THE test facing stablemates Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs, first and second respectively in York’s prestigious Dante Stakes, will not be greater when they line up in the Investec Epsom Derby – still the most celebrated contest in Flat racing.
For, while the Knavesmire is a galloping track on a level surface, Epsom’s unique undulations – there is a stiff uphill gallop before a rollercoaster descent down to the world-famous Tattenham Corner – takes three-year-old thoroughbreds into the unknown at a relatively early stage of their careers.
Two furlongs longer than the Dante, still the pre-eminent Derby trial, stamina is also at a premium at the end of the mile-and-a-half Classic where horses can easily lose balance on the camber of the Epsom Downs.
Yet, after both colts were put through their paces yesterday as part of Epsom’s ‘Breakfast with the Stars’ preview morning, trainer John Gosden was happy with how his horses handled the twists and turns ahead of their date with destiny on June 6.
There is the added intrigue of Golden Horn providing jockey Frankie Dettori with his best chance of a second win in the blue riband race after Authorized successfully completed the Dante and Derby double in 1997.
Even though he was on the runner-up Jack Hobbs at York, he is set to partner Golden Horn at Epsom after being reunited with the ever-thoughtful Gosden – the trainer who helped to mastermind the formative years of the Italian jockey’s career before he was snapped up by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation.
With Godolphin having purchased a share in Jack Hobbs, named after the England cricketing great, following the Dante, he will be ridden in the big race by Northern Racing College graduate William Buick who was aboard Golden Horn at York.
Given that both jockeys are world class, this switch is of secondary consideration to Gosden who is simply pleased to have two serious Derby contenders while others – most notably the prolific Aidan O’Brien – come to terms with the fact that their horses have still to show the kind of class demonstrated by Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs.
That said, Gosden – a Cambridge University economics graduate who served his own training apprenticeship with the Epsom maestro Vincent O’Brien – still only has one Derby win to his name, courtesy of 1997 hero Benny The Dip, and it is clear that nothing will be left to chance following yesterday’s reconnaissance mission.
“I was very happy with them. They relaxed well and moved well down the hill,” said Gosden.
“They are young horses and it was a good experience for them. It is a peculiar track and it is something that you can’t rehearse at home.
“It is about having the right horses. The worse thing for jockeys is being put on Formula 2 horses in Formula 1 races.
“I didn’t have to do much arm-twisting after the Dante as Golden Horn’s owner Anthony Oppenheimer likened the situation to a casino – he had won the money (in the Dante) and it was there on the table to supplement for the Derby.
“I wanted William to tell me today whether Jack Hobbs handled the hill and Tattenham Corner. He was very happy and with the ground too and, with similar ground, Jack Hobbs will run in the Derby.
“The ground quickened up a lot at York and he got stacked three wide which meant he did not have a very satisfactory run. He is a very nice horse but he is an unfinished horse, a lot rawer than Golden Horn.”
Buick had no complaints about his mount.
“I got ran away with! Jack Hobbs felt very comfortable on the track and we did not press any buttons today,” he said. “He is still learning but every step he takes he is going forward. He gave me a nice feel, handled the track and the ground which was perfect. All in all, I am very happy.”
The biggest threat could come from Andrew Balding’s Racing Post Trophy winner Elm Park who was third in the Dante – jockey Andrea Atzeni, a compatriot of Dettori, could not have been happier with yesterday’s gallop.
“I let him stretch his legs coming down the hill and he cruised to the front and quickened up well,” said the rider. “I think it’s good to bring him here as it gives them a good feel for the track, even though the pace will be different in the Derby and there will be more runners. The Dante was the best trial of the year. There were no unlucky stories and hopefully we can reverse the form on Derby day.”
The Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot is the likely next port of call for the Michael Dods-trained Easton Angel following her decisive success in the Hilary Needler Trophy at Beverley under in-form rider Paul Mulrennan.