Derby Festival preview – Four feature races with expert picks
This is our 2021 Derby Festival preview including the Epsom Oaks and Epsom Derby with picks from Horsebetting.com experts. The action takes place over two days, this Friday and Saturday, with one Classic headlining the respective cards. See who gets the vote from the Group 1 action on Epsom Downs!
Coronation Cup preview – Al Aasy appeals for hat-trick
The first of three Group 1s at the Derby Festival is the 1m 4f Coronation Cup on Friday (15:10). AL AASY has barely had to get out of second gear in winning both starts, so looks a worthy favourite. Trained by William Haggas and sporting the Shadwell silks, the four-year-old son of Sea The Stars landed consecutive Group 3s at Newbury this term.
The owners’ retained rider Jim Crowley has never looked like getting serious on Al Aasy, who remains open to further progress. His main market rivals are Aidan O’Brien trained brothers Japan and Mogul. Both have had their fair share of disappointments on the track, however.
Al Aasy is the in-form horse with last year’s Great Voltigeur winner Pyledriver yet to prove himself at the highest level. The colts concede weight to Ralph Beckett filly Albaflora, who did land a Listed contest at Ascot impressively. This demands a whole lot more, though.
It is hard to look past Al Aasy on current form, Mogul’s best performances have come outside the British Isles. Japan did make a winning reappearance at Chester in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes, but this is tougher. Al Aasy is therefore the pick at 6/5 with 888sport and a number of other bookies.
Epsom Oaks preview – Santa Barbara must progress from Guineas greenness
The big race on day of the Derby Festival is of course the 1m 4f Epsom Oaks (16:30), and Santa Barbara heads the betting. She has had just two starts for Aidan O’Brien, winning a maiden and then finishing fourth in the 1000 Guineas. Santa Barbara ran so green on the Rowley Mile that she needs to have learned plenty in the meantime. Odds of 11/4 with William Hill about her reflect that.
I was really taken by SNOWFALL, the stable companion of the favourite, at York. She made all the running in the Group 3 Musidora Stakes and ran on in such a way that an extra furlong-and-a-half shouldn’t be a problem. The standout 6/1 with Unibet looks a bit of value for Snowfall, if punters take against Santa Barbara and her potential.
There was also lots to like about DUBAI FOUNTAIN in the Cheshire Oaks. Mark Johnston’s front-running type may end up taking Snowfall on for the lead. I am slightly worried about the pair cutting each other’s throats and setting the race up for a closer. However, there is no denying the 12/1 with Boylesports, who pay four places on The Oaks, about Dubai Fountain looks great each-way value.
Teona and Zeyaadah were in-behind Snowfall and Dubai Fountain respectively last time out. Both could progress, and the latter didn’t get the clearest of passages at Chester. The pair are priced on making improvement, though. While it would be no surprise if either or both hit the frame, I think the value lies elsewhere.
Diomed Stakes preview – Maximal has plenty in his favour
In the extended 1m Group 3 Diomed Stakes on Saturday (15:10), MAXIMAL is an interesting runner. The sole three-year-old in the line-up tackles his elders for three-time race winning trainer Sir Michael Stoute. As the last of those successes came two years ago when this event was last held on Epsom Downs, and the yard comes into the Derby Festival in decent nick, this Juddmonte owned Galileo colt could go one better now dropped back in trip.
Maximal chased home subsequent 2000 Guineas sixth One Ruler on his second career at Sandown last August. When stepped up to a mile at the same venue on his next outing, he bolted up by five lengths. He then found soft ground against him when again behind his old rival in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarketon his final outing as a juvenile.
The Stoute stable has a reputation for gradual improvement in their horses as they age. Maximal has two seconds this season, behind Godolphin’s Epsom Derby contender Hurricane Lane and then El Drama in a Listed contest at Chester, over further. He was only beaten a length on both occasions, so a strongly run race down in distance should suit.
If running up to his official rating of 107, then Maximal is 5lb and upwards clear of the field on adjusted figures. He gets 12lb weight-for-age from all bar one rival, so race terms definitely favour him. On that basis, and now back on a sound surface, Maximal looks value at 4/1 with Coral to win again.
Epsom Derby preview – Case against Bolshoi Ballet exists
On the face of it, the feature 1m 4f Epsom Derby (16:30) is all about Bolshoi Ballet. He has won both starts this season, each a recognised trial for this race in Ireland. Master trainer Aidan O’Brien also withdrew all other entries for the race. That is a huge vote of confidence. “The Lads” of owner-breeders Coolmore who back Ballydoyle have other targets for their three-year-old colts.
That doesn’t make Bolshoi Ballet a good thing, however. While there is no knocking his victories in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes and following-up under a penalty in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, all three of his career wins have been at Leopardstown. Away from that happy hunting ground, Bolshoi Ballet has never known victory. His two starts in the UK and France have seen him beaten.
It is a hole in his profile that may be enough to suggest that 5/4 with Betfair really isn’t a value bet. I really fancied High Definition from the O’Brien crop, so have done my money on him after backing him last autumn prior to his Beresford Stakes success. It’s the Irish Derby for him, however, and back to the drawing board for me. Many of the British hopes look much of a muchness.
HURRICANE LANE showed a very game attitude when finding plenty for pressure and staying on well with victory in the Group 2 Dante Stakes. That is another recognised trial for this race. As one of three Godolphin runners in the field, Hurricane Lane is unbeaten in as many starts. Without re-opposing rivals from York, the 9/1 with Betfred, who pay four places, looks a great each-way bet for a colt with plenty of stamina in his pedigree.
Mac Swiney needs rain, Southern Lights overpriced
There is a Classic winner in the Epsom Derby line-up in Mac Swiney. Trained in Ireland by Jim Bolger, the New Approach colt took the Irish 2000 Guineas after finishing in-behind Bolshoi Ballet on reappearance. The problem with Mac Swiney, who also landed the Group 1 Doncaster Futurity Trophy last autumn, is all his best form is with cut in the ground.
Some 48 hours before the Epsom Derby when I wrote this, the going is good to firm in places. His sire may have acted on sounder surfaces, but Mac Swiney has yet to put his best forward on them. Odds of 8/1 with BetVictor another firm paying four places, come with caution.
After re-watching the Derrinstown, SOUTHERN LIGHTS caught my eye. He came to throw down a challenge along the outside rail at Leopardstown for Joseph O’Brien only to find no way through. There was a wall of horses between him and Bolshoi Ballet, so jockey Declan McDonogh eased him. Southern Lights thus shaped better than a finishing position of sixth suggests.
The form of his Leopardstown maiden win has since been franked by the runner-up, Hell Bent. Granted a clear run and better luck on this step up in trip and grade, Southern Light could outrun odds of 22/1 with William Hill, who also pay on the first four home.