Epsom Derby Preview: Expect Nelson to do more than just his duty

Meatloaf told us that two out of three ain’t bad, while at the opposite end of the musical spectrum De La Soul suggested that three is the magic number.

Epsom Derby Preview: Expect Nelson to do more than just his duty

Meatloaf told us that two out of three ain’t bad, while at the opposite end of the musical spectrum De La Soul suggested that three is the magic number.

However, Aidan O’Brien has trumped both with his entries for this year’s Derby; not content with saddling ante-post favourite Saxon Warrior Horseform, the Ballydoyle man could yet supplement his challenge with any (or all) of six other entries.

Nelson Picture:Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Recent 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior was unbeaten in three starts in 2017, adding wins in the Beresford Stakes at Naas and Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster (by a neck from Roaring Lion, battling back to lead again final 100 yards) to a maiden win at the Curragh. He retained his unbeaten record, despite not looking fully wound up beforehand, on his reappearance last month at Newmarket, his performance auguring really well for the summer ahead. He has better credentials than most Guineas' winners to follow up with a second classic success at Epsom…read his post-race report, and it’s hard to disagree.

Saxon Warrior
Saxon Warrior Picture:Pat Healy Photography

Are there any doubts around this half-mile longer trip? Not according to his pedigree, being a son of the top-class Deep Impact who won at up to two miles, while Saxon Warrior’s dam Maybe (by Galileo) was beaten less than four lengths when fifth in the 2012 Oaks.

Nor according to his run style; he found plenty in the closing stages at Newmarket, despite kicking for home some way out. The only question may be if the race takes place on quick ground – which he is yet to encounter – though, again, both his parents were winners on a faster surface.

Saxon Warrior is not bomb-proof, and his current price of 6/4-on looks short enough, but his chance is obvious and compelling, even more so when considering his Guineas rating of 126 was the best performance by a Derby favourite since Dawn Approach failed to stay in 2013.

Ballydoyle contingent

Less obvious, though sticking with the loose musical theme, is Nelson. It’s more likely that he is named after the English admiral Horatio, or the former South African president Mandela, rather than the Country & Western star Willie, however he looks overpriced at 40/1, including with firms who are non-runner no-bet on the race.

He made all when beating Kew Gardens and Delano Roosevelt in a Group 3 at Leopardstown last September, before finishing a neck-second to Roaring Lion in the Royal Lodge at Newmarket later that month. He again beat Delano Roosevelt (and The Pentagon) when digging deep to win the Ballysax at Leopardstown on his reappearance in April, and was clearly not himself when only sixth behind that pair and winner Hazapour in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at the same course last time.

Nelson Horseform is worth forgiving that effort, with his pedigree strongly suggesting that the Derby could be ideal. He’s closely related to the 2016 runner-up US Army Ranger, and is out of the Irish Oaks winner Moonstone, so this step up in trip could see him in an even better light.

More than just a pacemaker who will do his duty for Saxon Warrior, Nelson has already run to a rating (115) which is 8 lb higher than US Army Ranger’s Chester Vase win and, having been ridden by Donnacha O’Brien to victory three times already, he could feasibly be the mount of a jockey keen to build on his 2000 Guineas success by emulating older brother Joseph, who won this race in 2012 and 2014.

Dante Stakes third Zabriskie Horseform and Rostropovich Horseform complete O’Brien’s entrants, the latter having improved when landing the Dee Stakes at Chester last time by three and three quarter lengths from My Lord And Master.

Family connections

The previously mentioned Hazapour is out of a half-sister to the horse that defeated US Army Ranger at Epsom – Harzand – and the Dermot Weld-trained colt put himself firmly in the Derby picture when winning the Derrinstown. He took a large step forward from his soft-ground juvenile form that day, impressing with every aspect of his performance, and his authority was probably somewhat masked by the steady gallop. While it may seem harsh on Declan McDonagh, with Pat Smullen on the sidelines, the booking of two-time Derby winner Frankie Dettori makes perfect sense; a big run is expected.

Craven clues

Roaring Lion won three times over a mile at two, and was also a neck second to Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. Having always shaped like a strong stayer, he was far from discredited (indeed, he matched his best form) when fifth in the 2000 Guineas, and he didn't need to improve to win a slowly-run Dante Stakes at York last time by four and a half lengths from Mildenberger, produced to lead over a furlong out and quickening clear impressively.

For all Roaring Lion shapes as if he will probably stay this longer trip, there are some doubts given the speed on the dam's side of his pedigree and the fact that the Dante was more of a test of speed than stamina; on balance, he looks opposable.

Guineas third Masar steps up in trip here, and like the majority in this field, is by a Derby winner (New Approach). Masar’s dam was a mile winner at two before winning the both the UAE Oaks and UAE Derby over 9.5f in the early months of her three-year-old season. Masar’s own experiences in Dubai were less enjoyable, failing to fire on dirt there in March, but he bounced back in style when making all in the Craven Stakes (Roaring Lion only third) at Newmarket in April and ran to a very similar level back there just over a fortnight later. He loves fast ground, should stay this longer trip, and rates a big danger to the latest batch of Coolmore Derby-winners-in-waiting.

Pascal’s theorem

French challenger Study Of Man won a four-runner Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud (beat the 108-rated Alounak by three and a half lengths, quickening to lead again under two furlongs out), while Young Rascal has taken big steps forwards since his debut second at Nottingham last season, much improved again when landing the Chester Vase last time by half a length from Dee Ex Bee, overcoming trouble and showing excellent attitude in the process; both are open to further improvement but will need to be in a race as competitive as this.

Other British contenders include Lingfield Derby Trial winner Knight To Behold (beat Kew Gardens by three and a quarter lengths), Sandown Classic Trial winner Sevenna Star and exciting Newbury maiden winner Al Muffrih. Of those, the most interesting could be Sevenna Star assuming the track receives enough rain; his dam won over a mile and three quarters and there could be plenty more improvement to come now he steps up in distance.


Saxon Warrior is clear on Timeform ratings and the ‘p’ attached to his figure suggests that better is still to come, but he makes little appeal at the current prices (though any drift on the day would make him much more appealing). Like many in the field, stablemate Nelson is bred to win a classic, but with few other obvious front-runners in the line-up over this longer trip, he could feasibly get the run of the race. He’s worth a small interest each-way – non-runner no-bet – at 40/1. Hazapour, priced around 16/1, is open to plenty of improvement over this longer trip and is another outsider who could surprise.

Recommended bet

Back Nelson each-way in the 2018 Epsom Derby at 40/1 (NRNB)

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