Ground could scupper Australia in Epsom Derby

THE best horse does not always win the Derby. Dancing Brave and El Gran Senor spring to mind. For varying reasons they came a cropper at Epsom: they both should have won of course but they provide a salutary warning when looking ahead to this year’s race. For many pundits AUSTRALIA is a shoo-in and he remains odds-on. But that is a ridiculous price for a horse who has never run beyond a mile and who clearly won’t relish rain-softened ground.

Why is he so short? That’s mainly due to his impeccable bloodline (being by 2001 Derby winner Galileo and Oaks heroine Ouija Board) and the fact that Aidan O Brien has been talking him up since the spring. The “second best” he has ever trained, he claims, behind Istabraq. So, presumably, better than Galileo, who was one of the best Derby winners I’ve ever seen. Anybody else think the trainer might be tempting fate a little?

Another reason for his short price is the dearth of quality opposition. Camelot won a poor Derby and although this year’s race should have a little more strength in depth, Australia’s price has contracted because there isn’t much to be giving O’ Brien sleepless nights.

But my biggest worry for Australia is the possibility of soft ground. Aidan and Joseph O’ Brien have made no secret of the fact that he will not enjoy it. And there is rain forecast at Epsom next week where it is already good to soft. These fears were reinforced by the trainer himself at the Breakfast With The Stars preview at Epsom yesterday. He has drifted a little in the past week and is currently 4/5 with BetVictor. His 2,000 Guineas run was excellent and I would love to see another wonder horse light up the Flat season. But there are too many doubts in this punter’s mind.

So where is the value? One horse who won’t mind soft ground and who catches my eye as an each-way alternative is EBANORAN. He lost the Derrinstown Trial in the stewards’ room but he was the best horse in the race. John Oxx knows a Derby winner when he sees one and I can’t understand why he is 16s, Fascinating Rock is 12s and Geoffrey Chaucer is 7s.

John Gosden, successful in 1997 with Benny The Dip, is responsible for Western Hymn. The son of High Chaparral is unbeaten and certainly ticks many boxes and BetVictor’s 12/1 is a fair price. Sir Michael Stoute also knows how to get one ready for Epsom and Snow Sky won well in the Lingfield Trial with the promise of more to come. Again, value to be had at 20/1.

The second and third from the Dante, Arod and True Story, will have to step up considerably. I love True Story although he is friendless after disappointing the hype-mongers at York, Fast ground, which is looking increasingly unlikely, is a must for him.

Then there is Kingston Hill who looks to be the strongest of the English-trained runners. He was unbeaten in three starts as a two-year-old and the possibility of soft ground brings him right into the mix. He stayed on to be eighth in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas (beaten five lengths) and heads straight to Epsom after sidestepping the Dante. I’m not sure the 12/1 (BetVictor) will last much longer if it continues to rain.

Of the French challenge, Karakonite is a dual Group One winner, having taken last year’s Prix Jean Luc Lagadere and the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) on his latest outing. He looks too big at 25/1.

So while my heart pleads for Australia to come roaring up the straight in the style of his father, my head tells me it is not going to happen. EBANORAN and KINGSTON HILL will get my each-way money. But what does everybody else fancy? Let me know.

For the latest Epsom derby odds visit BetVictor.

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