Whilst I tend to focus on the proper action over jumps, I still take an interest in the big flat action and the openness of this year’s Derby has piqued my interest to say the least. I would be one of the first to confess to being slightly annoyed by the endless hype and interest surrounding the offspring of Frankel, but that is the world we find ourselves in and I do find myself drawn to one of his progeny in the Derby, namely the Martyn Meade colt EMINENT (114+).

Plenty has been written already about the relative weakness of this year’s Derby trials and the lack of a main candidate to emerge from them. But I think this has thrown up an opportunity, and everyone is forgetting that in the build-up to the 2000 Guineas it was being billed as one of the hottest renewals for a few years. Churchill was the winner of course, and the form looks strong with the well touted Al Wukair and Barney Roy filling the places in behind him. Happily there is only one horse set to run in the Derby that ran in the Guineas, and I think Eminent has plenty going for him to be a factor in the big race at Epsom.

First factor is the ratings themselves.  I only keep crude ratings for flat races, but on my numbers he actually comes out top of the expected line up:

Horse Rating
Eminent 114+
Best Solution 114
Waldgeist 113
Cliffs Of Moher 111+
Cracksman 111+
Permian 111
Yucatan 110
Douglas Macarthur 110
Capri 110
Benbatl 110
Venice Beach 108
Wings Of Eagles 106
Rekindling 106
Mirage Dancer 105+
Dubai Thunder 101+
Atty Persse 94+

With the trials failing to throw up a “clear” Derby candidate, it is worth remembering that the 2000 Guineas is a historically significant Derby trial in its own right. Eminent was beaten just over 3 lengths in sixth in this years running, and I went back over the 2000 Guineas since the turn of the century and focused on horses that finished in the first five lengths “zone” in the mile classic. 20 horses that finished in that zone (including winners) went onto run at Epsom, and of these 5 won the race, with a further 5 finishing in the first 3. Another 2 finished fourth, highlighting the strength of this race as a Derby trial in its own right. With the perceived weakness of the traditional Derby trials this year I think it is being somewhat forgotten that the 2000 Guineas is a good trial itself and this years was a strong renewal and thus Eminent deserves high consideration.

The second factor to consider is the manner of his running in the 2000 Guineas. On the face of it 6th was a disappointing run, but the race was certainly not run to suit with it being a slow pace that developed into a sprint finish. Unsurprisingly the speed horses came to the fore, but up to that point Eminent featured prominently before coming home under a considerate ride, only just being run out of 5th in the closing few strides. On Topspeed figures in the Racing Post, Churchill was awarded the lowest rating since Footstepsinthesand won in 2005, highlighting the lack of pace in the race and slow overall time as a result.  Eminent won the Craven over the same course and distance prior, but the lack of pace in the Guineas certainly counted against him and highlighted the need for him to step up in trip. Interestingly, I watched that Craven run a few times and it is noticeable how long it takes to pull Eminent up after the line after a strongly run race over a mile, suggesting that going up in trip should suit and bring further improvement. The fact that he can run to a mark of 114 in a race over a trip short of his best shows that he can be a live contender when stepped up further.   Put simply, Eminent had the race go completely against him in the Guineas and still clocked a decent rating…going up in trip should bring improvement and put him right in the mix in the Derby.

This all ties in with the next factor which is his pedigree screams out that he should be a better horse going up in trip. He is a half-brother to a 6f horse, but his dam You’ll Be Mine suggests that the Derby trip should be within his compass. She is a half-sister to Diamondsandrubies who won the Pretty Polly stakes over 10f, and was a Cheshire Oaks winner and fourth in the Oaks itself. Their mother was Quarter Moon, who herself was second in both the English and Irish Oaks and a sister to Yesterday who was also 2nd in the Oaks.  As you can see we don’t have to go back far on the dam side to find plenty of evidence that the mile and half is well within Eminent’s genetic make-up. We are of course yet to see evidence of how Frankel is going to influence his progeny, but I always felt he was most impressive in his Juddmonte win over 10f, and that the mile and a half would’ve been no problem. This middle distance pedigree ties in with the impression Eminent gave that the extra distance will suit when being hard to pull up in the Craven, and seemingly outpaced in a sprint finish to the Guineas.

 The final factor is his form.  I’ve already highlighted that he comes out at the top of my ratings of the Derby runners, and the form of his races stacks up well.  He won a Newmarket mile maiden by 2.75 lengths in September, with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 10th all subsequent winners.  Put away for the winter he returned to win the Craven in a fast time, and the form of that race already stacks up well.  He beat Rivet by 1.75 lengths, who went onto run a great race in the French 2000 Guineas finishing a close 3rd having set the running (clear of the 4th).  Benbatl was 3rd who went onto run a close 2nd in the Dante and Larchmont Lad was 5th who subsequently just got beaten a head in a Listed giving weight to a progressive rival.  War Decree was 6th who had previously won a Group 2, and even the last placed Gulliver just got beaten a length off 90 in a Windsor handicap when slowly away recently.  Eminent then of course went onto finish 6th in a red hot renewal of the 2000 Guineas, where the race wasn’t run to suit, but he was bang in contention before the sprint finish paid its toll.  He needs to go up in trip, where further improvement should be found and can readily be a 120+ horse as a result.  In an open Derby that should put him right in contention.

 Of the competition, Cliffs Of Moher would be the one I’d fear most.  He should come on for his comeback run in the Dee Stakes, and the form and time of his maiden win last year was good.  O’Brien is set to be mob-handed in the Derby with seven runners, and Churchill is probably their standout colt this year.  Cliffs Of Moher has largely been found by the market though and will probably go off favourite.  I would be more interested at the prices in the Stoute horse Mirage Dancer who ran an eye catching race in 4th.  It wasn’t long after the line that he was past the winner and I can see him running a big race at Epsom.

Also, don’t discount Best Solution who won the Lingfield Derby Trial well.  He probably has less scope to improve compared to others in the race but rates well and is a decent horse in his own right.  I would be less keen on Cracksman, a lot has been made of his form being franked by Permian but I didn’t feel that he handled the track that well that day and only just got up to win and on a line through Benbatl, Eminent should have the beating of the Gosden horse.

 Conclusion:  EMINENT has the best form in the race, and should improve for the step up in trip.  The traditional Derby trials haven’t thrown up a clear candidate and Cliffs Of Moher heads the O’Brien battalion.  It may be that Mirage Dancer emerges as the best horse from the trials after getting no run at Chester.

1.       EMINENT




PS. If the Andre Fabre horse Waldgeist turned up he would be a live outsider.  He was second in the Prix Greffulhe, remember Pour Moi won that race before Derby success, but I would wait and see that he shows up before considering him as he surely must be more likely to run in France.  He had Best Solution, Capri and Douglas Macarthur in behind him in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud last year.

Some jump horses to note for next season…

With the flat season now well underway, us jump fanatics are already pining for the jump season to return, so with that in mind I thought I’d highlight some exciting prospects for next season to pass away the time!  The idea of this is to try and keep away from the obvious as much as I can, and hopefully find some value selections to follow next season….


Trainer: Dan Skelton

Owner: John Hales

Dan Skelton continues to make his presence felt in the trainer ranks, and the five year old CAPTAIN FOREZ can be his first really big star when going chasing next season.

3rd on his debut in a hot novice hurdle at Newbury behind Jenkins, he was then second to Capitaine at Ascot in December.  Skelton seems to like to give his best prospects time to develop and he elected to skip Cheltenham with him and instead stepped the horse up to 2.5 miles at Aintree.  Going down by just 3 lengths to Finian’s Oscar in that Grade 1 novice hurdle was no mean feat as the tight track would not have suited.

By Network, out of a Robin Des Champs mare he is bred to be a chaser and he could step up in trip again and be at the top of the staying novices next season.  The JLT or RSA Chase would be his target next year but long term I see him as a Gold Cup prospect for 2019.


Trainer: Paul Nicholls

Owner: Mason, Ferguson & Barber

Paul Nicholls was pipped to the trainer’s title this year, but it has been an on-going transition from the Kauto Star years for the Ditcheat handler and he has plenty of fine prospects to go to war with next season.  Among those is the 5 year old CLAN DES OBEAUX who could make an impact in the staying chase division next year.

A decent juvenile hurdler he was always going to be a long term chase prospect and he announced himself a smart horse when slamming subsequent Grade 1 placed Virgilio by 10 lengths at Newbury in November.  He then went down by a narrow margin to the top class Whisper at Cheltenham at the New Year meeting, his 3rd defeat in 3 attempts at the track.

It would seem he is to be seen at his best on soft ground, where his form reads 1121251, with his two runner-up places coming at Cheltenham and his 5th at Sandown where something was amiss.  Arguably his two most impressive performances have come at Newbury, and that would raise the obvious possibility of going for the Ladbroke Gold Cup (formerly Hennessy).  There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and with the furthest he has gone so far being 2.5 miles there is every possibility that there is improvement to be found when stepped up further in trip.  His last run was at Ayr where he finished 4th behind the classy Cloudy Dream, seemingly outpaced before staying on well to finish only 6 lengths adrift at the line.  He was rated 150 prior to that run, and happily got dropped 2lbs after it.  I make him well capable of being a 160+ performer and he can be a threat in the big staying handicap chase despite his youth.  He did jump to his right at Ayr, so hopefully Nicholls can iron out and chinks in him and allow him to realise his potential.


Trainer: E P Harty

Owner: JP McManus

I spent plenty of time analysing the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, and could find no other way other than to give huge ratings to the front three horses.  Happily the winner Our Duke went on to land the Irish National and is now a major contender for next seasons Gold Cup, while the third horse Disko was 3rd in the JLT before landing his own Grade 1 at Punchestown over 3 miles.

With the form being franked so well, and the sensational time of the race I can’t help feeling that the horse that split those two rivals has been somewhat forgotten.  That horse is CONEY ISLAND, and I hope to see him match the subsequent exploits of Our Duke and Disko.

A decent novice hurdler, Coney Island is already a Grade 1 winner over fences after landing a red hot renewal of the Drinmore Chase (Road To Respect was 4th) over 2.5miles.  He was towards the head of the market in both the JLT and RSA Chase before suffering a bruised foot and missing the end of season festivals.  Whilst that is not ideal, and it remains to be seen how he returns from that injury, there is some comfort in that he didn’t have to go head to head with Might Bite in a brutal RSA Chase, or take on the enigmatic Yorkhill over half a mile shorter.  With another summer on his back, and time to recover from his injury I hope this horse can be a major player in the staying chase division.

His mother was a half-sister to Wichita Lineman and so 3 mile chases should be well within his grasp.  He did get outstayed by Our Duke at Leopardstown though and one could argue that 2.5 miles may be the more suitable distance for him.  Either way, do not forget about Coney Island!


Trainer: Philip Hobbs

Owner: JP McManus

In a year where the novice hurdling division looked a fairly average vintage, there is one horse that created a lasting visual impression on me who actually skipped the end of season festivals.  That horse is the Hobbs trained JP McManus horse JERRYSBACK.

The time of his races haven’t leapt off the page, but that is largely due to the manner of his victories where he has simply toyed with the opposition winning hard held on both occasions.  And he hasn’t been beating trees in those races.  Look at the form of the horses in behind him on his first start:

2nd Jaisalmer – set to win Kempton novice hurdle before falling at last.  Race was won by 135-rated horse.

3rd Groundunderrepair – won next time out at Lingfield.

4th Zero Grand – won next two starts, now rated 134.

5th King Uther – won Lingfield maiden hurdle.

He then won his second start cosily at Wetherby; with the third horse Eaton Hill subsequently winning.  The manner of his two victories from decent horses leads me to believe this former point to point horse is a red hot prospect for novice chasing next season.  Hobbs and McManus combined with the Triumph hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil this season, and I expect to see this horse take high rank in the novice chase division.

The horse was as short as 12/1 for the Neptune Hurdle after his second success, but connections wisely opted to let him start his summer holiday early and that caution will hopefully be rewarded as he is only a 5 year old and with his point to point background his future undoubtedly looks set to be over the larger obstacles.  By Jeremy, his dam was out of a 3 mile hurdler half- sister to Celtic Shot, so trips of 2.5m+ would look to be on his agenda.


Trainer: Jessica Harrington

Owner: G M McGrath

Yorkhill was undoubtedly one of the star horses of last season, winning the JLT Chase at Cheltenham before putting in one of the most extraordinary jumping displays I’ve seen when throwing away the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.  He put up some strong performances on the clock and it was one of the horses in behind him last year that caught my eye, namely the Jessica Harrington trained JETT.

From the family of Champion Hurdler Jezki, Jett similarly has to have good ground to be at his best.  At the time of his run behind Yorkill, the form was being dismissed largely due to Jett’s proximity to the winner, however whilst he is a notch below that class do not dismiss this horse altogether.

If we look at his form in races on yielding ground or better his form reads 52U2, there is nothing to get excited about straightway until we dig deeper into those runs.  His 5th was in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown, and his first runner-up position was on his comeback run over hurdles behind De Plotting Shed when he needed the run.  Subsequently sent over fences he unseated two out at Christmas when going well, considering the race was won by Bleu Et Rouge, with Gangster, Don’t Touch It and Acapella Bourgeois in close proximity it was potentially going to be an excellent run.  He then chased home Yorkhill on the best ground he’s had, with the aforementioned Gangster 6.5 lengths further back in third.  The time of that race was exceptional, and whilst he was no match for Yorkhill he highlighted himself as a very good chaser and one worth following.

Like the rest of his family, he has to have decent ground to be at his best, so look out for him should he encounter such conditions as he seems to be well under the radar at this stage.  Currently rated just 142, he could land a big handicap chase over 2.5 miles off that mark.


Trainer: Gordon Elliott

Owner: JP McManus

I’ve written before about how exciting a novice chase prospect SUTTON PLACE is, and next season is the time for him to deliver on that promise.  On my ratings he will be the highest rated hurdler going chasing next year and he can make a big splash in that scene.

He spent an extra season over hurdles this season, and whilst this isn’t ideal it largely came around due to an interrupted preparation to the campaign so I can let it go on this occasion.  Over hurdles this season he put in an awesome display to give weight and a beating to subsequent Coral Cup winner and Grade 1 placed Supasundae.  He was pulled up when set to launch a challenge in the stayers hurdle at Punchestown on his last start, but this came on decent ground and I was surprised that connections let him take his chance there.

Providing that race hasn’t caused anything untoward to go wrong, he can be a major player in novice chases over 2.5 miles, with the Drinmore looking the obvious early season target.  He would appear to be better on soft ground though, and so I would look to be with him in autumn and winter in Ireland but perhaps look to take him on at short odds on better ground should he go to Cheltenham.  He can though land Grade 1 races away from there should he get his ground conditions and his chase debut is eagerly anticipated.

I’ll be adding a few more to this list throughout the summer to try and alleviate the dross from the flat!