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Which race is the best trial for the Derby?

4 May 2016

Meeting at Chester to offer significant clues for Epsom

Golden Horn Derby

Golden Horn limbered up for his Derby triumph in the Dante Stakes at York. Picture courtesy of Racingfotos.com

“They say the 2000 Guineas is the best trial for the Derby,” said trainer Hugo Palmer moments after Galileo Gold had won the first Classic of the season for him at Newmarket last Saturday.

Is it, or isn’t it? Every year is different, of course, and between now and Saturday week – starting with the three-day meeting at Chester that gets under way this afternoon – the traditional trials will unfold with a string of aspirants attempting to enhance their credentials or muscle into the picture.

Statistics are like a bikini in what they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital. However, they do point to the QIPCO 2000 Guineas being the first place to look for the Investec Derby winner.

Since 1946, a total of 19 Derby heroes contested it en route to glory at Epsom.

In the past decade Sir Percy (second in 2006), New Approach (second in 2008), Sea The Stars (first in 2009), Camelot (first in 2012) and Australia (third in 2014) won the Derby after an initial date on the Rowley Mile.

The Betfred Dante Stakes, to be run at York tomorrow week, has thrown up 11 Derby winners in the past 70 years

Golden Horn, pictured, and Jack Hobbs finished first and second in last year’s renewal and then filled the same two places at Epsom a few weeks later. Other recent Dante runners to oblige have included North Light (first in 2004), Motivator (first in  2005), Authorized (first in 2007) and Workforce (second in 2010).

The Betfred Derby Trial at Lingfield Park (nine winners) and bet365 Classic Trial at Sandown (seven winners) have also been instructive in the past, although not in recent times.

No Derby winner has contested the former since High-Rise in 1998, while you have to go back to Shahrastani, 30 years ago, to find the last Sandown winner to follow up in the big one.

The Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial produced the victor three years in a row between 2000 and 2002 (Sinndar, Galileo and High Chaparral) but the trail has since gone cold. Sunday’s renewal at Leopardstown has attracted 13 entries, nine of them trained by Aidan O’Brien.

These days O’Brien favours Chester as the destination for his principal hopes – probably because horses have to think on their feet around the sharp turns and can learn a lot in a short space of time.

Ruler Of The World landed the MBNA Chester Vase for him in 2013 before winning the Derby, having been unraced as a two-year-old and won a maiden at Leopardstown beforehand.

He seeks to repeat the trick with the impeccably bred US Army Ranger, the ante-post Derby favourite. He was also unraced as a juvenile and won the same maiden that Ruler Of The World contested.

O’Brien will also saddle Port Douglas in the Chester Vase, while on Friday he will run Cook Islands and Houseofparliament in the Betdaq Dee Stakes.

So get out your pen/paper and start scribbling notes. The Derby picture will either become a lot clearer over the next ten days or, alternatively, leave us scratching our heads.