Passenger poised to join select group of Derby winners
Passenger will attempt to give the Niarchos family the victory every owner-breeder craves when he lines up in the Betfred Derby on Saturday.
They have twice gone close in the Epsom showpiece, with Main Sequence finishing runner-up in 2012 and, delving deeper into the archives, the Vincent O’Brien-trained Law Society finding only a magnificent Slip Anchor too good on the day in 1985.
Law Society would go on to get his Classic redemption by winning the Irish Derby later that summer, but it is Epsom that matters most for Passenger and his connections as the Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt seeks to become the first horse unraced at two to win the showpiece middle-distance event since Ruler Of The World 10 years ago.
“The Derby is a race I think every owner and breeder would like to win as it is the biggest test of a three-year-old colt,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for the family.
“I think Passenger has a nice draw in the middle of the field in seven and I guess we will know more at (around) 1.35pm on Saturday. Sir Michael is happy with his horse.”
If Passenger is to prove successful in his quest for Derby glory, he will justify the decision to spend £85,000 to supplement the son of Ulysses following his luckless run in the Dante at York.
He would become just the third supplemented horse to prevail in the premier Classic following Kris Kin and Golden Horn, but it is somewhat fitting that the first of those was also trained by Stoute. And while only third on the Knavesmire, Passenger follows the Freemason Lodge handler’s well-trodden route to Epsom.
Cooper continued: “It was a good education for him at York, it was only his second run and he will have learnt a little more about racing. Hopefully that will stand him in good stead on Saturday.
“The trip is the unknown as he has never been that far before, but he’s given us every indication he can do. We will not know for certain until he tries.”
If Military Order can replicate brother Adayar and storm to Derby glory for Charlie Appleby it will be the first time in over a hundred years that full siblings have landed the three-year-old event.
Persimmon (1896) and Triple Crown winner Diamond Jubilee (2000) were the last to achieve that remarkable feat, but it would be no shock if history is repeated with the Frankel colt advertising his Epsom credentials to great effect when pulling away from the reopposing Waipiro to claim the Lingfield Derby Trial.
“We’ve done nothing extra with him since his win at Lingfield and he has just been going through his usual routine,” said Appleby.
“We have been pleased with his preparation and he has ticked every box. He is going into the race looking great.
“We know he will stay the trip and hopefully he should handle the track, but we all know in any of these races we need a bit of Lady Luck with us then we have half a chance.”
On following in Adayar’s footsteps he added: “He is always going to be going there with the tag as being a Derby winner’s full-brother so everyone is going to ask the questions of is he as good and where does he stand compared to him.
He looks as though he is physically potentially more there and mentally more there than Adayar at this stage of his career
“At the end of the day one has been there and done it and one has to go and do it. All I can say is that we are very pleased with him.
“He looks as though he is physically potentially more there and mentally more there than Adayar at this stage of his career, but regardless of that Adayar went and won a Derby and this lad has got to go and do it now.”
Another with two Derby victories to his name is John Gosden, who now trains out of Clarehaven alongside son Thady.
It is eight years since he legged up Frankie Dettori to steer home Golden Horn and he will now provide the Italian with his final mount in the premier Classic when Chester Vase scorer Arrest looks to give both trainer and jockey Derby number three.
“He’s got the stamina, to do what he did at Chester in ground like that shows he’s got the stamina, no problem,” said Gosden.
“Stamina is a requirement in this race, the same for the Kentucky Derby going a mile and a quarter for the Americans, they see it as a marathon.
“Stamina-wise you never really know until you go the mile and a half, you really don’t. Everybody thinks this is a downhill track, but it’s uphill, it rises 150 feet before you start going downhill, then you have a last section which climbs before the finish and it can catch a lot out on stamina.”
Despite saddling both Khalifa Sat (2020) and Hoo Ya Mal (2022) to finish second, Andrew Balding is still searching for his first Derby and will look to break his duck with The Foxes who arrives on the back of winning the Dante.
“I thought he was really good in the Dante,” said Balding. “I thought he travelled like the best horse in the race and he finished off strong. He is not a horse that is going to win by large margins, but he is tough in the finish.
“The way he settled at York and the way he travelled and the way he finished his race gives us hope that he will stay a mile and a half.
“Epsom this year could be different to other years if we are led to believe what we read that there might be disruptions going on, but I think he is going to be less bothered about what is going on than other horses we have run in the race in the past.”
Some would class Ralph Beckett as unfortunate not to have a Derby to his name after Westover was an unlucky loser behind Desert Crown 12 months ago, but he will attempt to correct the record with the unbeaten Artistic Star, who runs in the colours of owner Jeff Smith.
“Artistic Star is a grand, straightforward horse,” said the Kimpton Downs handler.
“He was quite a late foal and he’s going to carry on developing through the year, but I sincerely hope and suspect that he’ll cope with the whole jamboree, as he’s a very hardy horse.
“Whether he’s good enough I don’t know, but Jeff likes his trainers to be on the front foot and he ran to a good figure at Sandown last time. He’s not a big horse and he’s well balanced, so he should go round Epsom all right. It looks quite open so I’m looking forward to it.”
Jessica Harrington has won Classics on home soil and a Cheltenham Gold Cup, but never a Derby and she hopes to change that with Sprewell – the impressive winner of Leopardstown’s Derby Trial.
The man in the saddle on that occasion was Shane Foley and he is confident son of Churchill can make his presence felt.
He said: “He was very impressive in Leopardstown and has been pleasing us at home. The dream is definitely alive.
“Anything he did as a two-year-old was going to be a bonus and we were lucky to get a couple of runs into him.
“He has really developed into a proper staying three-year-old and is a good horse.
It looks one of the most open Derbys in a long time and it’s great to have one in the mix
“If there is anyone that can have them primed and ready for the day, it’s Jessie. The trip should be fine for him – I think he’ll get a mile and a half no problem. To get a horse like him is what all the early mornings are about.
“It looks one of the most open Derbys in a long time and it’s great to have one in the mix.”
Another jockey looking forward to the biggest ride of his career is Derby debutant Danny Muscutt who will continue his association with the staying-on Guineas fifth Dubai Mile having landed the first Group One of his career aboard Charlie Johnston’s colt at Saint-Cloud in October.
“We were happy with him going into the Guineas and he ran a stormer,” said Muscutt.
Some people say the Guineas is the best Derby trial of the lot and it probably fitted in slightly better than the Dante where he would have had a penalty.
“I was pleased with how he stuck on up the rising ground and he galloped out really good.
“The dip at Newmarket can catch some horses out, but he has handled it great both times so he ticks the boxes regarding being able to handle the undulations and downhill run to Tattenham Corner.”
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