Aidan O'Brien claimed his sixth Epsom Derby win yesterday when Wings of Eagles belied his odds of 40/1 and beat stablemate Cliffs of Moher by three parts of a length. Runner-up in the Chester Vase on his reappearance, the son of Pour Moi had only finished fourth in the Zetland Stakes at Newmarket (behind Coronet) and ninth in Group 1 company in France as a juvenile. Appreciating the strong early gallop, he came with a swooping late run to win going away. Time will tell how strong a renewal the 2017 Epsom Derby is but I would be inclined to take a positive view regarding the second and third (Cracksman).
Cliffs of Moher got very warm beforehand and was on his toes at the start. Despite that, he took a marked step forward from his Dee Stakes win at Chester and he looks capable of going one better at this level. However, I feel the best horse in the race was Cracksman and his lack of experience cost him victory in Flat racing's Blue Riband. John Gosden's colt may have won the Derby Trial at the course on his previous start but he didn't look comfortable on the track. Only beaten a length, the son of Frankel had every chance inside the final quarter of a mile but was reeled in by the Ballydoyle pair. I strongly believe if Cracksman had run in another trial, he would have won yesterday. I hope he can gain compensation in the Irish equivalent, which will presumably be next.
While Gosden was out of luck in the Derby, the former champion trainer landed the Oaks twenty four hours earlier with Enable. A maiden winner at Newcastle last backend, the daughter of Nathaniel found stablemate Shutter Speed too good at Newbury in April but hasn't looked back since stepped up to a mile and a half. A ready winner of the Cheshire Oaks last time, she improved again to beat 1000 Guineas runner-up Rhododendron by five lengths on Friday. The second loomed up going strongly at the two furlong marker but her stamina appeared to give way as Enable galloped on powerfully to win impressively. She is clearly thriving at present and progressing with every start. Her trainer believes she is the best three year old filly he has handled since his other Oaks winner Taghrooda. Shutter Speed supporters may have a different opinion.
The other highlight at Epsom on Friday was the Coronation Cup with Highland Reel virtually making all the running and registering a length and three quarters victory. Aidan O'Brien's five year old may not possess the brilliance of some of his current or former stablemates but he has been a fantastic horse for the stable winning five Group 1s and total prize-money exceeding £5.5m. The runner-up Frontiersman ran a cracker for Godolphin, especially as he was poorly positioned for much of the race and didn't look at home on the camber in the homestraight. An emphatic winner of a Newmarket handicap last time, this represented a sharp rise in class for the lightly raced four year old. Staying on strongly, he will seek compensation in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot later this month.
It wasn't a good weekend for the Top 40 Prospects - I will discuss their performances in the forthcoming edition of the Royal Ascot Update.
Sad news broke this morning that Dandy Nicholls had died at the age of 61. Responsible for training Group 1 winners Continent and Regal Parade, he won the Ayr Gold Cup on six occasions between 2000 and 2010 and also the Stewards' Cup three times. In terms of his riding career, David will be best remembered for his association with the top-class sprinter Soba, who was trained by David Chapman. From a personal point of view, I always got on very well with Dandy and enjoyed his company and was lucky enough to go to his yard at Sessay on four or five occasions when interviewing him for the Weekender and Ahead On The Flat. I remember visiting Tall Trees in the mid/late 1990s and, at the time, Dandy was training Venture Capitalist who won the Duke of York Stakes. He was owned by Bill Swiers and I can recall Dandy saying he was one of his best ever patrons and also a very close friend. Bill never interferred when it came to running plans etc for Venture Capitalist and believed: "When the passengers start flying the plane, it is time for the pilot to get out." Dandy was a fantastic trainer and his record spoke for itself. He had a tremendous eye for a bargain and did a wonderful job with some many other trainer's cast-offs. A large portion of the press have christened Newmarket trainer Robert Cowell the 'Sprint King.' In my mind, there has only been one 'Sprint King' and he is sadly no longer with us.
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