How to play the opening European Derby Road features

September 23rd, 2022

A week after the Iroquois (G3) began the main Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby, the European series begins this weekend.

Two well-established juvenile features, one each in Ireland and England, begin the seven-race series. As was the case last year, the series includes four major juvenile turf races over a mile and then three contests on all-weather tracks for three-year-olds in March next year.

As with the other prep races, qualifying points are now available for the first five horses home in the European Derby road contests rather than the first four. All four juvenile races in the European series award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis for the first five home.

Though they form part of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the owners of most contenders will have their eye more on the European Classics for next year than on Kentucky. Few horses that contested these races have made it to Churchill Downs the following year, but they do have the chance, and it’s worth remembering that one graduate of this series, Gronkowski, finished second in the 2018 Belmont Stakes.

The juvenile races in the European series are also important contests in their own right, so it’s worth a look for players. Here are some thoughts about potential wagering strategies this weekend.

Race 2, The Curragh, 8:35 a.m. ET: Beresford (G2), 1 mile, 2-year-olds

It’s doubtful any graded stakes race in the world has been dominated more by one trainer than this one. Ballymore maestro Aidan O’Brien has recorded 21 victories in the Beresford — the last 11 in a row. So it’s not overly surprising that his two entries are at the top of the advance betting in the seven-horse field.

The likely favorite is O’Brien’s #1 Adelaide River. The son of Australia won his debut on the Dundalk All-Weather before heading to France for his second race; starting favorite in the Prix des Chenes (G3), he led into the stretch before being passed by French-trained colt Kubrick. He should again be prominent.

His other runner is the Heart’s Cry colt #2 Continuous, a comfortable winner of his only start Aug. 20. None of those close behind him have run again since so the form is hard to assess. The market will be a good guide to his chances.

The best chance of beating the Ballymore pair could come from the stable of O’Brien’s son Joseph. He lines up #4 Lakota Seven, fourth in the Irish Futurity (G2) Aug. 22, and #6 Roaring Gallagher, winner of his only start at Bellewstown Aug. 24. The latter probably has more potential to improve but still needs to find a bit to beat Adelaide River.

Also backing up from the Prix de Chenes is #5 Pivotal Trigger, who was three-quarters of a length behind Adelaide River in third place that day. Whether he can turn the tables is yet to be seen but he looks a solid chance to get some of the money.

Unless a big plunge on Continuous indicates serious stable support for him, the best option here is to back the favorite.

  • $20 win: #1 Adelaide River

Race 1, Newmarket, 8:50 a.m. ET: Royal Lodge (G2), 1 mile, 2-year-old colts and geldings

At least one point in the European Road to the Kentucky Derby is going to go unclaimed here. Like the main Road to the Kentucky Derby, qualifying points are now available for the first five horses home, but only four horses have been nominated.

Like the Beresford, more horses here are being set for European Classics, and the standout in this field is on the second line of betting with some bookmakers for next year’s Derby (G1) at Epsom. #2 Flying Honours has won his last two starts by wide margins, a maiden victory at Sandown July 27 and the Listed Stonehenge Stakes at Salisbury Aug. 19. In the latter, he was 5 1/2 lengths clear of Stormbuster, who then won his next race at Newbury by five lengths.

Flying Honours’ only defeat came at Newmarket on debut, where he finished fourth, but that was on the July Course and not the Rowley Mile that is used here. It would be a major surprise if he’s beaten.

All three of the other runners are also last-start winners, however. Aidan O’Brien has a runner in the form of #3 Greenland, the winner of one of his four starts. Also lining up are Goodwood maiden winner #4 The Foxes and recent Kempton Park winner #1 Dubai Mile.

Perhaps the best betting option is to have a look at an exacta option, for which Greenland looks the most likely candidate.