The Derby Ante Post Preview: Three early bets for the Epsom spectacular

The Epsom Derby is just seven weeks away...
The Epsom Derby is just seven weeks away...

Steve MacDonald takes an early look at the antepost Derby betting in an effort to grab some overlooked value...

"The 108 rated Idaho - a 750,000 gns yearling - has plenty scope for improvement given good ground and it's not hard to see him flying home at Epsom with his potent turn of foot given the right ground conditions."

Derby Bets
Idaho at 27.026/1
Wings of Desire at 42.041/1
Ulysses at 55.054/1.

It's still very early days in the Flat season but it's already less than seven weeks until the Epsom Derby on June 4, so it's worth searching for the strong>early Derby value.

The three horses that stand out to me in the Betfair Exchange market are Idaho at 27.026/1, Wings of Desire 42.041/1 and Ulysses 55.054/1.


He may be O'Brien second-string but Idaho could surprise


Idaho is a very interesting son of Galileo (who won the Epsom Derby in 2001) and is a full brother to the classy Group 1 winner over 1m4f Highland Reel. Idaho won on his racecourse debut at the Curragh over a mile on good-firm ground. He was an easy to back 4/1 shot that day but showed a good turn of foot to easily beat next time winner Theodorico and odds-on favourite Munaashid.

That form is largely untested but it was a very promising start and Idaho was then pitched in the deep end only two weeks later in the Group 1 Criterium De Saint-Cloud on heavy ground. Idaho finished fourth there but couldn't have shaped much better, barely touched by Ryan Moore when it was clear he couldn't get to the front-running winner Robin Of Navan but again looking very promising with so much against him.

It should be noted that Idaho's full brother Highland Reel improved throughout the season as a three-year-old and has also shown a marked preference for good ground. From Highland Reel's 12 career starts all five wins have come on good or firm ground. Idaho looks to have a similar quick 'top of the ground' action and will also always be best served by good/fast ground, like on his debut.

Idaho showed he has trained on when a huge eye-catcher on his return in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes. He was an easy to back double-figure stable third string most of the day, but went off 8/1 which indicates he wasn't particularly wound up and unlikely to have been at his best on heavy ground. As it happens Idaho finished second but looked by far the best horse in the race, quickly taking lengths out of the field but asked to do so widest of all and far too early on the home turn. Eventually outstayed by the promising strong stayer Harzand (more a Leger type) - who had had the benefit of a comeback run on heavy ground at Cork in March - this was a most taking comeback by Idaho.

The 108 rated Idaho - a 750,000 gns yearling - has plenty scope for improvement given good ground and it's not hard to see him flying home at Epsom with his potent turn of foot given the right ground conditions. On the downside, there is a long way to go and the risks are plentiful and it's always a worry that Aidan O'Brien may save him for Royal Ascot.

It's also just a slight niggle that his turn of foot may be best employed off a strongly run 10f race but he is worth an antepost investment as he is bred to stay the trip especially with fast ground. In addition O'Brien already has the beautifully-bred favourite for the Derby in US Army Ranger, who oozed class on his debut recently. He could be special but that was only a maiden on heavy ground and the runner-up, Aasheq, has been stuffed in fifth at odds-on since (probably had excuses on a day when there was a big front-running course bias), so US Army Ranger still has plenty to prove to justify the 4/1 Derby quotes. If you got the 20/1 and bigger pre-season you will be very excited but he won't be much shorter on race day and at this stage the value is definitely with Idaho.

O'Brien is not scared to have a scatter gun approach to the race and also has likes of The Gurkha and Claudio Monteverdi among several others who could well make the race and are open to plenty more improvement, though they don't stand out to me at this stage.

Idaho - a northwestern state in the United States - is nicknamed the 'Gem State' because nearly every known Gemstone has been found there and is also sometimes called the 'Potato State' owing to its popular and widely distributed crop. It is hoped Idaho ends up more of a gem than a potato!


Impeccably-bred Ulysees a real contender for Stoute stable


O'Brien has won the Derby five times but so has Sir Michael Stoute and the Englishman trains my other selection Ulysses. He is by the dual Derby winner Galileo and out of Oaks winner Light Shift so is also beautifully-bred for middle distances. He is a half-brother to the useful Dr Yes and he was another big eye-catcher on his debut at Newbury last season, when never well positioned but still managing to finish with plenty to offer under an educational ride, eventually coming home sixth.

Sir Michael obviously also has the more hyped Midterm as his main hope at this stage but Ulysses is open to any amount of progress as he matures and steps up in trip so is also worth risking at 40/1. It is interesting to see Ulysses is entered this Saturday in the same Leicester maiden that the Stoute-trained Tartan Bearer won on his way to winning the Dante and finishing an excellent runner up in the Derby.

With a breeding to die for, it's easy to make a case for Midterm. When your daddy is Galileo and your mummy is the mighty multiple Group 1 winning mare Midday, then pedigree cannot be questioned.

Midterm made his racecourse debut in a backend Newbury maiden on good to soft ground over a mile. He was an unfancied 8/1 chance with Ted Durcan riding and looked to be happy to be just given an educational hands and heels ride from behind - similar to the imposing and very promising Roger Varian trained Shabeen, who also wasn't knocked about. The difference was that Midterm started to stay on very strongly without much pressure from the saddle and eventually drew clear of the opposition near the line, never stronger than at the finish where he was actually pulling away. This was all the more meritorious given he came more up the apparently unfavoured stand side, certainly away from where the main race was unfolding in the centre.

The Dante Stakes at York is hopefully going to be on the agenda for Midterm and 10/1 could almost certainly shorten for the Derby considering his debut promise, middle distance pedigree, connections and potential he clearly possesses. He is twice the price of US Army Ranger which doesn't really make any sense. Both still have plenty to prove and are priced more on reputation than substance.

The Derby is very likely to be Midterm's main target if good enough though, which is a positive if you are backing him at this early stage and I do like to see the contenders out early in preparation for the big race. It will be interesting to see who Ryan Moore rides come the day between Midterm, Idaho or US Army Ranger.


Wings of Desire has much to prove but could be very special


The other horse I think is a very tempting price is John Gosden's Wings of Desire. A full brother to Eagle Top and The Lark out of a listed winner who was a half-sister to dual Oaks winner Sariska (also by the late great Pivotal) he is certainly bred for the job. He could hardly have been more eye-catching when third on his recent racecourse debut at Newmarket (with the also very promising Point Of View just behind him in need of the run). The ground may have been too soft that day and it was also difficult to come from behind the way the race was run.

Wings of Desire is inexperienced and he will have to step up markedly next time to make a race like the Derby but this is undoubtedly a quality horse in the making. His full brother Eagle Top was good enough to win the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot on just his third start. That may be tried and trusted route that Gosden will also choose for Wings of Desire but the potential is definitely there and 40/1 seems fair enough for an antepost Derby wager.

Gosden's Wajeez is also incredibly exciting. I haven't seen such an impressive two-year-old debut since Celtic Swing but he clearly loved the soft ground at Nottingham so that is a big worry ante-post for the Derby. The son of Lope De Vega could well act on better ground but he is likely to be at his very best on a soft surface and the French Derby would be quite an appealing main target for him. Wajeez could be special given soft ground.

$450,000 foal Royal Artillery is another large weapon for Gosden. Owned by Coolmore, he looks like he could stay further than a mile despite being a son of War Front but I still wouldn't fancy him for the Derby trip. The 2000 Guineas would appeal to me more for him than the Derby at this stage. He is a big horse who should improve for better ground than he encountered on debut at Doncaster. The problem with backing him for the 2000 Guineas is that Coolmore already have the mightily impressive Air Force Blue as the strong short-priced favourite for that race. Royal Artillery is definitely a classy looking horse also capable of winning a big prize this season.

Foundation is another respected Gosden horse but I was bitterly disappointed in his comeback effort. Even in horrible conditions he looked to have gone backwards instead of forwards. I'm also not convinced he will excel over as far as the Derby trip of 1m4f being a son of Zoffany. Gosden's Linguistic on the other hand looked to improve for stepping up to 10f on his seasonal re-appearance. He has been discussed for the Dante but at this stage would need to be supplemented for the Derby as he's not entered. Whether he will get 1m4f in a Derby would also have to be proved as a son of Lope De Vega out of Montjeu mare but that's not impossible. These Lope De Vegas do seem to improve with age though and also appear to appreciate some cut under foot.

Interestingly the very promising Michael O'Callaghan trained Blue De Vega (to be ridden by new stable jockey Kieren Fallon this season) is also a Lope De Vega out of the Montjeu mare Burning Heights from a staying family, so he is another who could well come into the picture for this race and is capable of winning a good pot this season on an easy surface.

Carntop is owned/bred by the Prince of Wales & Duchess of Cornwall and is trained by Ralph Beckett. He is another horse of considerable potential. I would have him in mind more for a top end handicap/Group race at Royal Ascot rather than the Derby given his owners but he's another horse sure to win a nice prize this season and could well be good enough to make the Derby.

Algometer is a most likeable staying type for owner/breeder Kirsten Rausing out of her fantastic mare Albanova. It is always good to have these types who have a real will to win on your side and that's exactly what Algometer showed, sticking his neck out in game fashion at Newbury (Ulysses behind). He looks very fairly handicapped off 86 though and would appeal more to me going down the staying handicap/conditions races route, maybe even ending up in the St Leger rather than the Derby.

The Roger Varian trained UAE Prince is still unraced but is already 25/1 for the Derby and is rumoured to be very good. Some Varian horses can be over hyped so let's wait and see what he can do on the track but he obviously has potential. He is entered to make his debut this weekend and is worth looking out for, while there are any number of other unexposed and unraced youngsters to worry about. But I'm happy to stick to what I know for now.

At this stage it is Idaho at 27.026/1, Wings of Desire 42.041/1 and Ulysses 55.054/1 that appeal most to me at their prices.

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