Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Epsom Derby Verdict: City Of Troy to stamp his class

Horse racing expert Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake give his big race verdict on the 2024 Epsom Derby

Kevin Blake previews Saturday's 2024 Epsom Derby and believes favourite City Of Troy is now out to a fair price and can land the spoils from stall 1...

  • Kevin Blake delivers his expert verdict for Betfair
  • Front end of the betting market looks hard to look past
  • City Of Troy to show his class at 3/14.00

There are in the region of 90,000 thoroughbred foals born around the world every year. They will all have different dreams and expectations attached to them, some ambitious, some modest. Most of those dreams will go unfulfilled, but some will be realised.

Numerous Group 1 winners will emerge from each crop, but barring a dead-heat, one and only one will win the Derby. Some will tell you that the race isn't what it once was in terms of prestige, but it still remains the most desired of races to many Kings, paupers and everything in between. There are many imitations, but there is only one Derby.

How the 2024 Epsom Derby could be run

How the Derby will be run is always a fascinating question and this year is no different. In years gone by, we could take it for granted that the Ballydoyle team would field at least one and sometimes multiple pace makers that would ensure a well-run race.

For whatever reason, Aidan O'Brien has largely moved away from that approach across the racing board and the result is quite a bit more uncertainty over how the top races will be run.

However, I suspect that this year's Derby might see a return of the pacemaker. With City Of Troy drawn in stall one, my read of it is that Ballydoyle will want this to be a well-run Derby to decompress the field and sort the race from a long way out so that traffic isn't as big an issue as it would be in a more steadily-run race.

So, I expect Euphoric (9) to buck forward and force the pace with Los Angeles (4) not being too far off him.

One feature of this race from a pace mapping perspective is that an awful lot of horses that are very big prices have been very forward in their races such as Dallas Star (7) and God's Window (10), with the likes of Sayedaty Sadaty (2), Bellum Justum (12) and Deira Mile (14) being possibilities to be in the next wave behind the leaders.

The possibility that this raises is that if the pace is strong and a lot of big-priced runners are forward, they are likely to weaken as the race hots up and potentially create traffic problems for better-fancied runners coming from further back.

City Of Troy to bounce back on the big stage

In terms of the contenders, the Derby has entered arguably it's most fascinating phase in over a decade as the Galileo era comes to an end and we enter a new phase. Galileo's sons and grandsons still feature prominently, but they are scattered all around the bloodstock world and this new era is likely to be characterised by deep competitiveness and a wider cast of characters.

Mind, Galileo may have left us, but Aidan O'Brien is still very much with us and even without one of his sons of Galileo putting his hand up high enough to make it to the Derby, he still has the top two in the betting in City Of Troy and Los Angeles.

City Of Troy is sure to divide opinion. A brilliant European Champion Two-Year-Old, the second highest-rated that O'Brien has ever trained, but he ran very poorly indeed in the 2000 Guineas. Why did he run so poorly? Can he bounce back? I believe he can. Let me tell you why.

From the outset of City Of Troy's career, his stride frequencies of 2.3/2.13 max/min strides per second (sps) have suggested he is a middle-distance horse in the making. Indeed, those frequencies are very close to the average stride frequencies of the last 10 winners of the Derby (2.32/2.11).

He was able to express himself so brilliantly as a two-year-old as the pace in his races was kind enough early to keep him in his comfort zone and allow him to do his thing late on. The 2000 Guineas was different. He was up in the heat of a well-run race that saw him cover the first four furlongs approximately 12 lengths faster than he had in any of his races as a two-year-old. He was out of his comfort zone and paid for it. I believe it can be forgiven.

The much longer distance of the Derby and the lower speed of the early stages will be much more like what City Of Troy was designed for. Given just how brilliant he was as a two-year-old, with his form being far in excess of anything his Derby rivals have yet produced, I believe that it would be very dangerous to bullishly proclaim his price as being too short based on his Newmarket disappointment.

It will be fascinating to see how the market develops around him, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is stronger in the market than many seem to expect.

Best of the rest

City Of Troy's stablemate Los Angeles is a much easier horse to assess. He is pretty much exactly what one expects a leading Derby prospect to be. A Group 1-winning two-year-old that won a leading trial on his seasonal return, the ease in the ground will very much suit him and his striding (2.28/2.11) fits in beautifully with what one expects from a Derby winner.

He didn't slow everyone away with the style of his success on his return at Leopardstown, but my view is that he was doing the bare minimum, not even needing to change off his left lead at any stage in the straight. He appeals as being a rock-solid proposition.

Ambiente Friendly is a contender that isn't getting enough respect from the market. He very much impressed me in the Lingfield Derby Trial and that race went a long way to answering two of the key questions most of the runners are confronted by in the Derby, the ability to stay a mile-and-a-half and to handle a downhill swing into the straight.

Personally, I have anything like the same concern that many seem to have about the possibility of him over-racing and his stride metrics (2.3/2.12) are bang on how we expect a Derby winner to move.

Ancient Wisdom will bid to give Dubawi a first success in an Epsom Classic as a sire (0-15 prior to the Oaks on Friday). He is such a brilliant sire that there is a good chance it will happen at some stage, but their tendency to be notably fast striders as a group is an obstacle to their success in them.

Mind, Ancient Wisdom has a below-average stride speed for a son of Dubawi (2.36/2.21) and this makes him a better candidate than most of his paternal siblings for the race. Given he has a very pronounced knee action, any ease in the ground will help him handle the steep descent into the straight, but all in all, I consider him the least appealing contender of those at the top end of the market.

Dancing Gemini is a horse I've been sweet on from an early stage of his career and he ran a huge race to finish second in a messy renewal of the Poule d'Essai des Poulains. The fear I have for him is his ability to get this trip. He has always looked pacey at a mile and his stride frequencies (2.45/2.25) are significantly higher than a typical Derby winner. There have been cases of a horse showing a reduced stride frequency for the first time when encountering such a different test in the Derby, Auguste Rodin did it last year, but usually the reductions are small rather than substantial and Dancing Gemini needs a substantial reduction.

2024 Epsom Derby verdict

In truth, while I find this year's Derby to be absolutely fascinating, it isn't nearly as appealing a betting race as the Oaks. The front end of the market looks very solid to my eye and none of the outsiders make enough appeal to me. At the current prices, I have to be brave and side with the drifting City Of Troy. If you are willing to forgive his run in the 2000 Guineas, and I very much am, he is a fair price.

Now Read: Daryl's Runner-By-Runner Epsom Derby Guide Here

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