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How tight is Aidan O’Brien’s grip on the Derby?

15 May 2017

Betfred Dante Stakes at York on Thursday certain to yield more clues for Epsom Classic

Churchill and Ryan Moore win the Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes from Barney Roy and Al Wukair. 6/5/2017 Pic Steve Davies/

Churchill and Ryan Moore win the 2000 Guineas at the expense of the previously unbeaten Barney Roy and Al Wukair. Picture:

Aidan O’Brien has the front two in the ante-post betting for the Investec Derby in Churchill, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner, and Cliffs Of Moher, who won the Dee Stakes at Chester on Friday.

Churchill is a best-priced 11-2, but would be a lot shorter if his connections committed to running him at Epsom. Cliffs Of Moher was workmanlike on his return rather than spectacular but, barring a setback, he is a definite runner in the QIPCO British Champions Series showpiece on June 3 and is available at 13-2.

In addition to that pair, O’Brien could call upon Douglas Macarthur, Yucatan and Capri, who dominated the finish of the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, plus Venice Beach, Wings Of Eagles and The Anvil, who did likewise in the Chester Vase.

Clearly, O’Brien already has many strings to his bow and William Hill quote him at 4-5 to saddle the Derby winner, but the key question for him and Coolmore is which route to tread with the outstanding Churchill.

Gamble on him staying a mile a half – the distaff side of his pedigree is all speed – or stick to a mile?

The picture may become clearer after the Group Two Betfred Dante Stakes at York on Thursday.

Since 2004, North Light, Motivator, Authorized, Workforce and Golden Horn all ran in it before winning at Epsom and the Group Two contest over an extended mile and a quarter is established as the key trial for the Derby.

This year’s renewal could have great depth, with 21 entries left in at the five-day stage.

Chief among them is Cracksman, the unbeaten Frankel colt who won on his return at Epsom last month. He is third favourite for the Derby.

Godolphin have indicated they will run all four of their entries, and must have been delighted with way Best Solution put some modest efforts in Dubai behind him with an easy win in the Lingfield Derby Trial on Saturday.

O’Brien’s seven possibles include Examplar, placed in pattern company at the end of last year.

Joseph O’Brien, son of Aidan, could be represented by Ballysax Stakes victor Rekindling, while Crystal Ocean, winner of a Nottingham maiden last month, has been the subject of ante-post support.