Epsom Preview 2022: Spot Plays for Derby Day

June 3rd, 2022

Italian Federico Tesio is regarded by many as the greatest breeder and all-round horseman in Thoroughbred history. The breeder of unbeaten champions Nearco and Ribot, Tesio made it clear what he thought was the yardstick for the breed he went as close as anyone to perfecting:

“The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby.

On Saturday, for the 233rd time in the race’s 243-year history (10 editions during World Wars I and II were held at Newmarket), 17 of Europe’s best three-year-olds will attempt to realize the dreams of their breeders, owners, trainers, and jockeys and get to that post before any of their rivals after racing 1 mile, 4 furlongs, and 10 yards over Epsom Downs’ unique bends and undulations.

This year’s event will be a particularly grand occasion, with events to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th anniversary on the throne (though she won’t be there to watch the only English Classic she’s failed to win), and the recent passing of the Derby’s most successful rider, nine-time winner Lester Piggott.

The seven-race card also includes two Group 3 races and a heritage handicap. Here are some suggestions for the major races at Epsom.

Race 2: Princess Elizabeth Stakes (G3), 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-old and up fillies and mares

Cheveley Park’s two runners #1 Bashkirova and #4 Potapova may well head the market in what is an interesting clash between the generations. The aforementioned pair are strong chances, as must be #3 Mrs Fitzherbert, who beat Bashkirova at Goodwood last start. The three-year-olds are headed by #9 Majestic Glory, third in the Fred Darling (G3) April 16.

However, I’m going to seek a little value here with #7 Technique. She ran some nice races last season, most notably when second in the Hoppings (G3) and fourth in the Nassau (G1), both at 1 1/4 miles. She may appreciate the further drop back in trip here, and does have form at Epsom, having finished second in the Listed Blue Riband Trial last April.

  • $10 win/$20 show: #7 Technique

Race 3: Diomed Stakes (G3), 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds and up

Just six horses line up in the Diomed. It’s a useful field, but the one to watch is possibly #5 Mutasaabeq, a close second at Group 2 level at Sandown April 22. Behind him that day was the Group 1 winner Alcohol Free, so a similar effort should put him right in the play here.

#4 Modern News and #3 Megallan are both in solid form and should be worth taking for exotics.

  • $20 win: #5 Mutasaabeq
  • $5 exacta box: key 5 with 3, 4

Race 4: Epsom Dash (Heritage Handicap), 5 furlongs, 3-year-olds and up

As with many valuable British handicaps, this is a very open race, with 20 horses competing. There’s plenty of form, but I like the chances of #13 Dusky Lord. He’s started just six times and is improving quickly, having scored impressively at Newmarket over five furlongs May 14.

The other runner I have a lot of time for is #15 Mokaatil. He is maintaining good form, but most importantly, he’s won three of his four races at Epsom, including a 1 1/2-length triumph on April 19. Five-furlong dashes at Epsom are mostly downhill and can be very fast, and its cambers can trip a few horses up, so proven ability on the track is a great guide.

  • $10 win: #13 Dusky Lord
  • $10 win/$30 show: #15 Mokaatil
  • $5 exacta box: 13, 15

Race 5: The Derby (In Memory of Lester Piggott) (G1), 3-year-old colts and fillies

At just over $2 million, this is still the richest race in Britain, and it’s drawn its usually outstanding field. It looks much different than it figured to be over winter, when the Aidan O’Brien-trained Luxembourg was the favorite, but he was ruled out after finishing third in the 2,000 Guineas (G1) due to a muscular problem.

Naturally, O’Brien has replacements on hand, starting with second favorite #14 Stone Age. He was beaten in all five of his juvenile races, but he showed promise when second in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1) in his last two-year-old race. He has come back strongly, putting up a great effort to win the Derby Trial (G3) at Leopardstown May 8 by more than five lengths.

O’Brien also starts easy Chester Vase (G3) winner #1 Changingoftheguard and Dee Stakes winner #13 Star of India, both of whom deserve respect. Ryan Moore’s decision to go with Stone Age should be a good guide, but it’s worth noting that horses that were supposed second- or third-strings from the O’Brien stable have been triumphant here before.

O’Brien’s son Donnacha also comes into the race with a live prospect in #10 Piz Badile, a narrow winner of the Ballysax Stakes (G3) at Leopardstown April 2.

Favoritism, however, looks likely to go to Sir Michael Stoute’s unbeaten colt #2 Desert Crown. He raced just once at two, easily winning a maiden at Nottingham, but he made a stunning return in what is often Britain’s premier Derby trial, the Dante (G2) at York. He stormed 3 1/2 lengths clear in the stretch of #11 Royal Patronage, and looks very much like he should stay the trip well.

Like Aidan O’Brien, Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby also has three runners, and given that he’s already won all three European Classics at a mile for colts in 2022, his runners must be respected. In particular, #9 Nations Pride looks a strong prospect following his seven-length romp in the Newmarket Stakes (Listed) April 29.

But don’t rule out Epsom Blue Riband Trial winner #8 Nahanni and Lingfield Derby Trial runner-up #15 Walk of Stars either for Appleby; again, one should remember that last year’s winner, Adayar, was thought to be a second stringer for Appleby.

It’s a tough race to be sure about. Desert Crown is arguably a little short in the British market, and though he was impressive at York, it’s hard to know how strong that form is. Also, he will probably want to be handier than he was at York, as the Derby is not often won by a horse settling off the pace.

For that reason, I’m going with Nations Pride. He should get close to the speed and be ready to be unleashed by William Buick after rounding Tattenham Corner. For multiples, I’m going to include a few behind him and Desert Crown.

  • $10 win/$20 show: #9 Nations Pride
  • $1 trifecta: 2, 9 with 2, 9, 10, 14 with 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 13