English King faces 15 rivals as he bids to justify his position at the top of the market in the £500,000 G1 Investec Derby (4.55pm) behind closed doors at Epsom Downs on Saturday, 4th July.
English King has been the plunge horse in the betting for Britain’s premier Classic and that confidence solidified last week with the announcement that Frankie Dettori would be taking the ride.
Prior to that news, English King had marked himself down as a live contender with a dominant success in the Listed Derby Trial Stakes at Lingfield Park on 5th June.
The Bjorn Nielsen-owned runner is the favourite with Unibet, official betting partner of the Investec Derby. Since 1970, 17 Investec Derby favourites have triumphed, most recently Golden Horn in 2015.
Trainer Ed Walker, ahead of his first runner in the Investec Derby, said: “I am massively excited by English King and I would not swap him for anything else.
“I know that sounds mad with a Guineas winner [Kameko] in the field, but I wouldn’t.
“I always vowed that I would not run a horse in the Derby if he didn’t deserve his place.
“I think he will have learnt a lot at Lingfield and hopefully he can cruise round Tattenham Corner.
“Whether he is good enough – we will find out, but he ticks an awful lot of boxes. I think that is why he is at the top of the market, because he ticks all the boxes.
“At home, he was always a nice, good looking athletic horse. He is not a horse you expect to see blasting past his lead horse in Frankel style. He does what he has to do; he is not a flashy workhorse.
“Anyone who says they don’t think about winning the Derby is surely lying. I have been thinking about it since I discovered horseracing when I was 13 years old, so of course you think about it in this position. It would be a great day if it happened.
“Frankie sat on him last week and just wanted to come down and have a feel of the horse. He really wanted to get inside the horse’s head, which is a mark of Frankie’s professionalism and he was very happy.”
English King’s chief danger according to the betting is QIPCO 2,000 Guineas hero Kameko (Andrew Balding/Oisin Murphy), who has stamina questions to answer as he races beyond a mile for the first time.
A total of 37 horses have won the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas and Investec Derby, but only two in the last 30 years – Sea The Stars (2009) and Camelot (2012). One statistic Kameko does have to overcome is that he is drawn in stall 11, which has not produced a single Investec Derby winner since starting stalls were introduced at Epsom Downs in 1967.
Ireland’s perennial champion Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien is bidding for a record breaking eighth Investec Derby victory. Five of his seven wins in the race have come since 2012.
The master of Ballydoyle is launching a six-pronged assault on the world’s greatest Flat race, with his team headed by Mogul, the pick of Coolmore’s retained jockey Ryan Moore, G3 Hampton Court Stakes victor Russian Emperor (Seamie Heffernan) and G1 Irish 2,000 Guineas runner-up Vatican City (Padraig Beggy). Mythical (James Doyle), who was G1-placed in France last year, wide margin Curragh maiden scorer Serpentine (Emmet McNamara) and Amhran Na Bhfiann (William Buick) also run.
Russian Emperor is one of three Royal Ascot winners in the field alongside Pyledriver (William Muir/Martin Dwyer) and Highland Chief (Paul & Oliver Cole/Ben Curtis). Pyledriver had Mohican Heights (David Simcock/Andrea Atzeni) and Mogul in behind when landing the G2 King Edward VII Stakes, while Highland Chief defied top weight to win the Golden Gates Handicap.
Kameko’s stablemate Khalifa Sat (Andrew Balding/Tom Marquand) andEmissary (Hugo Palmer/Jim Crowley) meet again, after the pair were separated by a neck in the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood on 14th June.
Britain’s champion trainer John Gosden has sent out two Investec Derby winners, most recently Golden Horn in 2015, and the Newmarket handler is represented by once-raced Newbury maiden scorer Worthily (Martin Harley). Worthily is a three-parts sibling to Lucarno, who was fourth in the 2007 Derby before going to take the St Leger.
The 16 runners are completed by G3 Zetland Stakes winner Max Vega (Ralph Beckett/Harry Bentley)
and Gold Maze (Jessica Harrington IRE/David Egan), who turns out quickly after finishing sixth in last weekend’s G1 Irish Derby.
The Investec Derby is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.