Idaho Can Land Epsom Derby Success

Aidan O’Brien is no stranger to saddling well-fancied runners in Classics on both sides of the Irish Sea. So much so, that a lot of his 2-y-o progeny head the markets before even gracing the racecourse, such is their impeccable breeding.

It’s more of the same this year, as although things haven’t exactly gone smoothly during many Classic preparations, the well-regarded US Army Ranger arrives unbeaten and is likely to go off close to favourite along with Dante winner Wings of Desire.

The vibes have been strong about US Army Ranger and he was still rather green when just seeing off a rather carefully-ridden Port Douglas last time out. He is sure to improve for that run but he is short enough given any greenness will be punished on the unique undulations at Epsom.

O’Brien also had the option – well, he still does – of saddling recent French 2000 Guineas winner, The Gurkha. The manner in which he strode away in the French Classic was visually very impressive, yet he looks to be swerving Epsom where he will head to Royal Ascot.

On a side note, The Gurkha v Galileo Gold v Atwaad will be some race in the St James’ Palace.

Back to Epsom and O’Brien’s string. Beacon Rock landed a Group 3 last week but looks set to swerve Epsom (probably as he’s carrying my ante-post money from last year), while the consistent Deauville ran a nice enough race at York to suggest he could mount a challenge.

This in turn means Idaho may go into the race as AOB’s ‘third-string’.

There was plenty of confidence about the colt as he reappeared in the Derrinstown Derby Trial, a race in which AOB has sent out the winner on nine of the last 16 occasions, with subsequent Derby winners Galileo and High Chaparral among those on the illustrious roll of honour.

Ryan Moore didn’t ride the colt at Leopardstown as connections felt Shogun would have had a better chance had the ground remained on the quicker side, yet it may have been a case of given potential Derby rider Seamie Heffernan a chance to get a feel of riding the colt.

He certainly will have learned a lot as he gave the three-year-old too much to do that day, coming round the bend five-wide before staying on eye-catchingly well close home. He finished third behind Moonlight Magic and Shogun, yet if you ran that race again, it would be fair to suggest he would have solid claims of reversing the form with the winner, who had the run of the race.

Moonlight Magic, incidently, has been given very bullish reviews by Jim Bolger at Breakfast With The Stars, saying he wouldn’t swap his Derby charge with anything. A good sign for those perhaps unlucky in behind?

Four different jockeys have ridden Idaho in his four races, so a return to the plate for Heffernan would be a boost to his chances given he knows his style of running.

He is a son of Galileo out of a Danehill mare, so stamina is no issue and he has ran well on ground ranging from good to heavy, so conditions shouldn’t affect his chances too much.

After scoring on debut, which is somewhat of a surprising rarity for many of O’Brien’s major stars, he could only manage fourth on bottomless ground in a Group 1 at Saint-Cloud. He was subsequently put away for a break and made a nice enough reappearance behind the already race-fit Harzard in the Ballysax Stakes.

It was a nice performance given how uneasy he was at the start and after picking up the running a furlong and a half out, he looked set to stay there until the stamina-proven Harzand (who reappears at Epsom but could be more of a St Leger horse) ran him down close home. The pair pulled clear of the field and it suggested Idaho had retained plenty of ability.

He will stay better than most at Epsom and although he can get a little edgy at the start, he showed signs of maturity on his last racecourse visit.

Given his form figures of 1423, he may not strike as a typical O’Brien Derby horse but at a current 28/1, he is a big enough price to appear each-way value.

He should be finishing best of all down the straight and if he finds his rhythm early enough, he may well do more than run into a place.

Top Selection – Epsom Derby:

Idaho @ 28/1 (Betway, 25/1 Various)



Golden Horn – A Golden Horse?

As Golden Horse strode majestically down the camber at Epsom, eating up the ground on the classy Jack Hobbs – those who were fortunate to have a space in the packed grandstand knew they were witnessing something special.

Doubts were diminishing, pressure was being eased and a date with destiny (part two) was answered as Frankie Dettori saluted the crowd with Golden Horn lengthening a few lengths clear underneath him.

This was the crowning glory of the animal who had crept under the radar since his sole two-year-old start and with the horse racing fraternity searching for a superstar among the ranks, Golden Horn has done nothing but answer graciously.

His only visit to the track as a two-year-old ensured he created a rather understated impression that looks more and more impressive the more you revisit it. He was slow away, looked set to be outpaced over three-furlongs out before making smooth headway under pressure, to pick it up and gallop relentlessly to the line.

He was always keeping Storm the Stars at bay and eventually crossed the line a head to the good, with seven lengths back to the third. It was the type of performance that brought a ‘wow’ reaction without too much thought being given to the actual strength of the race.

Still, it was enough to ensure he returned to the track as a warm favourite, as he took his place in the Listed Fielden Stakes (9f) at Newmarket. Again, he was held up before making smooth headway through the race under new rider, Frankie Dettori, taking the lead when edging left in the final furlong before going on to a clever length and a half success.

At this stage it was evident a mile may not be sufficient and a step up in trip was likely to bring out even more improvement from the colt.

So, with the long-term plan being the French Derby, he was sent to York to contest the Dante Stakes over 10f. It was a race that many thought would be a mini-Derby, with many of the leading candidates turning up on the Knavesmire.

However with connections feeling Golden Horn was a real 10f horse, there were very few Epsom murmurs, until William Buick manoeuvred the colt out to track the leaders, swooped upside Jack Hobbs and then kicked on to win a shade cosily.

The manner in which he galloped past rivals with a hint of ease suggested he may well get further and the commotion after the event surrounded future decisions. Would Mr Oppenheimer opt to swerve Cahntilly for a crack at the prestigious Epsom Derby?

Trainer John Gosden was certainly vocal with his feelings but he left it completely to the owner and it mustn’t have taken too long for a decision to be made, as he was swiftly chartering a different course, heading straight at Epsom.

The tracing fraternity finally had a horse to latch onto, an improving, unbeaten colt who had done no wrong. Golden Horn.

Another major pull was the renaissance of popular rider Frankie Dettori, as the Italian fought back from the brink of obsuciroty to secure himself the top rides with the in-form John Gosden. With William Buick’s Godolphin links it was highly likely he would be needed elsewhere and in a bizarre twist of fate, the jockey’s switched horses as Godolphin purchased Dante runner-up and Derby second-favourite, Jack Hobbs.

This meant Buick got on-board Jack Hobbs while Dettori gleefully took the reins on Golden Horn as he bid for his second date with destiny up the famous Epsom camber.

He was settled towards the rear as the leaders went hell-for-leather up front and as he swung around Tattenham Corner, Dettori began to ease the colt through the pack, while stablemate Jack Hobbs got first run and took up the running.

He took a few strides to really hit top gear, but Golden Horn was merely teasing backers, and the flat spot was no more as he picked up the bit and galloped after his big, stocky, stablemate. Then came the sense of inevitability.

The nervous expression of backers suddenly changed to confidence, with “Go on Frankie!” bellowed from all parts of the racecourse. The horse at this stage had just loomed upsides and then gone past Jack Hobbs, delivering a crushing blow as he sauntered across his barn buddy before running on strongly up the rail to coast home an impressive winner.

He then reappeared in the Eclipse, bidding to join the greats such as Sea The Stars and Nashwan in the elite group of animals to do the Derby/Eclipse double and it was here he cemented himself as a top-class horse.

After the field understandably cut up with many swerving the chance to face a red hot Derby winner, Golden Horn faced four rivals, including the consistent horse from the Kevin Ryan stable, The Grey Gatsby.

It was a new scenario with a distinct lack of pace likely, so it came as no surprise to see Dettori bounce out and ease his charge to the front, where he could dictate the tempo. He set steady early fractions and wound it up in the straight, but there was a real worry for Golden Horn backers as The Grey Gatbsy loomed up large under a patient Jamie Spencer ride, eye-balling the favourite for good measure.

Dettori was urging the colt for more up the rail and as the grey beast next to him was urged for more, it appeared John Gosden’s colt was in for a battle. However he did what champions do, and dug deep to find reserves many questioned were there as he picked up the tempo to forge on for strong pressure.

The crowd responded with cheers and urgings of their own and as he careered away down the Sandown straight, finding his balance with ease to come home a shade cosily in the end, with some distance back to the third, belief had grown.

Golden Horn could be a member of the elite.

After looking as though the 3yo ranks were set for a disappointing return, it is nice to see we have a number of potential top-class animals to pad out the remainder of the year. Golden Horn looks a genuine good ground horse who wouldn’t want it on the soft side, yet he should have the chance to add to his ever growing reputation over the course of the season.

A trip to the King George for which his owner has plenty of sentimental attachment seemed the likely port of call, before a potential crack at the Juddmonte International at York. However rain-softened ground put paid to the former, so the Irish Champion Stakes, the Arc and potentially even the Breeders Cup are all logical options at present and it will be interesting to see which way the colt goes.

At present he looks to have plenty of talent and a whole host of opportunities ahead of him. Hopefully the ground will come good on the Knavesmire and he can put in a big performance for racing fans to latch onto.

Can Golden Horn prove himself as the Golden horse?

Everton v Liverpool – Merseyside Derby Preview with best bets

It is always one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the season and tomorrow is no different, as the 219th Merseyside Derby approaches.

Everton go into the game with a spring in their step after a brilliant start to the season, which has surprised many. Over the past few years we have become accustomed to an extremely slow start by The Toffees, before picking up form and putting together a rattling run post Christmas. This always begs the question ‘What would happen if Everton actually started a season well?’. Now we have the chance to find out.

Champions League qualification looks to be an audacious aim this year, but European qualification of some kind looks extremely realistic. This is partly down to their big Croatian finisher, Nikica Jelavic.

Jelavic has started this season the way he finished the last, and his incredible one touch finishing is causing defences in the Premier League all-sorts of problems. The link up play between himself, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini has been key in the amount of goals that the team have been scoring. As-well as helping them become the side that have hit the woodwork the most times in the league, having hit it on ten occasions.

Unfortunately for Everton, Pienaar misses the Derby after picking up two yellow cards against QPR last weekend. It was a decision that was highly contentious and Everton have the right to feel aggrieved  However this week they have received a massive boost as Fellaini, who had initially looked set to miss the game after picking up an injury last month, has been ruled fit to play.

He will be responsible for holding up the ball, and breaking up the three man midfield that Liverpool adopt. He will be key in making sure Joe Allen doesn’t get his foot on the ball and begin to dictate the tempo. He is a fiery character and loves to through in a robust challenge. With the tempo the game is going to be played at, it would be no surprise to see the Belgian pick up a booking.

Everton start favourites for the game for the first time in a long while, and David Moyes said it is up to them to live up to the tag.

However it won’t be easy as these games never are. Liverpool have had a chequered start to the season, but seem to be coming into a bit of form. The Reds haven’t conceded in their last three games, with Brad Jones keeping two clean sheets in two starts. Pepe Reina looks set to be fit for the game, so it will be a tough choice for Brendan Rodgers as to who he selects to start in goal.

Elsewhere there are no new injury worries, but after an impressive performance on Thursday evening by a number of players who wouldn’t have really been challenging for a place on Sunday, Rodgers has numerous selection headaches.

Oussama Assaidi particularly impressed with his direct running and skill against Anzhi and with him potentially having Tony Hibbert to run at, Rodgers may seriously think about giving the Moroccan a start. He has pace and skill, and would be able to cause Hibbert numerous problems with sheer pace and trickery as opposed to the supreme technical ability of Suso who pose a different threat.

Suarez and Sterling look two definite starters and will cause the Everton defence the most problems. Sterling is fearless and Rodgers is confident that he won’t be bullied by Everton’s likely rough tactics on the 17 year old. He opened his Premier League account last weekend against Reading before coming on and changing the game on Thursday. Confidence is high and he will be looking to harness all the positive energy into a massive performance in a big game, which he is yet to really do.

Suarez has been having a hard time of things of late, due to his ‘diving’ claims. So referee’s are tending to not give the Uruguayan anything which has also been making the news. The Everton defence is rather static and lacks pace (with the exception of Leighton Baines) and Suarez will be looking to exploit this with his trickery. It is only a matter of time before he manages to win a penalty, and tomorrow could be the day.

Finally, the key man for Liverpool, has to be Mr Merseyside Derby, Steven Gerrard. Gerrard has been in poor form this year by his high standards, but saved his best 90 minutes for the game against United. He comes into his own in big games and will be relishing the chance to go up against his Merseyside rivals once more. He managed to get a hat-trick in the fixture at Anfield last year and will be looking to get on the score-sheet once more.

Best Bets:

1 point: Steven Gerrard to score any-time – 11/4 (Various)

1 point: Nikica Jelavic to score first – 7/1 (Various)

1 point: Everton/Draw (HT/FT) – 16/1 (StanJames)

3 points: Fellaini to be booked – 11/8 (BlueSquare)

1 point: Jelavic FGS – 1-1 – 60/1 – (William Hill)