The Derby 2015: Frankie's back to spice up flat racing's Classic
Last updated on .From the section Horse Racing
|Investec Derby 2015|
|Friday: Ladies' Day including the Oaks (16:30 BST). BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra|
|Saturday: The Derby (16:30). Full coverage on BBC Radio 5 live|
Frankie Dettori's presence in the Derby line-up for the first time in four years, and on the hot favourite Golden Horn to boot, is a huge plus for the 236th staging of flat racing's historic premier Classic.
Dettori, who looks for his second success - after Authorized in 2007 - on his 20th Derby mount, has been absent because of the lack of opportunities combined with a six-month drugs-related ban which ended only on the eve of the 2013 race.
And he's been much-missed.
Released by new employer Al Shaqab Racing in order to ride the Anthony Oppenheimer-owned Golden Horn, Dettori brings with him the broad smile and distinctive voice that blend with brilliant talents in the saddle to ensure he's the most famous flat-race jockey in Britain.
I don't known about Golden Horn, but on a sporting weekend which also includes the climax of football's Champions League, Ireland against England, a Grand Prix in Canada and the French Open tennis finals, the kind of profile Dettori provides for flat racing is gold dust.
John Gosden: two bright chances to hit the rest for six
With both Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs under his care, trainer John Gosden finds himself overseeing the strongest of Derby challenges.
And it's no surprise that the famously unflappable Gosden, successful in 1997 with Benny The Dip, has taken most of the inevitable pressures of preparing two of the race's star names comfortably in his long stride.
However, even he admits to feeling stress over the frenetic efforts to buy Jack Hobbs during the build-up which ended finally in May with 50% being sold to Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation by the colt's three original owners, who include the trainer's wife Rachel.
"He won [first time out] on 27 December at Wolverhampton," he said, "and the bids came strong afterwards. I couldn't believe a bid from Australia on 28 December, you don't expect that in the winter.
"And then when he won [his second ever race] at Sandown, the whole world was after him and I found that quite stressful to train a horse who's getting that kind of attention, so I was glad when something was done.
"I was getting quite annoyed with the whole process, the phone virtually never stopped ringing. It was a distraction for me and you don't need that when you're training."
At least there was never been any doubt about Anthony Oppenheimer's ownership of Golden Horn.
The winner of three races from as many starts - including an emphatic defeat of Jack Hobbs in York's ever-informative Dante Stakes, won by Benny The Dip too - was also bred by the former head of the De Beers diamond empire at the family's Hascombe and Valiant Studs near Newmarket.
Because of reservations about the colt's stamina over the mile-and-a-half distance, Oppenheimer had made the decision not to make a Derby entry so he's had to pay a £75,000 supplementary entry fee.
No old-fashioned British owner/breeder - the sort of flat racing grandee that was once the sport's backbone - has won the premier Classic since Louis Freedman took the trophy with the Henry Cecil-trained, Steve Cauthen-ridden Reference Point in 1987.
Ending that famine would be seen as of particular significance for the thoroughbred breeding industry.
Andrea Atzeni: looking to park his rivals
It's a measure of how far Elm Park's rising star jockey Andrea Atzeni has come since arriving in Britain as a raw 15-year-old speaking little English that a throwaway line sent the big-race betting into overdrive.
Like Dettori, Italian by birth, Atzeni, now 24 and first-choice rider for Qatar Racing, Elm Park's powerful owner, was asked whether he'd still partner the Group One winner if his employer made any high quality late entries.
Put on the spot, and sitting next to QR's frontman Sheikh Fahad al Thani, Atzeni initially hesitated before mumbling something about having "to think about it".
To my ear it was simply a polite, off-the-cuff answer but bookmakers saw it as a lack of confidence in the Andrew Balding-trained colt and immediately acted to lengthen his odds.
As it turned out, there were no late entries by Qatar Racing - though up to three horses will race in their silks - and Atzeni will indeed be on board Elm Park, an encouraging third behind Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs in the Dante Stakes.
Initial nerves about the unusual course, which snakes its way across the downs at Epsom, were lifted when Atzeni made his Derby debut in 2014 on subsequent St Leger winner Kingston Hill.
They finished a highly creditable runner-up behind Australia, and the jockey said: "The Derby's the Derby and I had a great ride, he gave me a great spin, and it's good to be back here this year so I pretty much know what could happen in the Derby.
"The Dante was a good run in the best trial. He was beaten by two good horses, but don't forget they'd both had a run this year, and it was my fellow's first run back, and he was entitled to get tired. It will have put him spot on for the Derby."
How strong are Coolmore/Aidan O'Brien as they seek to continue dominance?
The stats are pretty stark: no British-trained horse has won the Derby since Sir Michael Stoute's Workforce broke the track record in 2010.
In the subsequent four runnings, the 'home team' has been forced to sit and watch as a quartet of colts owned by the Irish-based Coolmore partners landed the spoils, one trained in France but the last three from the Ballydoyle, County Tipperary stables of Aidan O'Brien.
|Derby winners 2010-2014|
|2010||Workforce||Ryan Moore||Sir Michael Stoute|
|2011||Pour Moi||Mickael Barzalona||Andre Fabre|
|2012||Camelot||Joseph O'Brien||Aiden O'Brien|
|2013||Ruler of the World||Ryan Moore||Aiden O'Brien|
|2014||Australia||Joseph O'Brien||Aiden O'Brien|
As he attempts to extend the unprecedented sequences for himself and for Coolmore, O'Brien saddles Hans Holbein, striking winner of the Chester Vase, Kilimanjaro, successful in the Lingfield Derby Trial, and Giovanni Canaletto, who was beaten in his prep race at The Curragh.
However, the news that Giovanni Canaletto, brother of 2013 victor Ruler Of The World, is to be ridden by Coolmore's first-choice jockey Ryan Moore, has sparked a gamble on him.
Perceived wisdom is that all three may be up against it though the champion Irish flat trainer's Derby record - 18 in the first four from 59 runners - is clearly formidable, especially with Moore, dubbed the 'best jockey in the world', and riding like it, on his side.
In all, O'Brien's won an impressive five Derbies to date, though he still has ground to make up on record-holders Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling, all of whom landed seven during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively.
Another of those Success Days for Condon?
There's little doubt that the Ken Condon-trained Success Days is the contender most in danger of being under-estimated, not least because he's from an Irish stable with an infinitely lower profile than those of Aidan O'Brien or Dermot Weld.
But, actually, Condon, who's sent the grey-coloured colt - no grey's won since Airborne in 1946 - to Leopardstown for victories in the important Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Stud Trial is no stranger to the Derby picture.
Prior to setting up by himself in 2002, Condon spent five years working for master-trainer John Oxx, during which time the Oxx team took the millennium staging of the Classic with Sinndar.
The subsequent seasons have proved topsy-turvy with the winners countered by a bruising period when the Celtic Tiger stopped roaring and the recession hit the number of horses with which he was entrusted.
Things are very different now, however, thanks to the unbeaten run this year of Success Days, who'll be ridden again at Epsom by Shane Foley, though, intriguingly, all the wins have been achieved on soft or heavy going.
Condon and Foley admit they have no idea how the horse will deal with drier conditions, but, emboldened by the recent purple patch, owner Robert Ng has agreed to pay the £75,000 late-entry fee.
If he is able to put his best foot forward, it may well be that Ken Condon is a lesser-known Irish training name no longer.
The name game…
It's meant to be the Grand National where punters pick a good or appropriate name to follow, but this year's Derby provides a particularly eclectic choice.
Two artists, a legendary Test cricketer, Africa's highest mountain and Reading FC's now defunct ground sound like they might all add up to the ingredients of a tall tale on Live at the Apollo.
But Hans Holbein and Giovanni Canaletto, named by the Coolmore team after the eponymous painters, join Jack Hobbs, who shares his name with the late Surrey and England cricketer, plus Kilimanjaro and Elm Park in a Derby field that would appear to cater for occasional punters of a very broad range of tastes.
Hear all the build-up and the race commentary (16:30 BST) on Investec Derby day on Saturday 6 June on BBC Radio 5 live Sport, which is presented from Epsom.