The race that precedes The Derby in this year’s running order is The Epsom Dash. It is a race that is run downhill over what many believe to be the fastest 5 furlongs in the world. It is a pretty unique test in that regard and not all horses will be suited by it. There are, however, a number who seem to thrive on this track and several of them, not for the first time, compete here. It can be a rough race and luck in running is often needed, particularly if drawn down near the stands rail.
One who definitely loves it here is CASPIAN PRINCE. This will be the sixth time this 10 year-old has contested this race and he has won it on 3 previous occasions. In total, he has run 6 times over course-and-distance and has won 4 times. That has to count for something despite his now rising years. He ran in The Group 2 Temple Stakes, at Haydock, last Saturday and that was probably a prep for this and, although he finished last, it should have blown the cobwebs away. He has had a number of trainers over the years and his current yard are very shrewd and know how to prepare one but he has to shoulder top weight of 10 stone here and he is 5lbs higher than when successful in this in 2017. It will be a tough ask to win this again.
Another who goes well at this track is JUST THAT LORD who represents local trainer Michael Attwater. This horse finished 3rd in this race last year, off just 1lb lower, and looks set to go well again here having won over course-and-distance in April. That was his first win at the course but in 4 runs now he has never finished outside the first 3. He is a horse who is very quick and likes to go forward preferring an easy track. When winning here in April he had 3 horses in behind who re-oppose here and is only worse off with one of those opponents at the weights. He is a horse who only just about gets the 5 furlongs and is clearly suited by sharp tracks and being kept relatively fresh. His record here warrants the utmost respect and he appears to be a solid each-way pick with 5 or 6 places on offer.
The one who meets JUST THAT LORD on better terms here is BOOM THE GROOM. He is another who has contested this race a number of times with his best effort coming in 2015 when finishing 3rd. His racing style means that he needs luck in running and, after losing a shoe when finishing 6th in 2017, he had a dreadful passage last year and was, also, very restless in the stalls beforehand. Although he is 7lbs better off with JUST THAT LORD for a 7 length defeat in April his record of no wins from 10 starts here dissuades me from selecting him here.
Just behind JUST THAT LORD in that April race here was DARK SHOT. Formerly with Andrew Balding, this Scott Dixon inmate has not won for 3 years but did finish 2nd in this race in 2017 and was 5th last year. He has also run some good races at Goodwood, which is another sprint track where they run downhill for much of the way, so he is clearly suited by this test. He ran a very good race last week-end, at York, where he finished 2nd behind DUKE OF FIRENZE, who also appears here, and ahead of 3 others who re-oppose here. He is, officially, 4lbs well in following that race and is also 4lbs better off with the winner here and was only beaten a neck and he could go very well at a nice price.
The aforementioned DUKE OF FIRENZE has bounced right back to form in the past fortnight with wins at Thirsk and York and, although obviously going up the weights again, he is still very well-handicapped based on his old form. His mark of 89 is 8lbs lower than when he won this race in 2013 and is still some 20lbs below the mark he was racing off less than 2 years ago. The fast pace that looks assured here will suit him and it would not be a surprise to see him run very well again for a trainer who excels with these ageing sprinters.
The current favourite for the race is the Irish raider HATHIQ. He was previously trained in the UK, by Owen Burrows, but spent more than 2 years off the track, after fracturing his pelvis, before being picked up relatively cheaply, at just £3,000, by current connections earlier this year. After a low-key stable debut, where he clearly needed the run, he has run 3 very good races which included a win at Tipperary, in April, in a race where the form is working out well, and, just last week, an excellent win at The Curragh. He has been well supported in the build-up to this race and, with just a 4lb penalty for that latest win, he is 7lbs well-in here. He is a fast starter which can be an advantage here if drawn as high as he is as it can get very congested near the stands-side rail. If making a good start he may make all but his price does look a bit too short for me now and I prefer to look elsewhere in the race for some each-way value.
To my mind the class angle in the race is MUTHMIR. He runs in his first handicap since 2014, when he broke the track record in The Portland at Doncaster, and has been plying his trade in listed and Group contests in recent years and is a dual Group 2 winner. He is 9 years of age now and, therefore, not a typical winner of this race but showed he retains plenty of ability when beating Alpha Delphini at Haydock a year ago and then finishing 3rd in a Group 2 behind Battaash at Glorious Goodwood in August. In 2015 he won that same Group 2 contest and his decent form at a track like Goodwood should be a good pointer to him handling this course. This is his first start of the season but the horse often runs well fresh so that is not a concern and he will be suited by a strong pace. Assuming he gets the gaps, I can see Jim Crowley looking to produce him late here. Based on old form, his mark of 105 may under-estimate him and he should go well on ground he likes.
Another dropping back into handicap company is ORNATE who is the second representative of David Griffiths. He was found a little bit wanting last time at York so the drop back to the minimum distance and into handicap company looks a good move. His draw looks far from ideal, in stall 2, but low numbers have prevailed in recent seasons and this front-runner could make a bold bid with his regular pilot on board.
Trainer Tim Easterby has two live chances in here in the shape of COPPER KNIGHT and EEH BAH GUM and both figure prominently in the betting.
The former is a bit of a York specialist and won there two starts ago, where he had 5 of today’s opponents in behind, before finishing 3rd behind DUKE OF FIRENZE, off 5lbs higher, back there last Saturday. He is a consistent performer, who enjoys quick ground, but may just be a little too high in the weights now.
EEH BAH GUM also ran in those two races at York finishing 4th and 8th. I think both runs can be marked up as he was drawn on the wrong side first time, and had to race away from the main pace, whilst last week he was staying on well when hampered a furlong from home. He looks a winner in waiting and his young claiming jockey, who takes off 3lbs, is back on board for the first time since the pair were successful last August at York. He racked up 4 wins on the bounce at this time last year which is no easy feat, albeit off much reduced marks, and has to go on the short list here.
Also in those two York races was HAROME. Although he was, ultimately, well beaten in those races, he shaped with some promise, particularly last time out. He was drawn in stall 1 on that occasion and all those who finished ahead of him were drawn on the opposite side so he was, maybe, racing on the wrong part of the track. He raced prominently for much of the contest before getting run out of the places late on so this sharper test may suit better for this speed merchant. This is clearly the time of year when he comes to hand as 4 of his 5 career victories have come in the six week period from the first day of June. This race has been the long term aim of the trainer for this horse and, whilst he is 5lbs wrong here, he does have a nice low racing weight.
Speed from the stalls and a fast start are very handy tools to have in this race and one of those who seems to possess those attributes is JUST GLAMOROUS. He seems to have been around for years but is still just a 6 year-old and is having just his second run for new trainer Grace Harris. His first came at Goodwood just 4 weeks ago where he made a bold bid from the front, before being caught close home, and finished ahead of BLUE DE VEGA who re-opposes here. That was a good effort after some time in the doldrums and he showed a real liking for the downhill speed track. He has gone up 3lbs for that effort but still looks extremely well-handicapped given that he was rated 28lbs higher at his best. That was at the end of 2016, when he accounted for the likes of Marsha and Goldream in a Group 3 race in France, but he has only won once since then and has struggled with his breathing. His seasonal reappearance last time suggested that the change of scenery may have freshened him up and a repeat of that run at Goodwood will see him go close. If he shows anything like his old form, his early pace could really put the others under pressure and, with one of the best lightweight jockeys around on board, he looks decent each-way value, with the enhanced places, off joint bottom weight here.
My final short-list from the 20 runners was MUTHMIR, JUST THAT LORD, JUST GLAMOROUS, EEH BAH GUM and HAROME and it is the first 3 mentioned who just get the vote.