AFTER the doping scandal and eight-year ban for trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni that embarrassed Godolphin at the beginning of this Flat season, Dawn Approach will bid to continue restoring morale for the boys in blue when he attempts to justify his long-held tag as favourite by adding the Investec Derby to the 2,000 Guineas he collected in such stunning style last month.
While Godolphin technically have a Derby hero to their credit in 1995 winner Lammtarra, he did not sport their royal blue silks, so Dawn Approach would be the first in their famous colours.
Godolphin’s racing manager Simon Crisford gave an upbeat assessment of the Jim Bolger-trained colt on the eve of the big race. “Dawn Approach heads to Epsom Downs in fantastic condition,” said Crisford. “He was very impressive at Newmarket [in the 2,000 Guineas] and we are very hopeful that he can stay the extra half-mile of the Investec Derby.
“There is a question mark regarding his stamina based on his pedigree but, if he gets the trip, I think that he will be very hard to beat.”
Bolger only added his unbeaten charge to the Derby field in April and admits Dawn Approach’s staying ability is open to question at this stage. He said: “If you were to take it at face value, he probably would not get a mile and a half but because he settles so well and he has such a good temperament and he has so much class, he may well get a mile and a half. But we won’t be sure until we try it. I will be leaving [tactics] to Kevin [Manning, jockey] but hopefully there will be plenty of pace.
“We need pace to get him to settle early on. We’d be disappointed if we didn’t get pace and after that may the best horse win.” Asked about whether Dawn Approach would handle the unique atmosphere of Derby Day, Bolger said: “I think he’ll be able to cope with it all right. He didn’t get very flustered at Newmarket and I don’t know what factor you would need to multiply the decibels at Newmarket by to replicate Epsom, but I’m sure he’d be able to cope anyway.”
If Dawn Approach proves to be vulnerable over the added distance, jockey Joseph O’Brien is hoping his loyalty to Battle Of Marengo can yield a Derby double at Epsom.
O’Brien had the choice of five horses trained by his father, Aidan, although only three have a realistic chance of glory. Battle Of Marengo has been beaten once in six starts, but never when ridden by O’Brien, who believes he has a good chance of following up last year’s triumph with Camelot after winning two recognised trials in Ireland.
He said: “It was very difficult [choosing which horse to ride], but I’ve rode Battle Of Marengo in all of his three starts and I won each time he’s run. He’s tough, he’s genuine, he tries hard and he stays well. He’s versatile in so far as what way you can ride him and he’s versatile as far as ground goes. I do think he’s a better horse on quicker ground but I think he’s as good a chance as any.”
Elaine Burke’s Libertarian is the only British-trained colt without complete outsider status. Despite overturning a disappointing effort in the Sandown Classic Trial by winning the Dante, regularly the strongest trial, he will still comfortably be double-figure odds.
The trainer’s husband, Karl, said: “He’s either good enough, or he isn’t, and he either stays or he doesn’t, but he’s a high-class horse and not the finished article. If everything goes well and he handles the track, I can see him running into a place.” David Wachman’s lightly-raced Galileo Rock has slipped under the radar somewhat considering he had Libertarian behind him when third at Sandown. “We’re happy with him, he seems in good form and he’s a well-balanced horse,” said Wachman.
While the British defence is decidedly weak against a strong Irish challenge, momentum has been gathering over the chances of several foreign visitors.
Andre Fabre brought Pour Moi for a racecourse gallop at a pre-Derby media event ahead of his victory in 2011, and he followed the same ritual with Ocovango, which allowed jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot a first taste of the Epsom undulations. Like Pour Moi, Ocovango won the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud, where he has raced exclusively so far.
“They are totally different horses,” said Fabre. “Pour Moi was a fiery horse with a fantastic turn of foot, this is more of a galloper type. It is difficult to assess Ocovango’s form but he is a Derby horse. He has a very good balance and cruising speed. The race is all about Dawn Approach if he stays but everyone has a chance for places.” Andreas Wohler saddles a first German-trained runner in Chopin, who was bought by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani’s Qatar Racing operation after victory on his reappearance in a Group Three at Krefeld and supplemented for the race at the start of the week. Sheikh Fahad said: “Particularly this year, where there are lots of doubts about horses staying, I think he has a definite chance of getting in the first four. The Derby is the number one goal at the end of the day, it’s the race you want to have a runner and have a proper chance with.”