Investec Derby 2017: 'It'll take more than a spin of a coin to sort this one out'

Epsom Derby 2016
About 100,000 racegoers are set to attend the two-day Epsom Derby
Investec Derby meeting
Dates: 2-3 June Big races: Oaks 16:30 BST on Friday, 2 June; Derby 16:30 BST on Saturday, 3 June
Coverage: Commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live; results and reports on BBC Sport website

It was, it can be argued, the most significant toss of a coin in British sporting history.

Regardless of the horse race that sprung from Lord Derby calling it right and winning that toss at Epsom in 1779, defeat would have had a much wider significance.

The event and its name are believed to be the root of the expression 'derby match', and it's worth considering that the loser was Sir Charles Bunbury.

You'll agree the 'Merseyside Bunbury' or the 'North London Bunbury' hardly have the same ring.

More than two centuries on from that coin toss to decide whose name the race should take, trainer John Gosden - who is due to have five runners in the 238th Derby, including big fancy Cracksman - marvels at what was created.

"It's a unique track," he says, staring out over the course as it snakes its way up, down and around the Surrey Downs barely 15 miles south west of central London.

"Obviously Bunbury and Derby had had a very good lunch when they came up here and pegged it out and flipped a coin.

"It's a very demanding track. You have to stay, you have to have great dexterity, agility, balance and a turn of foot comes in very handy.

"It is a proper test of a horse - you wouldn't necessarily design it as a track for anything other than a rigorous test of a three-year-old in the first week of June, and that's what it is."

Gosden, whose ever-powerful string based at Newmarket is the biggest threat to the prevailing dominance of Ireland's Aidan O'Brien, should know.

It's 20 years since he saddled Benny The Dip to win, and two since he masterminded Golden Horn's big-race success with Frankie Dettori riding in the silks of owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer.

Golden Horn, who by that point had won the regularly significant Dante Stakes at York, went on to stamp his authority on proceedings that season.

After Epsom, he galloped off with the Eclipse Stakes, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe before suffering one of just two defeats, at the Breeders' Cup fixture in Kentucky.

Cracksman represents the same owner-trainer-jockey combination, and comes to Epsom with two wins from two starts, the second at Epsom when narrowly beating fellow Derby hopeful - and this year's Dante winner - Permian.

"Cracksman is not a Golden Horn," Gosden told BBC Sport, "but he's a superior horse to Benny The Dip.

"He's still learning a lot, and when he came here and won the trial he grew up overnight, so we're excited."

Believing there is no standout in this year's Derby, worth a total of nearly £1.625m - a record, Gosden fields three more runners than ever before.

Pat Smullen riding Harzand win The Investec Derby at Epsom Racecourse in June 2016
The 2017 Derby at Epsom will be the richest race ever staged in Britain

Cracksman, who like fellow leading contender Eminent is a son of champion racehorse-turned-fledgling stallion Frankel, is joined by striking Goodwood winner Khalidi - added as a late entry, for £85,000 - plus three longer shots in Crowned Eagle, Glencadam Glory and Pealer.

A multitude of runners under a single, or near-single, banner is something of a feature of the 2017 staging of the world's best-known flat racing prize.

O'Brien - looking for a sixth win after Galileo, High Chaparral, Camelot, Ruler Of The World and Australia - saddles another formidable Coolmore-owned challenge.

Cliffs Of Moher, winner of the Dee Stakes at Chester, with Ryan Moore riding, leads six, ahead of well-supported Capri and Venice Beach. Douglas Macarthur, The Anvil - on which the trainer's apprentice jockey daughter Ana becomes the third female jockey to take part - and Wings Of Eagle make up the raiding party.

O'Brien's son Joseph, the jockey on board when Camelot and Australia were victorious but now training, saddles Rekindling.

Via his Godolphin operation and his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, owner Sheikh Mohammed is represented by Permian, Lingfield Trial winner Best Solution, once-raced Dubai Thunder and Benbatl, the Dante Stakes runner-up.

Strongly supported Eminent, sixth in the 2000 Guineas, trained by Martyn Meade and the mount of flat racing's champion jockey Jim Crowley, heads 'the rest'.

It does look genuinely wide open.

"We don't have any exceptional favourite standing out and frightening everyone away," said Gosden, whose father 'Towser' trained 1966 winner Charlottown as a two-year-old before ill health forced his own retirement.

"That's why we're winding up with a pretty big field. But I still think that the first three will be very, very good horses.

"The biggest problem is probably going to be for the jockeys getting around in a big field. You try riding around Epsom with so many other runners. It's not an easy job at all."

Food for thought for apprentice jockey Paddy Pilley, who replaces Gina Mangan - barred from taking part on safety grounds - on 1,000-1 outsider Diore Lia.

However, the presence of Diore Lia, the large field and the chance for Frankel to father a first European Classic winner gives the whole thing an intriguing narrative.

It'll take a lot more than a spin of a coin to sort out this one.