It’s Derby day in more ways than one this coming Saturday. The big City vs United FA Cup Final clash may take centre stage on the football front, but over at Epsom, we have the biggest race of the British Flat season, as 14 talented colts line up for the 2023 edition of the Derby.
The second colt’s Classic of the season – this year at the earlier time of 1:30pm – takes centre stage, but in a real treat for racing fans, the ITV cameras will be there to screen the entire Epsom card. Here we pick out our best bets in each of the eight races on offer, in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
12:50 Betfred Diomed Stakes
Group 3, 1m½f
The Godolphin runner Highland Avenue is out on his own at the head of the betting in the opener, following his third-placed effort behind Adayar last time out. This son of Dubawi possesses plenty of ability but is now without a win in seven starts and doesn’t look the easiest of rides. At around the 5/4 mark, he’s too short for our liking.
Deciding which horse to take the jolly on with is no easy task. Marie’s Diamond has loads to find on ratings, Imperial Fighter hasn’t beaten a rival in two starts this term, Regal Reality was nine lengths behind the favourite last time out, and Kolsai steps into Group 3 company having been beaten in a Class 2 event.
Therefore, by a process of elimination, it is the David O’Meara-trained nine-year-old Escobar who gets the each-way vote. Whilst not as good as he was in his heyday, he did take a step back in the right direction when a staying on fourth in a Listed Class event over 7f last time out. In what looks like a weak race for the grade, it would be no surprise to see him go close.
1:30 Betfred Derby
Group 1, 1m4f
Not long to wait for the day’s headline act, with the FA Cup Final seeing the Derby pushed forward to become the second race on the card. Auguste Rodin heads the betting in what looks a wide-open renewal and looks a fair price on his juvenile form, but a terrible price if judged on his 12th-placed effort in the Guineas. Nicely bred and hailing from the powerful Aidan O’Brien operation, he may well bounce back, but a leap of faith is required to back him.
Also prominent in the market is the John & Thady Gosden-trained Arrest, who bids to give Frankie Dettori a third Derby success in what will be his final ride in the race. Highly impressive in the Chester Vase, he boasts strong form claims but has shown his best form on softer ground and will be facing vastly different conditions here.
The unbeaten Artistic Star, and Dee Stakes winner San Antonio are worth considering at big prices, but the most solid option is Charlie Appleby’s Military Order. Going in the Godolphin blue, this one is a full brother to 2021 Derby champ Adayar and is following a similar path into the race, having landed the Lingfield Derby Trial. Versatile regarding underfoot conditions, we loved the way he found more once challenged to win his trial with something to spare, and he is unlikely to go down without a fight under William Buick.
2:10 Princess Elizabeth Stakes
Group 3, 1m½f
Back to the extended mile trip in race 3, for what is effectively the fillies’ and mares’ version of the opening contest. Sir Michael Stoute’s Potapova finished second in this 12 months ago and appears to boast sound claims of going one better. However, she looks a little risky, having been pulled up with an irregular heartbeat last time out. Roman Mist and Astral Beau arrive in better form, but may not find the quick ground to their liking – a comment which also applies to outsider, Random Harvest.
John & Thady Gosden’s Shaara is a possible fly in the ointment, but overall we feel the market has this right in rating Ralph Beckett’s Prosperous Voyage as the one they all have to beat. A narrow second in last season’s 1000 Guineas, she then grabbed a Group 1 success when stunning 1/7 favourite Inspiral in the Falmouth Stakes. Ignore her effort last time out at Newmarket, as she simply hated the soft ground that day. Back under much more suitable conditions here, and with Dettori in the saddle, she is fancied to get back on track.
2:45 Aston Martin 3YO “Dash” Handicap
Class 3, 5f
The three-year-olds get their chance to tackle one of the fastest 5f in the sport in the opening handicap of the day, in what looks a typically competitive affair. JM Jungle heads the betting, having finished a solid second in a similar event at York. He’s up another 4lbs for that effort but may be suited by the quicker track and can’t be dismissed.
Last time out winners, Estate, Can To Can, and Grace Angel boast sound claims, whilst Richard Fahey’s potential improver, Minnesota Lad, makes some each-way appeal at a big price. However, the one for us is the unexposed Russet Gold.
Making only his fifth career start here, this one’s only previous outing under these conditions resulted in his only success to date at Pontefract. Rounding off his juvenile campaign with a decent third on ground softer than ideal at York, he makes his seasonal return here on his first start since a gelding op. With Harry Davies taking off a handy 3lb in the saddle, he may take a big step forward.
3:20 Aston Martin “Dash” Handicap
Class 2, 5f
We stick to the same course and distance in this next event, but this time it’s the turn of the older performers to make their dash for the line. Live In The Moment showed plenty of pace when only mown down close home over 6f at Doncaster and makes obvious appeal on current form. On the downside, he was beaten by over 5l in the 2022 edition of this, and is only 3lb lower here.
Previous form at the track can count for plenty here, bringing last season’s runner-up Mountain Peak and 2021 winner Mokaatil into the equation, but overall the one we like best is the Harry Eustace runner, Ancient Times.
A perfect one from one at the track, three of his five career wins have come in double-figure fields, which augurs well for his ability to handle the hustle and bustle of this. With Kaiya Fraser taking off a valuable 7lbs, this prominent racer looks good value to at least make the frame.
3:55 Betfred Lester Piggott Handicap
Class 2, 1m2f
Torito immediately catches the eye from towards the head of the weights, having finished a decent second to Derby-hopeful Artistic Star last time out. If able to replicate that effort, he looks the one to beat. However, that performance came on good to soft, and given his high knee action, he may not be as effective under these quicker conditions.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Fox Journey makes the most appeal from those available at a single-figure price, but the one who may have been overlooked in the market is Richard Hannon’s Forca Timao. Beaten at Listed level on his seasonal return – when looking in need of the run – he then ran a cracker to go down by just 1½l when finishing fifth in what looked an excellent edition of the London Gold Cup. At a double-figure price, he looks worth backing to go at least a couple of places better in this.
4:30 Rio Ferdinand Foundation Northern Dancer Handicap
Class 2, 1m4f
Back over the Derby course and distance for the penultimate race of the day, but this time down into handicapping company. A decent case can be made for a fair few of these, including Haliphon, who finished a close second in the race 12 months ago, Max Mayhem, who won well on the All-Weather last time out, and Sea King, who has conditions to suit but will need to find some improvement for the application of first-time cheekpieces.
Overall, the two to concentrate on are course and distance winners Scampi and Caius Chorister, with narrow preference for the former. Unsuited by the soft ground on his first outing of the season, he took a big step forward from that when winning over this trip at York – travelling smoothly just off the pace before quickly putting the race to bed. He’s up 6lb but looked good value for more than the winning margin that day, and can follow up with Hayley Turner once again in the hot seat.
5:05 JRA Tokyo Trophy Handicap
Class 2, 6f
John Quinn’s Mr Wagyu returns to defend his crown in the finale and duly heads the betting. His poor recent form isn’t too much of a concern, as he had shown little headed into the race 12 months ago, but he does have a 4lb higher mark to contend with this time around. Probe is another for the shortlist following his win at York, but needs to prove he can repeat that level under quicker conditions. Many A Star, meanwhile, started favourite for this in 2022 but is around four times the price here despite a 2lb lower mark. If breaking better than last year, he could go well.
Overall, this contest doesn’t have an obvious standout contender to our eyes. As such, it may be worth taking a small each-way chance on one at a huge price. The veteran Venturous is tempting, having hinted at a revival last time out, but the one to get the vote is Count Otto from the Amanda Perret yard.
He’s a little in and out these days but showed the ability remains when scoring at Lingfield two starts back, and gets in here 8lbs below his most recent turf winning mark. The final seal of approval is drawn from his form figures over the course and distance, with his two previous outings yielding a win and a second-place finish.