A colt carrying blue colours stormed clear in the Derby Trial here on Saturday, but it was Best Solution, in the royal blue of Godolphin, that crossed the line more than three lengths to the good – and not the 5-4 favourite, Sir John Lavery, in the dark navy of the Coolmore syndicate. Best Solution did all that could be expected of a Classic trial winner, but this was his third success in nine starts and he remains a double-figure price for the Derby, in a market that is crying out for a clear favourite.
The Dante Stakes at York on Thursday is the one significant Derby trial that remains and John Gosden’s Cracksman, the narrow winner of Epsom’s own Derby Trial in April and the 7-1 third favourite for the Classic on 3 June, is expected to go to post on the Knavesmire. Churchill, the 2,000 Guineas winner, is also still a possible runner and would presumably be the choice of Ryan Moore if he goes to Epsom.
But this could well be one of those open years when the Derby betting looks more like a handicap’s – a year, in other words, when a horse like Best Solution could yet prove to be up to the task. Saeed bin Suroor’s colt ran poorly in two starts on Meydan’s dirt surface, but he finished a close second in the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud over 10 furlongs in October and improved for another furlong-and-a-half here.
Best Solution also travelled well on the downhill run towards the home turn, which is a fair primer for the descent to Tattenham Corner next month. Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin’s founder, will have the final say, but the colt’s trainer seems confident he will be in the field on Derby day.
“He’s entered in the English and Irish Derbys,” Suroor said. “He’s improving all the time and I’m sure he’ll improve for this race too.
“The way he works in the morning, he’s shown that he is a mile-and-a-half horse. The Irish Derby is another possibility for him, but it’s more likely he will run in the English Derby. We also have Benbatl [third home in the Craven Stakes] who will run in the Dante.
“It wasn’t an easy race but he won it really well, and he showed class for the future, and I think he’s a horse that will handle Epsom.”
Aidan O’Brien’s run of success in Derby trials came to an abrupt halt as Sir John Lavery was slowly away and struggled to make ground on the leaders from early in the straight. O’Brien is also likely to field at least one runner in the Dante, but it is not a race that Ballydoyle often uses for its main Classic candidates and the trainer’s son Joseph may have a stronger candidate for York in Rekindling, the winner of the Ballysax Stakes last month.
Godolphin expects to send five colts for the Dante, including Permian, who runs in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Godolphin founder’s son.
“I’m delighted with the way Best Solution has run, he’s an exciting horse and we’ll see what we do, but we don’t need to make any decision until after the Dante,” John Ferguson, Godolphin’s chief executive, said.
“I think we’ll run five [in the Dante]. It makes sense because they’re with five different trainers. Wolf Country, who won in Paris, and I think he’ll step up on that. We’ve got Syphax, who was second at Newcastle and won the Acomb, he’s with Kevin Ryan. We’ve got Benbatl who was third in the Craven; Swiss Storm, David Elsworth’s horse, and we’ve got Permian with that very good form from Epsom behind Cracksman and then goes on and wins the Newmarket Stakes really well.
“You can use the Dante to sort out where you go with these horses. We need to put the best horses in the best races.”
The favourite was a disappointment in the Lingfield card’s Oaks Trial too. The Sky Is Blazing finished a distant third behind John Gosden’s Hertford Dancer, who failed to win a handicap off a mark of 72 on her previous start.
Hertford Dancer appreciated the step up in trip, but Gosden already has leading Oaks contenders in Shutter Speed and Enable, and sees no need to supplement Hertford Dancer for the Classic. “That would be like giving the money away,” Gosden said.
William Haggas came close to a cross-Channel double, winning Ascot’s Victoria Cup with the Josephine Gordon-ridden Fastnet Tempest and taking second place in the French 1,000 Guineas with Sea Of Grace. Haggas, who was at Deauville, said he had briefly thought his filly was going to win the Classic but she was caught close home by the Olivier Peslier-ridden outsider Precieuse.
It was a major improvement on the form shown by Sea Of Grace when fifth in the Nell Gwyn last month, her first outing since leaving John Oxx’s care.
Haggas said: “She ran a very good race, I’m very pleased with her. She eradicated that run at Newmarket and she’s come forward as we thought she had. She travelled well and she came from a bit far back but we wanted to settle her. They didn’t really go as fast as I hoped they would. She stayed on really well and came to give us a shout.”
Sea Of Grace will now be aimed at the Irish 1,000 Guineas on 28 May. Haggas takes aim at another French Classic on Sunday when Rivet runs in the 2,000 Guineas. The colt is part-owned by his father-in-law, Lester Piggott.
Greg Wood’s tips for Sunday
2.00 Azzuri 2.30 Rouge Devils 3.00 Beau Du Brizais (nap) 3.30 Wishfull Dreaming 4.00 Noche De Reyes 4.30 Monkey Puzzle 5.00 Dandy Dan
2.15 Jackblack 2.45 Lime Street 3.15 Flugzeug 3.45 Too Many Diamonds 4.15 Sunnytahliateigan (nb) 4.45 Gores Island 5.15 Cintex