Donn McClean: O'Brien's Sir Dragonet gives plenty to ponder as Derby looms

Derby trials are popping up all over to present a changing picture of prospects at Epsom.

Sir Dragonet, with Donnacha O'Brien, one the way to Chester Vase victory.
Sir Dragonet, with Donnacha O'Brien, one the way to Chester Vase victory.
Image: Martin Rickett

THERE ARE DERBY trials everywhere you look these days.

There was the Chester Vase for starters, at Chester on Wednesday.  They sent King Ottakar and Technician off as joint favourites for the race, but both were trumped by the Aidan O’Brien-trained duo, Sir Dragonet and Norway.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise.  Aidan O’Brien had been responsible for five of the previous six winners of the race, and for eight of the previous 12.  And he had had the 1-2-3 in 2017 and the 1-2 in 2016.  He had the 1-2 on Wednesday as well, although not in the order that the market predicted.

That said, while Norway was sent off at a shorter price than Sir Dragonet, the former was weak in the market, drifting from 7/2 to 9/2, whereas the latter was strong, shortening from an opening show of 8/1 to an SP of 13/2.

Sir Dragonet was strong through the race too. He travelled well in rear under a patient ride from Donnacha O’Brien and, when his rider gave him a squeeze, he picked up nicely, and he stayed on strongly up the home straight to come eight lengths clear of his rivals.

It wasn’t the first time that the Camelot colt had caused a mild surprise. He was allowed go off at 14/1 for his maiden at Tipperary on his racecourse debut, and he danced in. That was on 25th April, just two weeks before the Chester Vase.

The bookmakers initially said 7/1 Sir Dragonet for the Derby, although one or two said 8/1 and one brave soul said 10, perhaps influenced by the fact that he did not hold a Derby entry.  Those prices quickly dissolved, however, and by the end of the day, they were saying 9/2 and 5/1.  The following day they said 4/1, and now he sits at the top of the market and you will do well to get 7/2. 

You can understand Sir Dragonet’s strength in the Derby market.  Visually, he was seriously impressive in winning the Chester Vase, coming clear of a stable companion, last year’s Zetland Stakes winner, who had and still has Derby aspirations himself, with good horses strung out behind him.  And that was just his second race, just two weeks after he made his racecourse debut.  He will probably improve again.

We know that he stays the trip, and we know that he can operate at Chester, which is not wholly dissimilar to Epsom.  There is no Tattenham Corner at Chester, but there is a sharp, left-handed home turn, and there is razzamatazz and there are crowds on both sides of the track. 

Dubai Future Champions Festival - Day Two - Newmarket Racecourse Aidan O'Brien at Newmarket last year. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

There is precedent too. Aidan O’Brien won the Chester Vase in 2013 with Ruler Of The World, who went on and won the Derby, and he won the Chester Vase in 2011 with Treasure Beach, who was beaten a head by Pour Moi at Epsom before going to The Curragh and winning the Irish Derby.  Sir Dragonet deserves his place at the top of the Derby market, and it will be surprising if connections do not pay the supplementary entry fee to put him into the race.

That said, it is not as though Sir Dragonet’s connections will be short-staffed in the Derby. Which is not surprising.  Aidan O’Brien has trained the winner of the Derby six times.  One more and he joins the joint all-time best Robert Robson and John Porter and Fred Darling on seven.

And Ballydoyle have dominated the trials this year so far.  The day after Sir Dragonet won the Chester Vase, Circus Maximus went to Chester and won the Dee Stakes.  The Galileo colt wasn’t as visually impressive as his stable companion had been the previous day, but it always looked like he and Ryan Moore were in control, and he kept on well.  Third behind Persian King and Magna Grecia in the Autumn Stakes last October, he could be a little under the Derby radar. 

Anthony Van Dyck was impressive in winning the Lingfield Derby Trial on Saturday, and Broome was impressive in winning the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown on Sunday.  The Australia colt was well suited by the strong pace and, just as he had in the Ballysax Stakes at the same venue last month, he stayed on strongly to get the better of pace-setters Blenheim Palace and Sovereign.  Beaten just a neck by Royal Marine in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp last October, he races like he will improve for a step up to a mile and a half at Epsom.

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But the Derby trials haven’t been all about Ballydoyle.  Bangkok was impressive in winning the Sandown Classic Trial last month.  Held up in rear that day by Silvestre de Sousa, Andrew Balding’s colt travelled well into the home straight and, when his rider angled him to the outside, he moved forward nicely, and he showed an impressive turn of foot to settle the race. 

You wouldn’t have said that the King Power colt was crying out for a step up from that 10-furlong trip to a mile and a half on the visual evidence of that display, but he is bred for it.  He is by Australia out of a Darshaan mare who won over 10 furlongs and he is a half-brother to Tactic, who won the Group 3 Curragh Cup over a mile and six furlongs. 

Bangkok only beat Technician by just over a length, and Technician was well beaten by Sir Dragonet in the Chester Vase, and he looked a little unlucky at Sandown, he met traffic in-running and then stayed on nicely once in the clear.  However, he couldn’t match Bangkok’s turn of foot and, if Silvestre de Sousa can wait another two furlongs before asking his horse for his finishing kick at Epsom, that would make him an interesting Derby contender.

There is also the Godolphin colt Line Of Duty, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last November, while Madhmoon would be interesting if he took his chance.  Kevin Prendergast’s colt ran a big race to finish fourth in the Guineas, shaping as if he would improve for stepping up at least a little in trip.

Dubai Future Champions Festival - Day Two - Newmarket Racecourse File photo: Too Darn Hot after winning at Newmarket last year. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

And there is another significant Derby trial at York this week, the Dante, in which it looks like the John Gosden-trained Too Darn Hot, last year’s Champagne Stakes winner, last year’s Dewhurst Stakes winner, unbeaten in four, looks set to go head-to-head with another Aidan O’Brien-trained colt, Japan, last year’s Beresford Stakes winner.  Line Of Duty could line up in the Dante too, as could Surfman and Telecaster.  The Derby market could be in for another shake up on Thursday afternoon.

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Donn McClean

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