Sam Price previews the most famous Flat race in the world, which will see the best three-year-old colts do battle on the unique contours of Epsom Downs
Hopes will be dashed and reputations forged on Saturday as Epsom plays host to the 238th running of the Derby, with Godolphin assembling a strong challenge for one the oldest and most famous Flat races of them all.
Regarded as the ultimate test of the racehorse due to the unique nature of the track, which twists, turns and descends before a stiff uphill finish, it is also Britain’s richest race, with a prize purse of US$1.85m – as well as an even more lucrative career as stallion – promised to the winner.
Some hugely influential thoroughbreds have made their names on the Epsom Downs, with Nijinsky (1970), Shergar (1981) and Galileo (2000) three of the most celebrated winners of the original ‘Derby’, which was first run in 1780 and has spawned equivalents in regions such as Kentucky (US), Hong Kong and the UAE.
This year’s running seems wide-open. Powerful trainers Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden send bumper squads respectively, but the team that Godolphin – the global thoroughbred breeding and horseracing operation founded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai – have put together for the British Classic is one of the strongest in recent memory.
Saeed Bin Suroor, who saddled Lammtarra to victory in the 1995 edition, fields three live chances, while the quartet is completed by Permian, who is trained in Yorkshire by Mark Johnston and will run in the colours of the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
The latter is the choice of Godolphin’s retained rider William Buick, who will also be aboard the Charlie Appleby-trained Sobetsu in the fillies’ version – the Oaks – a day earlier.
“I'm very pleased to be riding [Permian] in the Derby,” said the jockey. “He's always been a very neat horse physically, very well-balanced.”
Best Solution, meanwhile, might be the leading light among Bin Suroor’s Newmarket-based trio. He didn’t take to the dirt in Dubai this year but bounced back to form at Lingfield under Pat Cosgrave, who takes the ride again. The improving Benbatl will be ridden by Oisin Murphy, while Dubai Thunder – who would become the first horse since Lammtarra to win the Derby on just his second-ever start – is partnered by the in-form Adam Kirby, who has enjoyed plenty of success in the Godolphin blue.
Bin Suroor is quietly confident about his runners, provided they can cope with the contours.
"The Derby is the biggest race in the world, and consequently it is hard to win. The track at Epsom is very difficult. Not many can handle it,” he said.
"The three we run this year are not big horses. They are medium size, and this gives them a better chance.”
Victory in the Derby would continue a remarkably successful year for Team Godolphin, which has included Group 1 turf successes in Britain, Australia, the UAE and France.
The Derby takes place at Epsom Downs on Saturday 3 June