World Class: Harzand win proves Derby was bang up to scratch

Harzand-360

Harzand equalled his sire Sea The Stars’s RPR of 124 in the Derby

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There were big concerns over the quality of the Derby on Saturday. It may be Europe’s premier Classic, but the trials failed to throw up a star and for the first time in over 40 years there was no Group 1 winner in the line up.

But what the race lacked in top-level form it made up for in lightly-raced, well-bred, unfinished diamonds. And as they dashed to the famous winning post three smart colts drew clear to provide a result that was bang up to standard.

Dermot Weld is a master at conjuring up the unexpected. They told him he wouldn’t win the Belmont Stakes and the Melbourne Cup, but the understated Irishman has proved them wrong time and again and on Saturday he found life in the Epsom desert in the form of Harzand.

The winner was a length and a half too good for US Army Ranger (122). He posted an RPR of 124, which is just off the ten year average of 124.7 and matches the figure his sire, the mighty Sea The Stars, achieved when winning the race back in 2008.

Path to the Arc

There’s no suggestion yet that this colt will go on to emulate Sea The Stars’s glittering achievements, but he did show enough to indicate more Group 1 wins are within his range.

Next on his agenda is the Irish Derby. This is the same race the four previous Aga Khan-owned Derby winners (Shergar, Sharastani, Kahyasi and Sinndar) went on to win before training towards the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October.

Shergar was retired before he got to France but the rest made it to Longchamp (Sinndar was the only one to actually win the Arc) and then all retired shortly afterwards.

As far as Harzand is concerned, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes will likely be run on unsuitably fast ground, so his most likely path through the calendar would be Irish Derby, Prix Niel or St Leger and then finish up in the Arc, for which he is a best price of 10-1.

Immature Ranger

He has to be in the mix for the Arc on the back of this strong staying performance, but similar claims can be made for a couple of other horses who ran at Epsom on the weekend, including Derby runner-up US Army Ranger.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt is currently 12-1 for the Arc. He was drawn wide on Saturday, but after racing in the rear he kept on well down the hill and made ground hand over fist before being outstayed by the winner as they met the rising ground.

Connections called him ‘babyish’ at Chester and again on the weekend. He’s still showing a lot of ability despite his inexperience, but ‘immature’ is not the most promising description of a horse aiming to defeat his elders in the Arc.

The real strength of Saturday’s Derby form comes from the margin by which the first three pulled clear. Idaho (119) was beaten a length and a quarter in third. He finished five-lengths clear of Dante-winner Wings of Desire, with Lingfield-winner Humphrey Bogart a further three-lengths away in fifth.

Premier Postponed

Postponed was the other big winner at Epsom on Saturday, landing the Coronation Cup by four-and-a-half lengths from Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found.

The winner’s pacemaker, Roseburg, set a muddling gallop and had a five-length lead entering the straight, eventually holding on for an unlikely third.

The final time was over three seconds slower than the Derby and the proximity of Roseburg puts a bit of a downer on the bare form, but it was still a huge effort from Postponed to cruise into contention and storm clear of Found.

He ran to form with an RPR of 125, maintaining his status as the premier older middle-distance horse in Europe. He now leads the market for both the King George at Ascot and the Arc.

A repeat of this performance would make him the one to beat in the King George and considering the way he won he could be capable of running even better – perhaps into the high-120s – off a stronger pace.

Mega Minding

When it comes round to the Arc he will face a lot more competition from the easy-ground brigade. And yet another Arc challenger who declared an interest at Epsom last week was Minding (118), who was superb in the Oaks.

O’Brien’s star filly is a general 8-1 chance for the Arc after stamping her superiority over the three-year-old fillies by following up her 1,000 Guineas win in the Epsom Classic.

Despite meeting plenty of trouble and being shuffled back to last entering the straight she stayed on powerfully to score by a length and a quarter with something to spare.

She’s the best filly around but we’re yet to see where she ranks in the grand scheme.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Postponed 125 Roger Varian (GB) (Coronation Cup, Epsom, 1m4f10y, 4 June)

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