The 2022 Derby meeting at Epsom is here and, in the week when we celebrate the Queen's platinum jubilee, the festivities are sure to be bigger than ever.
Back two in tricky opener
The first race to assess is Epsom's opening contest on Saturday which is a 0-100 Handicap for 3yo over 1m2f at 14:00. This is a wide-open race where I'm siding with two in the hope of overturning the well-backed Blue Trail.
I ran my usual trends for this contest where it showed that horses rated between 75 and 88 are favoured. Middle to low draws have been seen to best effect in recent years as have horses who have sat in mid-division or further back. Coming into this race on the back of two starts is another positive with that run coming three weeks or less ago. Ideally a horse either won last time out or ran in the London Gold Cup at Newbury.
Those trends landed me on three initially. They were Mr Big Stuff, War Horse and Nolton Cross. There is very little to separate this trio with each ticking a number of the aforementioned boxes.
However, upon further analysis, I have tentatively omitted Nolton Cross from my bets as I fear he may be ridden too far forwards. He was also beaten by the reopposing War Horse at Sandown last time out, form I think will be upheld.
Therefore, War Horse is the main consideration on the back of his win last time out. As stated, it has proven profitable to side with a horse who comes into this race on the back of a win. War Horse won that most recent outing after being held up before keeping on strongly over the 10f trip.
I expect there'll be plenty of pace on in this race which, if ridden similarly, should play to War Horse's advantage once more.
This son of Sea The Stars really got the trip well last time out and he certainly won't be hindered by running over Epsom's 10f with his extra stamina to boot. His draw may not be ideal in 10 but he's likely to slot in and take a lead. He then should have enough room to be produced down the centre of the track to mount his challenge.
The biggest danger to War Horse - and also worthy of an inclusion as a bet - is Mr Big Stuff who runs for the Richard Spencer yard. My fear with this horse is him being ridden too far forwards where I hope Tyler Heard elects to take a lead from stall 13. This son of Iffraaj is a steady improver and posted a career best performance last time out when fifth of 12 in the London Gold Cup Handicap at Newbury.
He raced in mid-field and didn't get a clear run over two furlongs out. Again he was short of room inside the final furlong so was unlucky not to finish in the frame. The handicapper must have thought likewise as he gave him a 1lb rise for that defeat.
Running in the London Gold Cup last time out is a positive and Mr Big Stuff was certainly not disgraced in that. Hollie Doyle rode him at Newbury whereas Spencer has elected to jock Tyler Heard up to offset that rise with his 5lb claim.
Mr Big Stuff is likely to improve again for the run and is well treated on that basis to go very close in this race.
Team Midgley to taste more 'Dash' success
The fastest race in the land comes up at 15:45 in the Dash Handicap which is a Heritage Handicap for 3yo+ over 5f. It's a case of blink and you'll miss it but trying to find the fastest of them all is never easy.
The trends revealed some interesting insight into this race and horses rated around 82 or 83 have a good record. This year's renewal looks weaker than in plenty of recent runnings.
Ideally a high draw is favoured but that doesn't mean that those drawn very low should be dismissed as they often get a clear passage to run at. Any deviation off a true line in this race can prove hugely costly, such is the furious nature it's run at that any seconds lost prove pivotal.
Coming into the 'Dash' well-conditioned is also a positive with a minimum of three runs proving ideal. A horse doesn't have to have run well last time out but a quick turnaround time since that latest outing is preferable.
The runner I really like in this year's race is Mid Winster who is available at 21.020/1 for the Paul Midgley team who do so well with their sprinters. The yard won this race in 2018 with Tanasoq who also came into the contest on the back of a win. Tanasoq had a quick turnaround time of just 10 days whereas Mid Winster ran just seven days ago.
The Midgley yard are also in great form at present operating at a 37% strike rate in the past two weeks with seven winners from 19 runners.
I'd ideally like Mid Winster to be drawn higher rather than the no man's land of stall 13 that she finds herself in. Graham Lee will at least have his options, although they will be dependent on the ground and how Epsom is riding on Saturday.
This six-year-old mare has had the ideal amount of races this season with three which should see her sharp enough for this contest and she comes here in good form. She was a winner last time out at Catterick in 0-95 Handicap over 5f.
She was really suited by a return to 5f there and was a comfortable winner so looks capable of defying the 5lb rise. The team know what it takes to win this race so I hope they've made the correct call in running Mid Winster in this year's renewal.
An each-way play in the Derby
I couldn't write this week's column without having a bet in the 2022 Derby, it would have been sacrilege of me not to. Of course, this year's Derby at 16:30 has already had plenty of twists and turns in the build-up.
It makes sense therefore, that the public and the market should want a favourite to hang on to and to give the Derby a clearer picture. That horse has been Desert Crown who was the subject of huge support prior to making his reappearance last time out.
There was a real buzz about Sir Michael Stoute having a proper one and Desert Crown may well be that. The race lacked a standout contender for so long, what with the scratching of ante-post favourite Luxembourg. So it makes sense that Desert Crown filled that void. However, I think this year's race is wide-open so I'm willing to take him on at his current price.
I'm not confident enough to back against him with a win only bet, however, just to caveat myself. But there is one in here who I think looks overpriced for an each-way play.
That horse is Star Of India who is one of three runners for Aidan O'Brien in the race and seemingly, the least popular in the market.
This colt of a typical son of Galileo where he is as genuine as they come. He only has three career starts to his name which he's won two of. He won his maiden on debut at the end of October at Leopardstown when overturning a Joseph O'Brien trained even-money favourite who has proved disappointing since.
Star Of India was rather underwhelming himself on his reappearance in the Group 3 Craven Stakes at Newmarket in April which was won by Native Trail. Star Of India got into a pace battle on the front end with that duelling pair, finishing last and second last. Star Of India looked outpaced over the 1m on that occasion but relished the step up to 1m2f on his next run.
That most recent outing came at Chester in the Listed Dee Stakes where he won in good style. He's a very laid-back character and that was shown again at the Roodee. Ryan Moore was riding incredibly well that week and gave this lad an optimal ride where he made plenty use of him before kicking three furlongs out.
He looked every bit a stayer in that win and for all that the form of those in behind may prove questionable in time, there was nothing not to like about Star Of India's performance.
Star Of India looks a dream ride for any jockey as he'll relax, travel through the race and he'll stay and find for pressure all day. Stamina is always key in the Derby but this year's renewal suggests that may be highlighted even further.
When trying to find a horse who will still be grinding out a finish, I would certainly trust a horse such as Star Of India more than most. He's a fair each-way price at 17.016/1 to expect him to run a big race in the Blue Riband event of the turf season.