By George Wells
Last week’s fancy in the Irish Derby, Kingston Hill (11/2), was taken out of the race as the ground remained good-firm. Australia inevitably cruised to victory at cramped odds of 1/8, leading home an Aidan O’Brien 1-2-3. Andrea Atzeni will have undoubtedly been disappointed that his mount couldn’t take part in the Irish classic, however the Italian-Born jockey’s frustrations will surely be multiplied given that he misses the chance to make amends in Sandown’s Group 1 Coral Eclipse on Saturday (with that responsibility left in the hands of Frankie Dettori.) Roger Varian’s colt is in a very similar situation as he was this time last week. The ground at the Surrey racecourse is currently good-firm, but forecasters anticipate heavy rain for the duration of Friday night.
The current favourite for the race is the Royal Ascot winner The Fugue (9/4). The filly shocked the racing fraternity when beating Arc conqueror, Treve, as well as some more than capable colts in the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes last month. Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, 9/4 does not represent value – especially considering she was last of 7 and beaten more than 12 lengths in this race last year.
Richard Hannon has, perhaps wisely, decided to steer clear of Kingman; and has entered 2,000 Guineas successor Night Of Thunder (5/1). He is arguably the most interesting contender as he steps up to a mile and a quarter for the first time. Joining him in entering unchartered territory is O’Brien’s War Command (11/1). He’s not without a chance based on his very promising 2yo campaign, but has been behind Night Of Thunder on both outings in 2014 and there aren’t too many intimations that he’ll be able to reverse that form.
O’Brien also saddles American recruit, Verrazano (13/2). One would have to assume that Ryan Moore has chosen to ride him over War Command, and it’d be naïve to ignore his chances. The 4yo got to within three-quarters of a length of Toronado at Ascot, but the trainer hinted before that race that the winner may have needed the run. All in all, it’s difficult to weigh up the form of Verrazano; but it’d be brave to recommend him against some top-class opposition.
This competitive renewal is made even more complex with the ground conditions yet to be determined and it may not be a bad idea to play your cards late. If the ground were to come up very soft, Kingston Hill will irrefutably have a great chance; but I fear 10 furlong trip may be on the sharp side. I like the credentials of NIGHT OF THUNDER (5/1) who won his first two races as a juvenile on soft ground and is unlikely to be inconvenienced by any type of surface. Richard Hughes reluctantly made the running on him in the St. James’ Palace Stakes, a tactic that I’m not convinced brought the best out in him. The son of Dubawi is highly likely to get the trip and if Hughes can settle his mount behind the pace, I can see him pouncing late on to eclipse his 10 rivals!