Epsom Derby and Oaks

Road To The Epsom Derby: Happy to sit on 33/1 White Birch...for now

Dante Stakes
Daryl looks back at the Dante Stakes and gives runner-by-runner Derby comments.

Daryl Carter is back for week three of his mini Road To The Derby series and reflects on an eventful week, including the York Dante, which threw up more Epsom clues...

  • Daryl reviews the Dante Stakes from York

  • Takes a look at each runner in the now 22-runner Derby field

  • Say's wait to see if Artistic Star 33/1 is an intended runner

In week one, we touched on race trends and the correlation between the last ten winners in an attempt to give us a better understanding of what it takes to win the Epsom Derby. You can read that here. We also put up Naval Power 25/1 as a 1pt win bet, and he is now a non-runner.

We highlighted White Birch 33/1 and Tony Montanna 40/1 in week two for 1pt and 0.5pt win bets. Tony Montanna is a non-runner, having been well held at Newbury recently, but White Birch's strong Dante finishing second gives us hope, and he is now a 14/1 chance.

This week we see the Derby field has been reduced to 22 runners, and we will take a closer look with a line on each runner.

Dante delight for 33/1 White Birch backers

White Birch 1280 x 853 2.png

The York Dante Stakes tends to be a big pointer to the Epsom Derby, and it will be no surprise if this year is any different. A field of 11 went to post over 1m2 1/2f on the Knavesmire, and the overall time was 2.26 secs inside the standard (fast).

A good comparative race was the Dubai Middleton won by the returning Free Wind over the same course and distance, but that race was no match for the Dante on the speed figures.

The Dante was run at a solid sound clip but not a breakneck gallop which is probably why we have seen the first five covered by less than three lengths.

However, the first through to the fifth didn't play a part in the early tempo, with pace setters finishing sixth, seventh and eighth. It would be easy on paper to say they went too hard in front, but it is more likely the case that those with the stronger form came to the fore here.

The winner, The Foxes (now 8/1 for the Derby), took a big step forward for his return run when second to Idestructable in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket, increasing his winning margin from there (2 lengths) to here 22 lengths over Dancing Magic who could only manage a well-beaten tenth having been ridden prominently and then weakening quickly.

Clearly, Dancing Magic hasn't given his true running here, which is a shame as his form lines are reliable information. However, The Foxes saved plenty of ground when making his challenge compared to the runner-up, and he clung on at the finish sparking thoughts that the 1m4f Derby distance would be a stretch for him.

He is much better suited to a flat track than the undulations Epsom offers, particularly given he has now shown twice this term that he hangs right under pressure, meaning he would hang away from the camber at Epsom, which could prove disastrous to his chances. I am happy to strike a line through him for Derby success.

Runner-up White Birch (now 14/1 for the Derby) may have been helped slightly by being held up, but he wasn't by Frankie Dettori and fifth Epictetus, who pulled wide into his path, meaning he had almost to circle the entire field to make his challenge.

His strong finishing effort outside the field answered a few questions. He handled this much faster surface (won on heavy ground in the Group 3 Ballysax) and shaped as though a stiffer test of stamina would suit, so the move up to 1m4f should not concern backers.

He covered far more ground than any other runner in the Dante field, but does he have the class to win a Derby? The jury is still out on this one, but he has as good a chance as any at this time.

Passenger, fourth (now 11/2 for the Derby), having only his second career start, conceded plenty of racecourse experience to his rivals and got no run, having had his passage blocked by the retreating trio who had made the running.

He was closer to the sharp end of the pace than any of the three that finished ahead of him, and he ran on strongly once in the clear. Richard Kingscote has admitted it wasn't his finest hour in the saddle (although he had done the same thing an hour earlier on Astro King). His rider's hesitation gave

The Foxes, White Birch and Continuous a chance to build up a run and get the leg up on him. He was a huge eye-catcher, and it's not out of this world to say he could have won this contest by a street given a clear passage. Although, every man and their dog has seen that.

The move up to 1m4f will surely see Passenger in an even better light, and he must be one of the stand-out candidates should connections pay the £85,000 to supplement. It would be no surprise to see him go off favourite.

Paasenger's trainer Sir Michael Stoute has seen his last three Derby winners run in the Dante, although keeping with the trends highlighted in week one, all had made winning debuts as two-year-olds. Passenger didn't run as a two-year-old and would need to buck a significant trend (all of the winners in the last ten years had run at two years).

The third, Continuous, is not in the Derby but would be of interest if supplemented. Although, that will be next week's column should he parachute in.

Rundown: Derby Entries

Military Order - He is now the sole entry from team Godolphin and has done little wrong in two starts this season, with his seasonal return at Newbury working out well.

The runner-up Exoplanet was narrowly touched off in the London Gold Cup off 97, while the third Chesspiece scored at York off 96. He was a dominant winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial and is a rightful favourite who is very hard to knock, although I am not itching to back him.

Arrest - Won nicely on seasonal return at Chester over Adelaide River (a 66/1 chance for this), confirming the form of when they met in France last season.

He needs to take another step forward and, according to reports, wouldn't want the ground on the quick side. A strong suspicion that he was more to come having been green as a two-year-old and is a sizeable unit. He could make Frankie Dettori's last Derby ride a winning one.

Military Order 1280 x 883.png

Auguste Rodin - Beat the Dante fifth Epictetus in the Vertem Futurity
at Doncaster on his final start as a two-year-old by three lengths when on the favoured side of the track in deep ground at Doncaster before flopping in the 2,000 Guineas. Not seen since and couldn't be backed with any confidence following that run.

Passenger - Needs supplementing at the cost of £85,000 but shaped like the best horse in the Dante, and further improvement is almost a given after just two career starts. He could buck the trend of every winner, having raced at two in a wide-open year. Arguably should be favourite.

The Foxes - Surely will find this trip beyond him, and a repeat of hanging to the right in two starts this term will do him no favours. Passed over.

Spreywell - His form ties in very closely with White Birch, and he did beat that one as a two-year-old, which on the Dante running would give him strong claims, having won the Leopardstown Derby Trial.

He was beaten twice as a two-year-old but improved significantly this season and recorded an RPR equal to that of Bolshoi Ballet and Stone Age - both went off substantially shorter than his current 12/1 for the Derby, having won the same race. His RPR of 117 is the highest joint in this ante-post Derby field, and although he has yet to race on a sounder surface, his action and pedigree (by Churchill) suggest he could improve for it. Big player and over-priced.

Dubai Mile - Had the beating of Arrest last year in France and was highly tried as two-year-olds often are from this yard. He lacks the class of a Derby winner, found The Foxes too good last year, and others can improve past him.

White Birch - Excellent second in the Dante, having not got the rub of the green and can improve for a strongly run 1m4f. Well-balanced and should have little trouble with the Epsom undulations. Likeable type who has done little wrong. Hard to knock.

Waipiro - Destroyed Dante seventh Liberty Lane at Newmarket in fine style before not disgraced behind the smart favourite Military Order in the Lingfield Derby Trial. Looks very useful, but a return to 1m2f may suit better, and the French Derby could/should be on the agender.

San Antonio - Ahead of Spreywell in a Gowran Maiden last year when that one was caught too far back on debut. Unbeaten in two outings this year, including the latest when holding fellow Irish hope Alder at Chester, but was given an enterprising ride there, and he won't have that luxury here.

Espionage - Not seen this year, and his two-year-old form needs significantly improving upon to mix it at this level.

Paddington - He is highly progressive, but talk of the French Derby tampers enthusiasm for any ante-post participation.

Alder - Has improved with each outing, and his Chester second is worth significantly upgrading. He needs much more to make his presence felt in this company, but, likely, we haven't seen the best of him.

Artistic Star - unbeaten in two starts and looks very useful. However, having won at Sandown on return and with just 18 days between that run and this, he could well head to Royal Ascot instead but watch for declarations as he looks every inch a player in this.

Artistic Star 1280 x 805.png

Gooloogong - Won nicely at Navan and was strong at the finish. He is well entered up and could be a surprise package at big odds should connections go this route.

Dear My Friend - He is well exposed now and was no match for rivals when he upped in grade in the Dante.

King Of Steel - His Nottingham win last term has not worked out as well as one would hope, and then he was on the wrong side of the track in the Vertem Futurity before being deemed a non-runner in the Dante. Plenty of questions to answer.

Modesty - Won nicely on debut, but that form is streets below this.

Adelaide River - No match for Arrest or Dubai Mile the last twice, and he looks thoroughly exposed.

Covent Garden - Well behind Dubai Mile and Arrest in France and yet to record an RPR above 88.

Greenland - Not disgraced in the Royal Lodge when last of four behind The Foxes in a race that turned into a sprint and could improve for a sounder surface and up in distance. Interesting.

Squire Danagher - Big-priced outsider that's not been seen to best effect in three runs, but this is surely too much of an ask.

Week Three final thoughts

We have already had the significant Derby trials, and little will change between now and next Sunday, so I will hold fire on a bet until next week when the picture will become even clearer.

By next Sunday, I expect Passenger (advised 16/1 elsewhere) to be supplemented and shorten into favouritism. I will watch for Artistic Star, who is also entitled to take his chance and has really impressed me, but I don't want to lose any further points for a non-runner.

For now, let's sit on White Birch at 33/1 and play our hand late next Sunday.

Until then, be lucky.

Daryl's Derby Ante-post P/L

Daryl's Ante-Post list.


New customers only. Bet £10 on the Betfair Sportsbook at odds of min EVS (2.0) and receive £40 in FREE Bet Builders, Accumulators or Multiples to use on any sport. T&Cs apply.

Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.