Epsom Derby PreviewAfter his victory in the 2,000 Guineas, the Aidan O’Brien trained colt Camelot is the hot favourite to land Epsom’s showpiece race, the Derby Stakes (best price 1.91, SportingBet). The 2012 renewal of the Derby is scheduled to take place on Saturday 2nd June and promises, as ever, to be a thrilling race. But will Camelot deliver the holy grail to connections?

Race History

The Derby Stakes, often referred to as the Epsom Derby, is for three year old colts and fillies. The race takes place at Epsom over 1m 4f 10y and has been contested since 1780. The first ever winner was a chestnut colt named Diomed, who was widely considered to be the best racehorse since the great Eclipse. These days, Diomed has a Group Three race named after him, which takes place at Epsom every year in June.

The race was devised at a celebration party to mark the inaugural running of the Oaks Stakes in 1779 and was named after Edward Smith-Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby. The Earl also had the honour of winning the first ever Derby Stakes, as he was the owner of Diomed.

The Derby has provided plenty of drama throughout its long history, and not all of it to do with horse racing itself. In 1913, suffragette Emily Davison was famously hit by the king’s horse Anmer, sustaining injuries that would see her die within a few days of the collision. Many theories exist as to exactly how the incident came about, with some believing that she was attempting to attach a flag of support for the suffragette movement to the horse by way of protest.

In recent years, the Derby has been won by some truly special horses. In 2009, the brilliant Sea The Stars completed a 2,000 Guineas and Derby double, while the following year, Workforce would break the track record at Epsom in landing the race by seven lengths. Will Camelot emulate the likes of Sea The Stars, or is there something else lurking amongst the 2012 Derby field, waiting to add their name to the history books?

Key Trends

As always, we will attempt to solve this year’s Derby Stakes puzzle by casting an eye over recent winners and attempting to identify any trends that might help us to thin out field.

Breeding
There are a few important trends concerning breeding to emerge from analysis of past Derby Stakes winners.

  • 10 of the last 10 Derby winners were born before April 7th
  • 10 of the last 10 winners were sired by a horse with a stamina index rating of at least 8.6
  • 9 of the last 10 Derby winners were sired by a Group One winner

Obviously, any horse that wins the Derby will be a classy sort, so we ought to be looking for a Group One winning sire, and preferably one with a proven record for producing offspring capable of staying. Furthermore, we should be looking to the more mature horses amongst the field.

Sires to watch out for in particular are Montjeu and Galileo, who have produced four Derby winners (and four places) between them from a total of 33 representatives.

Recent Form

  • 10 of the last ten Derby winners had finished in the first three in every race of their three year old season, prior to winning
  • 10 of the last ten Derby winners had run either once or twice in the season, ahead of the Derby
  • All of the last ten Derby winners had run a prep race in the past 35 days

These trends suggest that we should be looking for a race sharp horse, rather than anything coming back from a lengthy layoff, and preferably a horse that is used to finishing there or thereabouts in its races, rather than looking for a big improvement ahead of the Derby.

Ability

  • 9 of the last 10 Derby winners had already won a Group race in their career
  • All of the past 10 winners of the race had won at least half of their career starts
  • 9 of the last 10 Derby winners began their two year old career in a race over 7f or 8f

The one exception to the Group winners trend was Workforce, who finished second in the Dante and in all probability could have won that race but for a problem with the bit, which slipped through the horse’s mouth during the race.

Based on these trends, we clearly should be looking at horses with proven ability, rather than hoping for improvement, and similarly, we should be looking to horses that have followed the conventional starting point for a future Derby winner – a race over 7f or 8f – rather than shorter trips.

Summary

By applying the above trends to the 2012 Epsom Derby field, we are left with just three horses – Bonfire, Camelot and Kesampour.

The Mikel Delzangles trained Kesampour is very interesting, at a best price of 34.00 (SportingBet). The chestnut colt has lined up in four career races, winning all four – including the Group Two Prix Greffulhe, which was also won by last year’s Derby victor Pour Moi. However, all four of these races were at France’s Saint-Cloud racecourse and three were on extremely soft ground, which raises questions about how the colt might handle the Downs on quicker ground.

Camelot is the obvious choice to win the 2012 Derby, having won the 2,000 Guineas earlier in the year. His profile his excellent, having won all three of his career starts and being sired by Montjeu, but his best price of 1.91 (SportingBet) is prohibitive (the horse is as short as 1.72 with Bet365). I would almost always be reluctant to back a horse at odds on with almost two weeks to go until the race, when anything could happen between now and June 2nd, and would prefer to look elsewhere for a bit of value.

With that in mind, I am leaning towards Andrew Balding’s Bonfire as my tip for the 2012 Epsom Derby. The bay colt landed a strong looking Dante Stakes at York last week in decent style, pulling away in the final furlong despite jockey Jimmy Fortune reporting that the horse had begun to show signs of fatigue – not through any lack of stamina, but due to a lack of race sharpness, which Balding described as “very encouraging”.

The Dante Stakes is proving a really strong Derby trial in recent years, with the likes of North Light, Motivator and Authorized all having won both races in the past ten years, while Tartan Bearer won the Dante before finishing second in the Derby and Workforce, who only finished second in the Dante due to the aforementioned mishap with his bit, also went on to Derby glory.

Bonfire may be Andrew Balding’s first ever Derby runner, but I’m not concerned by that at all. Back in 2003, Balding saddled Casual Look in the Oaks – his first runner in the female only equivalent of the Derby – and she won the race.

Advice

In short, it’s very difficult indeed to look past Aidan O’Brien’s Camelot for the 2012 Derby, but it might pay to get on Bonfire Each-Way at a much healthier price.

The Epsom Derby
Saturday 2nd June 2012, 16:00

Bonfire (Each-Way) @ 7.00 (SportingBet)