QIPCO 2000 Guineas here Kameko seeks to stay step ahead of Investec Derby rivals

QIPCO 2000 Guineas here Kameko seeks to stay step ahead of Investec Derby rivals

Qatar Racing star aiming for more Classic success in Saturday’s showpiece

Six runners trained by Aidan O’Brien and Kameko, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner, feature among a fascinating field of 16 for the 241st Investec Derby at Epsom Downs (4.55pm, live on ITV1) on Saturday.

The premier Classic, which forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series and has spawned imitations all over the world, is taking place a month later than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic and will be run behind closed doors.

Kameko has already scaled the heights in front of no racegoers, having won a thrilling renewal of the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month. The Andrew Balding-trained colt, who is owned by Qatar Racing, will attempt to become the 38th horse to complete Guineas/Derby double, the latest being Camelot in 2012.

He will be ridden by Oisin Murphy, the champion jockey, and will be joined in the line-up by stablemate Khalifa Sat. The pair will seek to give Balding a first victory in the showpiece 49 years after his father, Ian, saddled the mighty Mill Reef to win.

“Both horses did their last bits of work on Wednesday morning and I’m very happy with both of them,” Balding said. “As the race draws closer I see more dangers every day but, fingers crossed, everything has gone well in the build-up.”

Kameko also landed the Group 1 Vertem Futurity at Newcastle last year and is the only horse in the line-up to have won at the highest level. The official ratings point to him being superior to his rivals, too, but he is unproven beyond a mile and it is the Ed Walker-trained English King, impressive winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial, who heads the betting for the mile-and-a-half showpiece, an integral part of the British sporting summer since Diomed won the first renewal in 1780.

Balding says he is not surprised that bookmakers make English King favourite over his stable star. “He’s proven over the distance and looked very impressive at Lingfield. He’s certainly a potential Group 1 horse,” the 47-year-old said. “There is obviously the stamina doubt over Kameko, but he’s very relaxed and that’s why we are inclined to give it a go. There’s a genetic question mark and it will be answered on Saturday.

“If he was a keen horse and difficult to settle, we would not be attempting this. It’s a combination of mentality and genetic make-up as to how far horses can stay. Any horse that wins the Vertem Futurity, as he did, is considered a potential Derby horse. He stayed the mile well as a two-year-old and also hit the line strong in the Guineas.”

Sheikh Fahad, the driving force of Qatar Racing, is expected to be in attendance at Epsom with owners [two per horse] allowed back on a racecourse from Saturday for the first time since mid-March.

Balding’s second challenger, Khalifa Sat, won the Coral/British EBF Cocked Hat Stakes at the principal expense of Emissary on his return at Goodwood last month, having won a maiden on heavy ground at the Sussex racecourse in September. He will be partnered by 22-year-old Tom Marquand, who will be having his first ride in the race.

“He had a slight setback in late winter and that certainly held us back a little bit, but he’s made up for lost time and I thought he won really well at Goodwood,” Balding said. “His class got him through when he won his maiden as he definitely wants better ground. He’s in great nick and deserves to take his chance.”

Aidan O’Brien has already enjoyed a record-equalling seven Derby triumphs and relies on Amhran Na Bhfiann, Mogul, Mythical, Vatican City, Russian Emperor and Serpentine in his attempt to raise the bar to new heights a week after Santiago provided him with a fourteenth success in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.

The shortest-priced of his contenders are Russian Emperor, Mogul and Vatican City. The trio are all sons of Galileo, who was O’Brien’s first Derby winner in 2001 and is long-established as a superstar stallion.

Russian Emperor won the Group Three Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot on his latest start, having previously finishing second in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown. Mogul’s exploits last year included winning the Group Two KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown, while Vatican City beat all bar Siskin on his return in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh.

In total, O’Brien has had 84 Derby runners since 1998 and last year he was responsible for five of the first six home, including the winner in Anthony Van Dyck.

By contrast, five trainers will each be having a runner in the race for the first time – Walker (English King), William Muir (Pyledriver), Ralph Beckett (Max Vega), Hugo Palmer (Emissary) and Jessica Harrington (Gold Maze) – while five jockeys – Harry Bentley (Max Vega), Ben Curtis (Highland Chief), David Egan (Gold Maze), Martin Harley (Worthily) and Tom Marquand (Khalifa Sat) will be riding in it for the first time.

In addition, the father-and-son combination of Paul and Oliver Cole will make history by becoming the first combination with a joint-license to field a challenger in the shape of Highland Chief, who made a bright start to the campaign by landing the Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot. Cole Sr scooped the 1991 Derby with Generous.

Walker has had a license for a decade and has yet to taste success at Group 1 level but hopes are high at Kingsdown Stables in Upper Lambourn that English King, a son of Camelot, will fill that void after his impressive reappearance victory at Lingfield. He will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who first rode in the Derby in 1992 and will be taking part in it for the 25th time. The 49-year-old has previously won on Authorized in 2007 and Golden Horn in 2015.

Muir is a neighbour of Walker and began training in 1991. He has had more than 800 winners, but none have been at the highest level. Pyledriver was purchased for only 10,000gns but won two of his four races last season and has wasted no time making an impact this term, finishing second in the Unibet Classic Trial at Kempton before going one better in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. On the latter occasion he had Mohican Heights and Mogul behind.

Muir’s son-in-law, Martin Dwyer, will ride Pyledriver and is seeking a second win in the race after guiding Sir Percy to victory in 2006.

Palmer has been training since 2011 and is no stranger to Classic glory, having landed the Irish Oaks with Covert Love in 2015 and the QIPCO 2000 Guineas with Galileo Gold the following summer. His Emissary is a half-brother to Workforce, who carried the colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah to Derby in a record time in 2010. Emissary, also owned by Prince Khalid, was a taking winner on his debut at Wolverhampton in October before his narrow defeat at the hands of Khalifa Sat in the Cocked Hat Stakes.

Beckett’s CV includes two triumphs in the Investec Oaks plus a St Leger victory, but Max Vega will be his first Derby runner since he took out a license in 1999. Max Vega’s performances last season included a powerful display of galloping when landing the Group 3 Godolphin Flying Start Zetland Stakes at Newmarket.

The line-up is completed by Worthily, a stylish winner on his debut at Newbury last month. Champion trainer Gosden scooped the Derby with Benny The Dip in 1997 and also took the honours with Golden Horn in 2015.

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