International Affairs: London – The Investec Derby is now only 10 days away and the final piece was slotted into the Epsom jigsaw on Tuesday when John Gosden revealed that Roaring Lion, last week’s impressive Dante Stakes winner, will run in the world’s most famous race on the historic Surrey Downs on Saturday week.
Gosden had been toying between THE Derby and the French equivalent, the Prix du Jockey-Club, which is run over the same distance at York, but after lengthy consultation with the owners, Qatar Racing, the Newmarket trainer has confirmed the second-favourite for Epsom will have a third crack at his 2000 Guineas conqueror Saxon Warrior.
“Roaring Lion improved from the Craven to the Guineas, and he has come on again these past couple of weeks,” said Gosden, adding “I’ve always looked upon him as a middle-distance colt more than a miler (1600m), so, while he is going into unknown territory stamina-wise, I feel that if we can get Roaring Lion back to the form he was in when he gave Saxon Warrior a fright in last year’s Racing Post Trophy, it might be interesting at Epsom.”
Meanwhile, classic eyes will be focussed on The Curragh next weekend, when Aidan O’Brien attempts to pull off the Irish 1000-2000 Guineas double for the sixth time.
O’Brien, whose first of 300-plus Group 1 celebrations came courtesy of Desert King in the Irish colts’ classic 21 years ago, relies on Gustav Klimt, only sixth in the Newmarket Guineas, and US Navy Flag, who was almost brought down when several runners struck a false patch of ground on the home turn in the French equivalent at Longchamp.
Gustav Klimt, who had previously looked so impressive in the Guineas trial at Leopardstown, failed to fire at Newmarket, finishing a disappointing sixth, and O’Brien, still unsure whether he gets the 1600m or should switch back sprinting, admits “the jury is out” as regards to the colt’s optimum trip.
He has similar reservations about US Navy Flag, winner of both the Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes last year but has put a line through the French mission and, as with Gustav Klimt, thinks he’ll learn a lot about both horses on Saturday when he seeks a remarkable 12th win in a race which he has won seven times in the last 10 years.
However, it would not surprise me if veteran trainer Dermot Weld, whose only win in this race came back in 1986 with Flash of Steel, had the best of the Irish in Imaging, carrying the Khalid Abdullah silks successful with Kingman in 2014.
Though put in his place by Gustav Klimt at Leopardstown, Imaging subsequently produced an improved performance to win the Listed Tetrarch Stakes at Naas, where the gear-change he found to wriggle through a tiny gap in the last 200m was electric.
Nevertheless, Imaging is now swimming with the big boys, and with Mark Johnston on record as claiming ELARQAM is the best he has trained since the colt’s dam, Guineas heroine Attraction, this could be one for the Brits.
Elarqam, a son of the mighty Frankel, finished in front of Gustav Klimt at Newmarket, being beaten less than three lengths into fourth.
He had looked a potential star when winning both his races at two, and as Newmarket was his first appearance since last September improvement can be expected.
O’Brien, who is chasing an eighth success in the Irish fillies classic, has a pair of queens at the top of the market in Happily and Clemmie.
Happily finished third behind 66-1 shot Billesdon Brook at Newmarket and should confirm placings with Godolphin’s Soliloquy (sixth), but her form does not compare with that of stablemate CLEMMIE, who was one of the best two-year-old fillies in Europe last season, making it three wins from five starts when capturing the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.
Clemmie was winter favourite for the Guineas, but a setback in the spring meant the clock beat her, and even now O’Brien warns she won’t be cherry-ripe come Sunday and that he’ll “be happy if we finish in the frame”.
However, Aidan made similar pessimistic remarks about Saxon Warrior before our 2000 Guineas and we all know what happened then, so I’ll stick with the formbook which suggests Clemmie is out on her own.
O’Brien also plans to launch his exciting Australian recruit MERCHANT NAVY on Saturday in the Greenlands Stakes.
Merchant Navy has already bagged a Group 1 Down Under and is not far short of the best sprinters in the Southern Hemisphere, finishing an unlucky third in the prestigious Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in March.
O’Brien has been impressed with his work since he arrived in Ireland, and victory here would clinch Merchant Navy’s place on the Ballydoyle plane to Royal Ascot, where his target is the Diamond Jubilee on 23 June.
With only a one-hour difference between the UK and South Africa, I urge punters not to miss the evening meeting at Sandown on Thursday as it is overflowing with quality.
The Queen, who might find a few expensive bar bills from the younger members of the Royal family landing on the mat at Buckingham Palace following last Saturday’s wedding at Windsor Castle, will be looking to Fabricate to ease the financial pain in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes.
Fabricate was only just touched off by the smart Crystal Ocean over the course and distance in April, and the winner franked the form when winning again at Newbury last Saturday.
However, Sir Michael Stoute, who trains Crystal Ocean, might again prove Her Majesty’s nemesis as he has the rock-solid favourite in POET’S WORD, who chased home Cracksman in the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot last back-end and looked better than ever when returning in the Sheema Classic in Dubai on World Cup night, beating all but Coronation Cup-bound Hawkbill.
WITHOUT PAROLE, forced to miss the Guineas when he bruised a foot a few days before the race, might have too much class for Godolphin’s Symbolization in the Listed Heron Stakes, while recent Chester Cup winner MAGIC CIRCLE, who has been pencilled in for the Melbourne Cup, can take the leap from handicaps to Pattern company in his stride by winning the Group 3 Henry 11 Stakes.