly Sir Dragonet progressed from unraced maiden to Derby favorite, leapfrogging a Ballydoyle battalion that still includes six other Epsom contenders – Broome, Japan, Circus Maximus, Anthony Van Dyck, Norway, and Sovereign. Thus O’Brien has seven going to bat as he seeks a record-tying seventh Derby trophy.

Sir Dragonet was a surprise package in his debut at Tipperary April 25. Ignored at 14-1, presumably expected to need the race, he drove three lengths clear under a hand ride.

“He has been there a while but has obviously been sleeping and that can happen sometimes,” O’Brien told irishracing.com. “That’s why we get them out just in case that is the way, but it’s nice to find him. A horse with a pedigree like that could be anything. He is in the King Edward Stakes (G2) in Ascot and we’ll see where we go.”

Being by 2012 Derby star Camelot and descended from Urban Sea – the dam of Derby heroes Galileo (2001) and Sea the Stars (2009) – Sir Dragonet deserved a chance to make Epsom. The bay wheeled back for the May 8 Chester Vase (G3). Again the market again wasn’t enrapt, sending him off as the 13-2 fifth choice in a seven-horse field. Sir Dragonet made a mockery of those odds and dismantled them by eight lengths. Stablemate Norway had a spot of trouble before staying on for second, but it was clear that he could never have kept pace with Sir Dragonet’s move.

Sir Dragonet was suddenly all the rage for the Derby. A reported dalliance with the idea of going to Chantilly for the French Derby (G1) didn’t appear all that convincing, and “the lads” duly paid to put the season’s most exciting trial winner back in the Epsom classic. Sir Dragonet brings the panache of a two-for-two record and boundless potential, yet faces more than just a substantial class hike. Both wins have come on degrees of rain-softened going, and now he meets a course on the quick side of good. While that might be nitpicking if he runs off like Camelot, it’s worth keeping in mind in view of his short price.

Ironically, one of his principal challengers, Telecaster, also had to be supplemented after connections dropped him from the Derby list in March. Trained by Hughie Morrison, he will try to complete a classic double with fellow Meon Valley homebred Anapurna.

Telecaster himself is bred for Epsom top and bottom. A son of 2008 Derby victor New Approach (also the sire of last year’s winner, Masar), he was produced by Shirocco Star, who just missed by a neck in the 2012 Oaks. Broodmare sire Shirocco famously overturned Ouija Board in the 2006 Coronation Cup (G1) as well.

Like Sir Dragonet unraced at two, Telecaster was a promising second in his March 30 unveiling at Doncaster. The more experienced winner, Bangkok, went on to land the Sandown Classic Trial (G3) in grand style. Bangkok, a beautifully bred colt from the first crop of 2014 Derby hero Australia, has the look of an exciting performer for Andrew Balding, and jockey Silvestre de Sousa has been thriving in his new connection with King Power. The only hesitation is that the Sandown form hasn’t held up.

Telecaster took a leap forward from Doncaster next time in a Windsor novice, drawing off by nine lengths. But not until the Dante (G2) at York, traditionally Britain’s key prep, did Telecaster stamp himself as a major classic contender. Having the pace to track the free-wheeling early leader and the stamina to keep on relentlessly down the long straight, Telecaster upstaged even-money favorite Too Darn Hot. Granted, Too Darn Hot was making a belated reappearance in a spot that stretched his uncertain stamina, but the pair were well clear of the rest in a solid trial.

Telecaster doesn’t want to get drawn into a Ballydoyle relay race, but jockey Oisin Murphy is tactically astute. And although post 2 has yet to produce a Derby winner, the starting gate has been used only since 1967, so the stat isn’t as dreadful as it sounds.

Also coming out of the Dante are Japan, another of the Ballydoyle squad as deep as it is numerous, and Godolphin’s Line of Duty. Although O’Brien hasn’t been known to send his preferred Derby hopefuls to York, Japan is a different case since he wasn’t ready in time to tackle an earlier trial. His comeback fourth is encouraging in the circumstances, and presages a potential breakout here. A full brother to 2013 Oaks runner-up Secret Gesture, the Galileo blueblood displayed sparkling acceleration to capture last fall’s Beresford (G2) in his juvenile finale. Wayne Lordan picks up the mount. Fellow Galileo colt Line of Duty, winner of a messy Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), showed little when seventh in his Dante reappearance, and trainer Charlie Appleby hopes that cheekpieces wake him up.

O’Brien likewise fits Circus Maximus with cheekpieces, although in the happier circumstance of exiting a victory in the Dee S. at Chester, and getting Oaks-winning rider Frankie Dettori. Campaigned by Coolmore in partnership with his breeder, the Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Holdings, Circus Maximus brings gilt-edged juvenile form as the close fourth in the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1). The top two, Magna Grecia and Phoenix of Spain, have plundered the 2000 Guineas (G1) and Irish equivalent, respectively. Moreover, Circus Maximus was previously third to Persian King, the French 2000 Guineas (G1) hero and one to beat in Sunday’s French Derby, in the Autumn (G3). If Circus Maximus copes with the added distance at Epsom, he’s got a proper upset chance.

The Kevin Prendergast-trained Madhmoon likewise sports top-drawer form along with a stamina scruple. Readily disposing of Broome in the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2) on Irish Champions Weekend, Madhmoon most recently stayed on for fourth in Newmarket’s Guineas. Being drawn on the wrong side of the course didn’t help, but he shaped very much like one wanting a step up in trip. Whether that means another half-mile, however, is a question for the son of Dawn Approach from the family of Awtaad.

Broome, like Bangkok by Australia, is much improved from his useful juvenile season. Put away following a close second in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) on Arc Day, Broome has returned to sweep both the Ballysax (G3) and Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3). Aidan’s son, Donnacha, retains the mount on the colt perceived by the market as Ballydoyle’s next best to Sir Dragonet.

The Ballydoyle squad also includes Anthony Van Dyck, among the yard’s leading juveniles before bumping into the likes of Quorto and Too Darn Hot. It was something of a plot twist for an O’Brien horse of his classic profile to try the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and post 14 contributed to his too-bad-to-be-true ninth. The Galileo colt regained the winning thread in his sophomore bow in the Lingfield Derby Trial, yet the suspicion is that others may have progressed more from two to three.

Stablemate Norway, a full brother to 2013 Derby winner Ruler of the World, could want even longer than this trip. Successful in the 1 1/4-mile Zetland at two, he was outkicked by Sir Dragonet in the Chester Vase. Rounding out the brigade is Sovereign, employed as a pace factor for Broome in his trials at Leopardstown, and presumably to play a forward role here.

Trainer John Gosden, whose strong hand in the Oaks included the victorious Anapurna, is swinging for the fences in the Derby with Humanitarian. By Frankel’s brother Noble Mission (sire of Kentucky Derby [G1] placer Code of Honor), Humanitarian makes his stakes debut off a Salisbury novice score. The promising sophomore holds a King Edward VII entry, a more realistic spot once he gets his trial by fire at Epsom.

But the biggest longshot of all is Hiroshima, from the yard of Newmarket trainer John Ryan. The Southwell maiden winner was eighth behind Anthony Van Dyck at Lingfield, and his only talking point is that he’s by Nathaniel.

Between Nathaniel, Noble Mission, New Approach (and son Dawn Approach), Australia, and the six by Galileo himself, the Coolmore patriarch’s sire line is responsible for 12 of the 13 Derby runners. But all trace to Galileo’s sire, Sadler’s Wells, as Sir Dragonet, represents the Montjeu branch. And all claim the blood of Galileo’s dam, Urban Sea, since she features in Sir Dragonet’s maternal line.