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Time For a Russian Emperor? The Sputnik Intelligent Punter's Guide to The 2020 Epsom Derby

© Adam DavyMasar ridden by jockey William Buick coming home to win the Investec Derby during derby day of the 2018 Investec Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Britain
Masar ridden by jockey William Buick coming home to win the Investec Derby during derby day of the 2018 Investec Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Britain - Sputnik International
It’s the most famous Flat race in the world, but this year, Saturday’s Epsom Derby, due off at 4.55 pm, will be arguably the most unusual in its 240-year history, as it will be run 'behind closed doors.' The question is: who will win?

A Derby run in July (after Royal Ascot) and with no spectators. Sounds utterly far-fetched doesn’t it, but isn’t everything that has happened so far in 2020 stranger than fiction?

Although we can’t go to Epsom to watch the race- even the famous Downs have been cordoned off-, we can still follow the proceedings on tv and the watch will obviously be more enjoyable if we pick the winner, or at least a placed runner. Last year we flagged up the chances of the 13-2 winner Anthony Van Dyck. Can we do it again?

What are the most important trends to bear in mind when making our selections?

First, the draw.  

It's proved quite significant in the 1m4f Blue Riband event, with no horses drawn 1 or 2 winning this century, and no horse-drawn 1 finishing better than fourth. Last year the horses drew 1 and 2 finished 8th and last respectively.

At the same time, horses drawn on the wide outside don't have a great record either. The best place to be is in stalls 7-10, with stall ten providing no fewer than ten winners since 1986- and stall seven providing two winners and three places since 2011.

Since 2009 there has only been one year (2014) when at least one horse stalled 7-10 didn't make the first three and in two of the last five years, two horses stalled 7-10 placed. So if you back all four horses drawn 7-10 each-way the stats suggest you'll be unlucky not to get at least one placed.

Last year the system would have got you the 13-2 winner, Anthony Van Dyck in stall 7, while the horse in stall 8, Broome, only missed out on third-place by a head.

Second, breeding. Six of the last ten winners were sired by a previous Derby winner, with three winners since 2013, including last year’s winner, Anthony Van Dyck, sired by Galileo.

Third, trainer record. Aidan O'Brien is the trainer with the best record in the race, having won it seven times (and five times since 2012), but he has had an awful lot of runners (six again this year) and it's not always his most obvious entry which obliges, as we saw from Wings of Eagles' success in 2017 and Anthony Van Dyck‘s in 2019.

So here’s a horse-by-horse guide to the runners

  • Strong chance
  • Each-way contender
  • Outsider
  • No hoper
  1. AMHRAN NA BHFIANN ** Draw: 5.  Odds 66-1.
    The least fancied of Aidan O’Brien’s sextet, by Galileo, but would have to step up markedly from what he has achieved in two runs so far.
  2. EMISSARY ** Draw 4. Odds 25-1.
    Jockey Jim Crowley was in great form at Royal Ascot, should stay, but there’s been no winner from a stall lower than 5 since 2009 and others make more appeal, certainly from a win perspective.
  3. ENGLISH KING *** Draw 1 Odds: 7-2.
    Has been the favourite for this since his impressive win in the Lingfield Derby trial. He‘s by a Derby winner (Camelot), Frankie Dettori is on board and clearly ‘The King’ has a big chance on the form book but he’s not favoured by the draw: there’s been no winner from stall one this century and none of the 40 runners drawn one over course and distance in the last ten years have won.
  4. GOLD MAZE * Draw 16. Odds 125-1.
    By a Derby winner (Golden Horn) so ticks that box, but will have to step up on form and has the widest draw, (no horse has ever won from stall 16), so all things considered looks up against it.  
  5. HIGHLAND CHIEF *** Draw 13. Odds 14-1.
    Co-trainer Paul Cole won the race in 1991 with Generous;  worth his place in this field following impressive win in lower grade at Royal Ascot, but there’s been no winner from stall 13 since 1988 and is more likely to place than win.
  6. KAMEKO *** Draw 11. Odds 9-2.
    Strongly fancied following his 2000 Guineas success, that’s arguably the best form on offer, but no horse has ever won this from stall 11,  and that together with stamina doubts tempers one’s enthusiasm.
  7. KHALIFA SAT  ***  Draw 14. Odds 33-1.
    Wings of Eagles won from stall 14 in 2017, so can’t be ruled out on that, should stay, but needs to improve on what’s he’s shown so far and others make more appeal from a win perspective.
  8. MAX VEGA *** Draw 7. Odds 33-1.
    Won a 1m2f Group 3 at Newmarket quite impressively as a two-year-old, while return run earlier this month wasn’t too impressive, should improve and has a plum draw so can’t rule out at least from an each-way perspective.
  9. MOGUL *** Drawn 2. Odds 7-2.
    Ryan Moore’s choice from the six Ballydoyle runners, that would appear to be a positive, but he has chosen ‘wrong’ the last three years, and it could be the same case again as no horse has ever won from stall 2.
  10. MOHICAN HEIGHTS ***. Draw 15. Odds 18-1.
    Being drawn second from the outside isn’t ideal; but apart from that you can make a cogent case out for him: he’s by a Derby winner (Australia) and the trip should be absolutely no problem.  
  11. MYTHICAL *** Draw 10. Odds 66-1.
    Would need to step up markedly on form, but is by a Derby winner (Camelot) and does have a plum draw (stall ten has produced ten winners in all and two in the last seven years), so a bold showing wouldn’t be a total surprise.
  12. PYLEDRIVER **. Draw 3. Odds 16-1.
    Surprise winner of at Group 2 at Royal Ascot where he had a fitness advantage over his rivals, trip should be fine, but low draw isn’t in his favour.
  13. RUSSIAN EMPEROR **** Draw 6. Odds 13-2.
    The second best in the betting of  Aidan O’Brien’s septet, but don’t let that put you off, this one ticks quite a few boxes as he’s by a Derby winner, (Galileo). reasonably drawn, and has last year’s winning rider Seumas Heffernan on board. A lot to like.
  14. SERPENTINE **  Draw 12. Odds 20-1.
    Steps up to Group company after running away with a Curragh maiden, obviously needs to improve again but is by a Derby winner, is trained by Aidan O’Brien and doesn’t have a bad draw, so can’t be entirely dismissed.
  15. VATICAN CITY ***. Draw 8. Odds 10-1.
    By Galileo, trained by Aidan O’Brien and in the favoured 7-10 draw range, so plenty of positives, the negative is that there are stamina doubts as he hasn‘t raced beyond a mile‘; that said he was running on well at the finish of the Irish 2000 Guineas.
  16. WORTHILY ***. Draw 9. Odds 33-1.
    Pitched in at the deep end after landing a Newbury maiden in June, but trainer John Gosden has won the race twice before,  and a good draw puts him on the list of each way possible.

Conclusion: Several in with chances in what looks a very open  renewal, and the interesting thing is that the three market leaders, English King, Mogul and Kameko are poorly drawn in 1, 2 and 11.

One that fits the trends probably best of all is Russian Emperor, and because of that he is the main selection. Seeing that five of the last seven winners have been drawn 7-10, careful consideration should be given to horses drawn in those berths, particularly Max Vega in 7, while Mohican Heights could easily outperform his odds.
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