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Saxon Warrior heads dozen runners in Investec Derby

31 May 2018

The QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner is among five Aidan O'Brien contenders in £1.5 million Epsom showpiece.

Saxon Warrior is unbeaten in four starts and has already won two Group 1 races. Picture:

Saxon Warrior will face 11 rivals when he attempts to preserve his unbeaten record in the Investec Derby at Epsom (4.30pm) on Saturday.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt has been a short-priced market leader for the £1.5 million showpiece, which is the premier Classic and forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, since making it four wins from as many starts with a decisive victory in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas over a mile at Newmarket this month.

He will be joined in the line-up by stablemates Delano Roosevelt, The Pentagon, Kew Gardens and Zabriskie.

The quintet will attempt to provide O’Brien with a record-equalling seventh Derby success. Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling have all previously trained seven Derby winners, the last-named being the latest to achieve the feat between 1922 and 1941.

Camelot was the latest of 37 horses to complete the Guineas-Derby double and there has already been talk of Saxon Warrior attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970.

Masar and Roaring Lion, third and fifth respectively in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, are back for another crack at him. The latter, subsequent emphatic winner of the Betfred Dante Stakes at York, will be attempting to make it third time lucky against the hot favourite, having also been beaten a neck by him in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October.

He would also be only the fifth grey winner of the race in 239 renewals, the last of that shade to prevail being Airborne in 1946.

“It’s not often you have a live chance in a Classic, let alone the Derby, so I’m very excited,” said Oisin Murphy, who has partnered Roaring Lion in his past six races. “It could be that I’ll be waiting a few years to get an opportunity like this again.

“What he’s achieved so far would be good enough to win the Derby some years. On bare form Saxon Warrior deserves to be favourite but that doesn’t mean we can’t beat him and it’s not a two-horse race by any means.

“Epsom and 12 furlongs pose new questions but I’ve a horse likely to get the trip because he’s very relaxed and will give himself every chance of staying. He’s also very balanced, which gives him every chance of handling the track, and he’s trained by one of the best in the world in Mr [John] Gosden.”

Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani is the driving force behind Qatar Racing, who own Roaring Lion, and he and his brothers are among the biggest supporters of British racing. “I’m fortunate that Sheikh Fahad’s goal is to breed and buy Classic prospects, and Roaring Lion is a result of that,” Murphy said. “He lives and breathes racing as much as I do and we get on well. We communicate regularly; he will ring me if he has any question or I will ring him.

“We discuss many things about the horses and he understands that when the stalls open often the best laid plans in the world can change, so he really doesn’t tie me down when it comes to riding instructions.”

When recalling his favourite Derby moments Murphy has huge respect for his talented weighing room colleagues: “I’ve watched the Derby since I was a child. Ryan Moore’s win on Workforce was special, while I don’t think Frankie got the credit her deserved when winning on Golden Horn, likewise Joseph O’Brien on Australia. They were very good horses but could easily have not won if ridden differently. They were standouts for me.”

Silvestre de Sousa, 2017 Stobart Champion Flat Jockey, will ride the Mark Johnston trained Dee Ex Bee. De Sousa is happy with his mount’s recent form, saying: “Dee Ex Bee has been running well and has had some good form in competitive races recently.

“It’s nice to have a ride in the Derby and you have to say Dee Ex Bee has got a live chance. Saxon Warrior is undoubtedly the horse to beat. He’s a quality horse, he won the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at a canter.”

Masar represents Godolphin, searching for an elusive Derby success after 33 runners in the famous blue colours since 1995. City Honours, Tobougg, Moon Ballad, Rule Of Law, Dubawi, Rewilding and Jack Hobbs have all gone close at Epsom – the septet finished either second or third – and after so many near-misses William Buick, retained to ride for them, has spoken about what a success for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation would mean.

“It would be magical,” Buick said. “When you breed horses, like his Highness does, the aim is for Guineas and Derby horses. That’s what everyone’s objective is. The Derby is the ultimate race; 100 per cent. For any jockey, it’s the one you most want to win.”

Buick has twice finished runner-up, aboard Libertarian in 2013 and Jack Hobbs two years later. On his prospects of going one better aboard Masar, a son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach, he said: “He ran great in the Guineas, when shaping as if wanting further. He’s stepping up to a mile and a half but I don’t really have any concerns about that.

“He stayed a mile as a two-year-old and on pedigree he’s got a very good chance of getting the trip. I’d say he’s got as good a chance of staying as any other horse in the race. He relaxes very well, has grown up a hell of a lot since last year and could just still be on the improve.”

He added: “Saxon Warrior looks a worthy favourite and he probably beat us fair and square in the Guineas, but my focus is now on the Derby. It’s important to concentrate on your own horse and make the most of him.”

Another owner who has long dreamed of Derby glory is Bernard Kantor, the co-founder and managing director of Investec, the race sponsor. His predominately yellow colours will be carried by Young Rascal, who showed a willing attitude to beat Dee Ex Bee in the Chester Vase on his latest start.

Trainer William Haggas, who will be having only his third Derby runner since winning with Shaamit in 1996, believes the colt is peaking at the right time. “That [Chester] form is probably not good enough, but he’s getting better. Shaamit was very natural, this horse is learning,” he said.

Asked if more anxious than in 1996, he said: “I have a sign in my office that says ‘worry is a futile emotion’ and it’s very true. I don’t worry nowadays.”

Hazapour, winner of the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown; Knight To Behold, who made nearly all when landing the Betfred Derby Trial at Lingfield; plus Sevenna Star, narrow winner of the Sandown Classic Trial, complete the line-up.