The countdown to the Derby this Saturday starts here as Tony Calvin discusses the form and reveals his antepost bet for the big race at Epsom...
"No way am I going to put you off Pyledriver at his current odds – and I am may end up tipping him on Friday, when we get extra places for each-way purposes – but the one I am putting up here is Mohican Heights at 33/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook."
These are strange days indeed. It less than a month after the season returned on 1 June, and all roads now lead to the Derby-Oaks same-day double-header at Epsom this weekend.
Swiftly followed by what promises to be a vintage Eclipse 24 hours later at Sandown on Sunday.
Pride of place will always go to the Derby though - so that is what I will focus on - and I love the fact that I don't fancy anything at to the top of the market in the race this year.
At their current prices, obviously.
Swerving the English King love-in
English King heads the exchange market at what is surely a ludicrously short 3.613/5.
He has come down a point or so since Frankie Dettori was booked last week - I know because I laid him at 4.67/2 on June 22nd - although that isn't only down to the jockey factor, as we have lost Military March in the interim, as well as lively outsiders such as Ocean Atlantique and Highest Ground. And Mishriff, who I have a lot of time for, stamina doubts or not.
I struggle badly with English King being on offer at a just touch less than 11-4 on the Exchange, and as short at 2/1 in a few places (though he is a top-priced 5/2, fixed-odds, with the Betfair Sportsbook).
I wouldn't have any issue with him being something like a 9/2 chance as he did a fair bit wrong and still was very impressive in his Lingfield Derby Trial win, a victory that impressed by the clock-watchers, too.
And the runner-up Berkshire Rocco certainly did not let the form down when second to subsequent Irish Derby winner Santiago in the Queen's Vase, where a 107-rated performer was eight-and-a-half lengths away in third.
So I do get the love-in for English King, but an official rating of 112 accurately reflects what he achieved in his trial - the third may have been beaten just under 10 lengths in total but he went into the race rated 92 and finished last of 17 in the King George V Handicap next time out - and that doesn't warrant him being quoted as short as he is.
If he follows in the footsteps of last year's Lingfield Derby Trial winner Anthony Van Dyck and follows up on Saturday, then I will have done my money.
No thanks, Kameko
The same is true of dual group 1 winner Kameko, who undoubtedly brings the best level of form into the race courtesy of his 2,000 Guineas win.
The form of that 1m Classic may not have worked out as well as some would have hoped, with defeats for all of those who have raced subsequently - though clearly Wichita and Pinatubo both ran stormers when placed in the St James' Palace Stakes - and he doesn't strike me as a middle-distance horse at all.
His sire Kitten's Joy did win over 1m4f in the States but the distaff side of his pedigree is more speed than stamina.
I suspect that if the Eclipse was open to three-year-olds this year, then Kameko would be going to Sandown this weekend, especially after Roaring Lion tried and failed at Epsom in 2018 before establishing himself a premier 1m/1m2f performer.
All credit for connections for rolling the big dice but, at around 5/1, it is a definite no thanks.
Aidan O'Brien's trio
Then the betting scrolls down to the first of the Aidan O'Brien posse, headed by Russian Emperor as the third favourite, just ahead of stablemates Mogul and Vatican City.
We will come to Mogul last, for reasons that will become clear, but Russian Emperor is yet another market leader that underwhelms me a touch at his odds of around 8.88/1.
He looked in big trouble at one stage of the Hampton Court, trading at 42.041/1 in running - he also traded at the maximum price of 1000.0 when winning his 1m maiden in March - before his stamina kicked in over 1m2f and at the end of the race he was more dominant at the line than the half-a-length winning margin over the well-regarded First Receiver suggests.
His run-style and the mere fact that he is a Galileo suggests he has every chance of getting 1m4f, and it has to be a positive that he is the only horse among the five-day entries who has had three starts this year.
That battle-hardened element could be a big plus this year.
But his full brother was best at a mile (and disappointed in both starts over 1m2f) and the bare form of that Ascot race is not imposing in Classic-winning terms. The third, Berlin Tango, was giving the front two 4lb and was beaten under two lengths, and the Irish handicapper only rates Russian Emperor on 111.
Fellow stablemate and Galileo colt, Irish 2,000 Guineas runner-up Vatican City is rated 112, but I don't think the Curragh Classic form is deserving of such official praise, and it is worth noting that his three brothers and sisters (Gleneagles, Happily and Marvellous) were all high-class operators at a mile. I don't like him at all.
Then we come to Mogul, long since rumoured to be Ballydoyle's number one Epsom hope.
The chat about him going into the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot was pretty lukewarm, with O'Brien making no secret of the fact that he went there anything but cherry ripe, yet he was still sent off the 10/11 favourite.
Now, he could be one of those massive improvers for O'Brien - and Ryan Moore wasn't hard on him, either - and there is no doubting that his stamina is more assured than the likes of Russian Emperor and Vatican City.
But if you like Mogul, then you have to love two of the horses that finished in front of him there, Pyledriver and Mohican Heights.
Granted, the form of that Ascot race was hardly given a boost when the runner-up Arthur's Kingdom came out and was beaten 14-and-a-half lengths in the Irish Derby on Saturday, and it was perhaps not the strongest of stamina tests over 1m4f, given it was steadily-run.
I take a strong view of the form though, and I will admit to having already backed Pyledriver and Mohican Heights on the exchange, and the former at 20/1 fixed-odds, too.
Ground could be ideal for Pyledriver
I definitely think there is a bit of the snobbery factor in Pyledriver's price given he isn't trained by one of the chosen ones at the top table, but no way he is an 18/1 chance (on the Exchange) in a year such as this, especially given the merit of his earlier second to Berlin Tango at Kempton, as well. And, with a bit of rain around this week, the ground could be ideal for him (though he has won on soft and firm).
I am a touch worried about his stamina lasting out in a more strongly-run race - and that will surely be the case here, with O'Brien having seven of the five-day entries - for all the Ascot win came over 1m4f, as his sire Harbour Watch wouldn't be one to get many middle-distance horses.
However, no way am I going to put you off him at his current odds - and I am may end up tipping him on Friday, when we get extra places for each-way purposes - but the one I am putting up here is Mohican Heights at 33/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook.
Mohican Heights first hit the radar after being bought for an eye-watering £520,000 at the infamous eve-of-Royal Ascot Goffs sale, having just a Leopardstown maiden success to his name.
In the end, he didn't even run at the meeting but he went on to confirm himself as a very smart prospect when beating subsequent King George V third Subjectivist and Hampton Court-placed Berlin Tango in a 1m Listed race at Salisbury, in which his overdrive kicked in late on.
And there was no doubting the promise of his comeback third at Ascot when stepped up to 1m4f.
Hailing from a stable whose horses have tended to need it after emerging from lockdown, he was settled in rear and given plenty to do.
So the manner in which he finished off his race on the outside, after taking a while to get organized, hinted at plenty more to come - and coming from off the pace in a steadily-run race was hardly ideal - and the vibes are that he has come out of the race very well.
As you would expect, given the MO of the stable - who have now had two winners from their last six runners going into Monday's racing - and the manner in which he was handled at the Royal meeting, the potential is for him to take a big stride forward.
Of course, he has a lot to find on the bare form but he has a very likeable profile for a 33/1 chance, and everything about his breeding suggests he will love a testing 1m4f here.
He is an Australia half-brother to the one-time 112-rated 2m winner Eye Of The Storm and the stable's smart stayer Curbyourenthusiasm, second in a 1m6f Yorkshire Cup.
Given the truncated season, it makes sense to play at a price in the Derby - and I need no second invitation, anyway - and Mohican Heights is my number one play at the moment, with Pyledriver close in behind.
Likewise, I can fully see the form and time case for Highland Chief, who did us a 20/1 favour when winning off a mark of 101 in a 1m2f handicap at Ascot, but his odds have halved in the last week, and current odds in the marketplace ranging from 12s to 16s indicate that the value bird has definitely flown.
And it is interesting that Andrea Atzeni (pictured above) appears to have got off Highland Chief (who he was earmarked to partner) to ride my selection, though he was on him at Ascot.
It is the kind of year when many will be taking a swing at those kind of prices though, and the Goodwood 1-2 of Khalifa Sat and Emissary are place players, too
What O'Brien runs and Moore rides remains open to doubt.
And, as Moore said himself in a Sunday Times interview at the weekend, the trainer will only decide what is actually running as late as possible this week, with the jockey expecting to definitely know what he will be riding "at about quarter-to-one next Thursday."
Good luck if you are backing any of the stable's horses ante-post then, even if history tells you he often runs the whole lot! I am a Mohican man at 33s. If only I had the hair, too.
For more tips and insight from Tony, check out the latest episode of the Weighed In podcast, where our man joined Kevin Blake and Hugh Cahill to reflect on the weekend and look ahead to the Derby and plenty more.