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Jamie Lynch Derby Preview: Freshers' Week at University of Epsom

19 runners are set to line up for Saturday's Epsom Derby
19 runners are set to line up for Saturday's Epsom Derby
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Timeform Chief Correspondent Jamie Lynch provides an alternative guide to every runner in Saturday's Epsom Derby...

"The compelling component of this year’s Derby, more than any other in memory, is that it’s more like the first term than the last of a University course..."

"If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society. It is the education which gives them a clear, conscious view, a truth developing in them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches to see things as they are, to go right to the point."

Sir John Henry Newman's words put me in mind of the Derby, not just a race but a rite of passage. Like a University course, the Derby is a temporary bubble that simultaneously separates and connects everything before and everything after. It's a time zone, from a comfort zone through a twilight zone to an end zone where characters and careers are refined and defined.

If then a practical end must be assigned to the Derby, I say it is that of training the best members of the thoroughbred society. It is the Epsom education which gives them a clear, conspicuous identity, a truth developing in that, an eloquence in expressing ability, and a force in urging it. It teaches to see things as they are, to go right to the point, the raison d'être of the racehorse.

The compelling component of this year's Derby, more than any other in memory, is that it's more like the first term than the last of a University course. The shortfall between where they're at for now and what they'll need for a Derby diploma means they're all undergraduates, in for a shock, as it's basically Freshers' Week, few of the group knowing each other, few knowing themselves.

Neither the pre-Derby horse nor the pre-Uni student is fully formed, but a fresher's outlook and outfit still makes them immediately identifiable in broader terms, in certain categories, and the 19 horses at Epsom can be matched alongside. It's not scientific, but the supposition position is the one we're in, all because the famous race has a not-so-famous field, and the process of marking one or two out from the crowd can only be ethereal, not evidential.

So here's the types of early University student you all know, or know of, and their kindred spirit amongst the Derby field.


THE SHY GUY (PEALER)

Doesn't mix, always looks down, never speaks up. Is he confident, or is he creepy?

It's out of the fibre spam and into the fire for Pealer, who has raced only in maidens so far, a drubbing of plodders at Southwell last month is like preparing for Freshers' Week by sipping halves with your Grandad. The lowest-rated horse in the field.*

*Betting, of course, without the peoples' champion

THE DISAPPEARING ACT (SALOUEN)

He's front and centre at all the early events, a party animal during Freshers' Week, but since then there's been little sight nor sound of him, lying low.

Salouen overachieved last year, like a dynamo generator that shone brighter the busier it was. This time around he's been out only once, back in April, behind Khalidi, and he may not have the staying power, literally and figuratively.


THE LATE BLOOMER (BENBATL)

The opposite of the disappearing act, it's well into term time before you notice the late bloomer, but he's starting to make a name for himself, drawing attention and admiring glances.

It was only in April that Benbatl made it to the track, yet he's already more qualified for this Derby than most, close behind Eminent in the Craven and closer behind Permian in the Dante. But the Derby is a dissertation that may be beyond him, looking more about speed than stamina so far.


THE ATHLETES (CAPRI, DOUGLAS MACARTHUR)

The toned and honed gymsters who hang around together, but academically they're not so good as they look, their record of achievement not matching expectations.

Douglas Macarthur and Capri have sparred together in their last three races, the former beating the latter on points twice this year, but neither is the heavyweight they were once thought to be, both having topped the Derby market at some stage in 2016.


THE SPOILT BRAT (GLENCADAM GLORY)

Privileged upbringing, thinking everyone is a bit beneath him, wandering in late to lectures and not taking things seriously. But the joke is on him.

Well-bred, well-made and well-connected, but Glencadam Glory isn't living up to that billing, letting himself down by continually starting slowly, negating the positive of Lingfield last time when chasing home...


THE REBRAND (BEST SOLUTION)

The unrecognisable ugly duckling who transforms in the course of a term, ridding himself of his early attributes and revelling in a new environment.

The good work of Best Solution's first season was all undone on the dirt of Dubai in the spring, but his he was made up by the homecoming and made over for a different test, running out the most convincing trial winner of the lot at Lingfield. If the Derby was merely a box-ticking exam, he'd be nearly top of the class.


THE MODEL (CRACKSMAN)

Damned handsome, the uncommon one in the common room, looking like he's come straight from a Dolce & Gabbana ad. Not seen much, but eye-catching when he is, and there's a level of confidence about and around him that makes you think he's not just a pretty boy doing it for show.

The more we've seen of Permian, the more we appreciate Cracksman catching him in the Epsom trial. That relationship makes Cracksman the Head Boy of the whole group on Timeform terms, significant even if the rating isn't, and he's one of the few with some star quality.


THE MODEL STUDENT (PERMIAN)

All work and no play gets Permian a first. Eager to please, can't do enough work, homework and coursework. Starting to annoy his classmates with his ethics and earnestness, embarrassing a few already.

The £85,000 it cost to parachute Permian into the Derby was a no-brainer, given his change, and given the climate. In an arena of uncertainty, his ability, attitude and awareness will count for plenty, his hard running since the Epsom trial a self-promotion and not just an advertorial for Cracksman.


THE SULTRY STRANGER (DUBAI THUNDER)

The mysterious one, looking different and talking different, with a hint of an accent, not that he ever says much, but the once he spoke up he caused quite the stir. Everyone's having a hard time working him out.

It was the best of trials, it was the worst of trials. The best because it was off the scale for a newcomer, and the worst as it's all we've got to go on, but Dubai Thunder adds extra intrigue to an already multi-layered Derby. In one way, with the bar not high, it's the perfect setting for an arriviste like him, but Epsom is Epsom and the Derby is the Derby, frightening for a rookie, and gut instinct says he'll sink rather than swim in the deep end.


THE AMBITIOUS ONE (KHALIDI)

Graft and grind has got him here, studious, stubborn and single-minded, making the very most of talents. Has paid a high price to get to this stage, and he'll still be going when others have dropped out.

His last three races encapsulates the pros and cons of Khalidi, the mind willing with two rolling-up-the-sleeves listed wins, but the body unable to deal with Permian sandwiched in between. He's battled hardened, but the Derby is a class war.


THE FIRST IMPRESSIONIST (EMINENT)

The biggest, the maddest, the craziest, the coolest; he'll tell you he's all these things on day one, desperate to announce himself, less show and more tell. It's all a question of staying power.

Eminent's Guineas form is arguably the best in here, and if he hadn't have won the Craven then we'd probably all be purring about his sixth to Churchill - when outspeeded in a speedy finish - as a proper, old-school Derby trial. All the same, his price makes a trainer-led presumption about the trip, a whole new ball game for him.


THE COPYCATS (VENICE BEACH, WINGS OF EAGLES, THE ANVIL)

They're not very distinguished nor distinguishable, so they follow the lead of the coolest in their gang, right down to the uniform. Bit-part players and they know it.

Each of Venice Beach, Wings of Desire and The Anvil passed the Chester test to some degree, and it's easy to see one of the first two sneaking a place, if Venice Beach gets a sterner test and Wings of Desire a sterner ride compared to the Vase, but they only just got through the auditions, when one of their own has a certain X-Factor...


THE PLAYBOY (CLIFFS OF MOHER)

Charming and charismatic, can cast a spell over those who look at him long enough, causing trust issues in his admirers, but he always gets the girl, or in this case the boy, the top boy...

We all had to join in the worn-and-weary game of what will Ryan ride, but before Weatherbys the market told us, and before the market the Dee Stakes told us, and before the Dee Stakes Orderofthegarter told us, and before Orderofthegarter the clock told us: told us that Cliffs of Moher could then should then would be the chosen one. He's had this date for a long time, and judging him on Chester is like assessing a student after two years of a three-year course: the last part is the transformative term.


THE GAP YEAR GASBAG (REKINDLING)

We get it, we get it. You've travelled, you've changed, you've done more than most of us. But that initial interest has subsided, and now he's just melted into the crowd.

A change is as good as a rest, and the stable switch represented a gap year for Rekindling, who returned with a bang for Joseph O'Brien in the Ballysax, before reduced to a whimper in the Dante.


THE FIGHTER GUY (CROWNED EAGLE)

Cocky and cock-sure, seeking to dominate, which is all well and good on the way up, but this is a battle of wills and skills, not of strength, and the higher education serves to subdue him.

The flat tracks of Nottingham and Windsor fed his bullying instincts, running maiden and handicap rivals into the ground, but Crowned Eagle is in line for his comeuppance now his sights are set so much higher.


THE RECLUSE

Completely out of place. This is a Derby not a donkey derby. Eeyore Diore.


THE WINNER?

Classy, closed and clear are all Pointless answers in the subject of how to describe the 2017 Derby. But I wrote something last month about what a 'Derby horse' looks like, along the lines that no heavy-hitters doesn't automatically means no bill-fitters, and it stands that the sexy students, chiefly Cracksman and Cliffs of Moher, absolutely look like Derby winners at this stage, at least half the time.

Both of those two could and probably should be shorter in the betting, an element of not seeing the wood for the trees, in a race that definitely isn't the free-for-all it looks from the field size. CRACKSMAN is my personal preference, though it's been a personal project all along, lured from the start by the twin peaks of Frankel and Gosden, but on Epsom Eve his form is as good as any, and his potential is greater than most. If there's a star graduate amongst the class of 2017, I'm betting it's Cracksman.

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