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BRINGING ASIAN RACING TO THE WORLD
Just three months since returning to race riding after a 14-month suspension, Oisin Murphy has a leading Derby candidate with a bundle of tick-box traits.
There is a chipper tenacity about The Foxes that will serve him well when he encounters the rising, falling, turning, testing Epsom Downs course in two weeks’ time. The Derby is no race for the feeble of constitution and the Andrew Balding-trained colt showed in winning the G2 Dante Stakes at York that he could have the necessary qualities, both mentally and athletically.
Such things are discussed on a loop in the days, hours and minutes leading up to the moment when the best of the European Classic crop’s middle-distance cohort break from the starting gate. Is he well-balanced? Will he handle the downhill sweep around Tattenham Corner? Can he cope with the huge crowd and tension of the day?
And then the big one: will he stay? There are those, like Sea The Stars, that proved the doubters to be fools; and others, like Dubawi, that found the stamina well was dry with a furlong still to run.
If ‘Derby Bingo’ was a thing, then the stamina question would be the wide margin winner, so often is it posed and mulled over.
“He is a fast horse,” says Oisin Murphy in his post-Dante interview, minutes after he has driven The Foxes to a neck success in the 10-furlong feature, a race that is always a key trial for the mile and a half blue riband down in commuter-belt Surrey.
The Foxes wins the Dante!
The Foxes stays on best of all under @oismurphy to repel the late challenge of White Birch in the closing stages of the Group 2 @ABE_Dubai Dante Stakes!
Have we seen the Derby winner? @AndrewBalding2 | @yorkracecourse pic.twitter.com/MVBxF2uzOe
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) May 18, 2023
“They need speed in the Derby,” Murphy adds, then anticipates the stamina question like a ‘Derby Bingo’ veteran. “While we don’t know if he’ll definitely stay, he has a great mind and he relaxes going any speed so he’ll give himself a good chance.”
Meanwhile, Balding – one Classic in the bag this year already after Chaldean’s 2,000 Guineas win – is holding court in a tight press huddle and says he had doubted the son of Churchill’s ability to see a mile and a half, but that this win had all but scotched such fears.
“He looks a likely candidate,” the trainer says.
“We always wanted to step him up in trip, he ran in a Guineas trial and if he had won that we might have thought about (the 2,000 Guineas), but this was always the aim.”
Since the Dante was established on York’s Knavesmire in 1958, 11 winners have gone on to win the Derby. The latest was just 12 months ago when the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Desert Crown was impressive in completing the double.
Desert Crown won his Dante by three-and-a-quarter lengths, leaving the knowledgeable Knavesmire crowd starry-eyed.
Subsequent Derby winner Desert Crown takes the 2022 Dante. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Conversely, it usually pays to retain some scepticism when a length and a half covers the first four home, as was the case this time: The Foxes held off White Birch narrowly, while close behind them Continuous and the slightly unlucky Passenger dead-heated for third.
“He didn’t win like last year’s winner did but I think it’s a deep Dante and I would have thought he brings as strong form as any into the race,” says Balding, giving an alternative to the general pre-race view that this year’s Dante was wide open and lacking a contender of obvious standout class.
But Balding, whose father won the 1971 Derby with the sublime champion Mill Reef, has every reason to be upbeat about his own Derby chances in a year when uncertainty abounds as to which horse will be favourite come race time, especially given The Foxes’ obvious attributes.
If the bonny colt played for the Leicester City football team for which he was named by that club’s owner and King Power boss Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, then its fans might not be two games away from bemoaning their relegation out of the English Premier League after a dismal, spiritless campaign. The Foxes, on the other hand, races with the eagerness of a willing and talented academy prospect keen to impress, and he is succeeding.
“He’s beautiful, really,” Murphy says. “He’s a half-brother to Bangkok, who was by Australia, and Andrew trained him also, and (his sire) Churchill is having a good time of it so you couldn’t ask to ride a better type.
“I hope he’s a good Derby ride, he has everything, he relaxes, a beautiful mover. To look at, you’d know he’d give himself every chance, and then whether the last two furlongs is too far, we’ll learn.”
Oisin Murphy at York on Thursday. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Among the vanquished, there was little joy in the outcome for Hong Kong owner Bon Ho whose colt Canberra Legend lost his unbeaten record at his third start and may have seen his Derby hopes extinguished. The Australia colt had seemed to be a likely Derby type when winning a Listed race at Newmarket last month, but this time he broke slowly, raced near the tail, and appeared to be both outpaced and outclassed when the race quickened in the home straight.
The James Ferguson-trained chestnut was a non-factor in finishing ninth of the 11 runners.
The Foxes, on the other hand, gave Murphy his third win in the Dante following on from Roaring Lion in 2018 and Telecaster a year later, and earlier on the card Fair Wind gave Frankie Dettori his fifth win in the G2 Middleton Stakes.
That was Dettori’s only ride but in this, his final season in the saddle, the Italian has a strong Derby contender of his own, Arrest. That colt slammed his rivals in the G3 Chester Vase last week and looks like being the horse Dettori will look to for a third Derby win.
Murphy is chasing his first Derby success, and perhaps The Foxes is the horse to bring it home: if he stays, of course.
Opinion: The Derby retains its magic but the Tokyo Yushun is on the rise
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