OISIN MURPHY has already enjoyed some memorable moments in the saddle on Roaring Lion – and some challenging days.
However, he can now contemplate a dream ride in next month’s Epsom Derby after landing York’s Dante Stakes on Thursday.
Ten winners of the Dante, a race which honours Yorkshire’s last Derby winner, have gone on to land Epsom’s blue riband race.
Not only did the step up in trip to 10 furlongs bring out the best in the John Gosden-trained winner, but it franked the form of Derby favourite Saxon Warrior.
After all, Roaring Lion – owned by Qatar Racing – looked set to win last year’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster before being caught late on by Aidan O’Brien’s champion.
And, when the pair reopposed in the 2000 Guineas earlier this month, Saxon Warrior prevailed with Murphy’s mount a creditable fifth after a disappointing reappearance in Newmarket’s Greenham Stakes that prompted many to write the grey off prematurely.
On this evidence, Roaring Lion appears to have the stamina for Epsom’s supreme one-and-a-half-mile test – the question will be whether the grey can handle the undulating track’s unique twists and turns. Connections will consider their options closely – a viable alternative is the French Derby over 10 furlongs.
“He relaxed very well and picked up like a smashing horse,” said 22-year-old Murphy, who is becoming a consummate horseman and tactician. “His form was very strong, he’s very exciting and hopefully he can build on this.”
Mark Johnston’s Mildenberger cut out most of the running under James Doyle in Thursday’s Dante before the Middleham horse tried to kick clear in the home straight. Yet, as the field spread out across the track, it was Roaring Lion who surged clear to win by four-and-a-half lengths from Mildenberger who looks a St Leger horse in the making. Tim Easterby’s Well Farhh Go was back in sixth for the Great Habton trainer.
It was Roaring Lion’s temperament that most satisfied Gosden who completed the Dante-Derby double with Authorized in 2007 and Golden Horn in 2015.
“I liked the way he hit the line strong. He’s galloped out well,” he said. “I think it only pays an enormous compliment to Saxon Warrior, who beat us by a neck in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster and was imperious in the Guineas.
“He’s a lovely horse, but he’s a playboy. He’s inclined not to concentrate sometimes. I liked the way he came between horses and went away and won and he didn’t do any of his silly hanging left and playing around. He’s always been a right old Jack the Lad at home, but professionally he’s got in the zone recently. Between ourselves I was expecting a performance like that. I would have been disappointed if he didn’t give it.”
Asked about the Derby, Gosden said: “If he’s in great nick we’ll make a decision about which race to go for (Epsom or French Derby). We’ll discuss it with the owner and the manager and the jockey – it’s a wonderful decision to have to make. Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion) are the two nicest colts in Europe.”
News and cards: Pages 21-22