It’s amazing how the weather can change things. A downpour can turn a Bank Holiday barbecue into a complete washout, while we all know that a bit of snow brings the British infrastructure to its knees.
A sharp burst of rain can turn a prestigious horse race on its head too. The Derby will unfold at Epsom Downs on Saturday, and a flash rain shower of biblical proportion – some 15mm fell overnight on Sunday – has changed the nature of the going from good to good/soft.
Why does that matter? Simply because some horses are better at running on spongier grass than others.
The Derby is one of the flagship races in flat racing, a British ‘classic’ by all accounts, and so these small margins matter. With two outstanding horses vying for favouritism in Cracksman (9/2) and Cliffs of Moher (5/1), the finest details can separate success from failure in what will be one of the UK’s richest races in history.
No Cracks in the Armoury for Gosden
In boxing when a fighter is relatively fresh on the scene and takes a step up in class they are regarded as being ‘untested’, a negative connotation, yet in horse racing a lack of previous work is considered a plus.
So we will learn a lot about Cracksman, just two races into his fledgling career, on Saturday. But what we know already is that John Gosden’s charge is very comfortable on softer ground.
He showed that by taking down the EBF Maiden Stakes on debut, with the one-and-a-quarter length victory masked by the fact he was held up in the early going. It could well have been one-way traffic if the colt had forced his way through, and that is impressive indeed for a maiden.
Cracksman followed that with another impressive victory, this time in the Investec Derby Trial, where he just snuck home on firmer footing against the talented Permian.
So it’s a case of so far, so good as far as the Gosden connection is concerned, and the strength he showed on soft ground back in October suggests he will relish this challenge. At 9/2, it might be wise getting involved now before that price drops on race day.
Capri to Bring the Sunshine to Epsom?
One of the major market movers so far this week has been Capri, whose price has tumbled from 18/1 to as low as 10/1 in some places. Why? Because of that Sunday night deluge.
Capri is by no means the best horse in Aiden O’Brien’s cavalcade heading to Epsom, but on softer ground he is certainly one of the most pugnacious. He’s finished inside the top three in five of his last six starts, including a pair of eye-catchers in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (third by half-a-length) and Ballysax Stakes (fourth by a few lengths) on firmer ground that didn’t suit.
In stodgier conditions, the son of Galileo will be in his element.
Interestingly, one horse whose price remains unmoved is Douglas MacArthur; and that’s a runner that has outperformed Capri in both of the above races.
The bay, another from the Ballydoyle yard, won the Derrinstown and finished second in the Ballysax, which is intriguing form indeed. That’s a massive improvement in 2017 from some rather indifferent form last year.
Douglas MacArthur is not proven in this kind of company, but what we do know is that this is a horse showcasing a genuine upward curve in form. Is he ready to take the next step? Maybe, maybe not, but at a best price of 25/1 he’s certainly worth following in.