World Class: The Gurkha can prove Derby ace for O’Brien

The Gurkha

The Gurkha blitzed the field at Deauville on just his third career start

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The future was wide open for The Gurkha before he destroyed the field in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains on Sunday, but now there’s only one path on his horizon.

You can forget the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Prix du Jockey Club. In reality Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore partners only care about one race and this weekend they found the horse to win it.

The Gurkha posted an RPR of 122 when winning the French Classic at Deauville and he now looks the horse to beat in the Derby.

Hit the mark

The ratings case for The Gurkha is clear cut. In the last 17 years, 15 Derby winners arrived at Epsom with an RPR of 118 in the bag already. The other two had peak RPRs of 112 and 114 and had run just twice.

Essentially every Derby winner this side of the millennium had hit a certain level of form and before Sunday there was not one horse in the running for Epsom who lived up to the profile.

The Gurkha more than meets the class criteria and there could be more to come, as he’s only raced three times and his debut was just last month. If he’s already won a Classic by an easy five-and-a-half lengths, what’s he going to do for an encore?

Bred for endurance

There’s also the fact that a mile is unlikely to prove his optimum trip long term – just have a look at his pedigree which is absolutely chock full of stamina.

He is by Derby winner Galileo and, while his dam won over 7f at two, the rest of her family is made up almost entirely of middle-distance performers, including classy ones like Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Solemia.

Judged on pedigree alone it’s a wonder he managed to win a Group 1 over a mile, but he has and his trainer has a very strong record of stepping horses up from that distance to win the Epsom classics.

Camelot and Australia won the Derby on the back of running in the 2,000 Guineas (where they earned RPRs of 121 and 122), while Shahtoush, Imagine and Qualify won the Oaks on the back of running in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

In total, five of O’Brien’s ten Epsom Classic winners had never raced beyond a mile before lining up for their date with destiny. From a historical point of view it is unusual for a Derby favourite to come from the Poulains, but that’s just the way the chips fell this year.

Different class

The Gurkha was simply outstanding when storming away from his rivals in France and there seems no obvious reason for the Coolmore team to keep him away from the race they prize above all others.

From a form point of view the Poulains was not the strongest Classic of the year – it never is – but the winner proved a totally different class, sprinting clear inside the final furlong to score easily.

An RPR of 122 ranks The Gurkha as the joint-best winner of the race in the last ten years and gives him a few pounds in hand of his likely Epsom rivals.

Dante quality?

The Derby market had another rejig just a few days earlier when Wings Of Desire (116) landed the Dante Stakes by a neck from Deauville (115), with hot favourite Midterm back in fifth.

Wings Of Desire has a similar profile to The Gurkha, having improved rapidly from his debut defeat to win a maiden and then a big race all in the space of just over a month.

John Gosden expects the Dante winner to improve again at Epsom and, having won his maiden over 1m4f50y at Wolverhampton, there is little doubt over him having the stamina. The question with him is simply is he good enough?

After a series of Derby trial disappointments at Chester, Leopardstown and Lingfield, Midterm found himself going into the Dante Stakes as favourite for Epsom, but his defeat was just another disappointment for the list.

If The Gurkha hadn’t popped up we might cast doubts over the quality of the Derby, but O’Brien doesn’t go many seasons without turning up a world-class three-year-old colt – and on Sunday he found one.

Classic double?

In the fillies classic at Deauville on Sunday, La Cressonniere posted an RPR of 113 for her length success over Gosden’s Nathra (111).

That is one of the lowest RPRs for a Poule d’Essai des Pouliches winners in the last ten years and its manily down to the bunch finish which saw the first six separated by less than two lengths.

The winner battled on well from the front and given that she is bred to stay a bit further she is expected to try to maintain her unbeaten record in the Prix de Diane on June 19.

TOP OF THE CLASS: The Gurkha 122 Aidan O’Brien (Ire) (Poule d’Essai des Poulains, Deauville, 1m, 15 May)

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