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2018 Epsom Derby tips - Star rating guide for Epsom’s main event

Wings Of Eagles winning the 2017 Epsom Derby.

Our expert has looked at some of the key players set to line up in the Epsom Derby and provides readers with his tips via his star rating guide.

The second Classic of the season and the most famous flat race in the world is just around the corner – the Epsom Derby. First staged on Epsom Downs in 1780, some of horse racing’s most successful flat stars have claimed victory in this 12 furlong Group One and a victory in the Derby would ensure the champion’s place in the annals of history.

Now that all the major trials races have been run, our expert has looked through the ante-post betting for the 2018 Derby and produced this star rating guide – taking a look at each of the key protagonists in details and rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

2018 Epsom Derby Star Rating Guide

Mark Johnston’s charge showed plenty of smart form during his juvenile season, registering two victories and finishing second to the hugely impressive Kew Gardens on his final two-year-old start. A wide draw meant it was difficult for the favourite to get his teeth stuck into the Derby Trial at Epsom, but Dee Ex Dee headed into the Chester Vase on the back of a decent third place finish.

The draw, again, was unkind on Franny Norton’s mount at Chester. Despite landing the cruellest gate of all out in stall ten, Dee Ex Bee managed to track Young Rascal move from just off the pace and passed the post a half-length runner-up. Fast ground is a worry for this Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned colt, but Dee Ex Bee has winning experience here at Epsom and looks more than capable of seeing out the trip.

Dee Ex Bee Star Rating ? 3.5 ?

Delano Roosevelt will be one of six possible entrants for Aidan O'Brien (right) in this year's Derby.

Delano Roosevelt has failed to find a victory since a comfortable triumph on debut. But, in truth, Aidan O’Brien’s charge has done very little wrong. He finished third behind Nelson and Kew Gardens in the Group Three Juvenile Stakes, second to Saxon Warrior in the Beresford and has recorded two further runner-up finishes in Derby Trials this season.

Nelson has been a little up and down this term and The Pentagon has failed to impress. Delano Roosevelt is the only one of the Ballysax and Derrinstown trio who has done himself justice in both races – in spite of a terrible start in the Derrinstown - and his consistency makes him a factor in the Derby. 

Does Delano Roosevelt have the star quality or the appeal of some of his rivals? No, but no-one gave Wings Of Eagles much of a chance 12 months ago and we all know how that story ended. Of the Aidan O’Brien second-string entrants, he’s the one to watch.

Delano Roosevelt Star Rating ? 4 ?

Few gave Hazapour much of a squeak as he tackled a trio of Ballydoyle runners on his reappearance in the Derrinstown. Dermot Weld’s colt carried a price of 16/1 to post, but Hazapour travelled beautifully throughout the race - overtaking the flagging Nelson with a furlong to travel before comfortably holding on to claim a huge Trials victory.

Understandably, Hazapour’s odds in the Derby were clipped after that win. Hazapour’s dam stayed a mile-and-a-half well and he’s certainly open to improvement, but his two-year-old form isn’t particularly impressive and I fancy Delano Roosevelt may have had his number had he got off to a better start.

Hazapour Star Rating ? 3.5 ?

Kew Gardens winning well at Newmarket last season.

You could go so far as to say Kew Garden’s has been one of the most disappointing horses this season. Aidan O’Brien’s charge has failed to build on some smart juvenile form, losing out to Mildenberger and Fortune’s Pearl in the Feilden Stakes, before failing to lay a glove on Knight To Behold when finishing a well-held second in the Derby Trail at Lingfield.

Even as I write this, I find myself thinking it would be typical if Kew Gardens pulled a fantastic performance out of the woodwork at Epsom. Yet, recent results can’t be ignored and I don’t fancy going anywhere near Kew Gardens if he makes Aidan O’Brien’s Derby squad.

Kew Gardens Star Rating ? 3 ?

Richard Kingscote’s mount bounded out of the stalls at Lingfield, showing no signs of ring rust having spent 200 days off the track. Most onlookers were expecting Knight To Behold to come back to the field upon entering the home straight, but Harry Dunlop’s charge saw out the trip extremely well and beat Kew Gardens by almost four lengths.

The Lingfield Trial hasn’t been the highest quality Derby trial down the years, but it was hard not to be taken by Knight To Behold’s commanding victory. This son of Sea The Stars proved himself over the distance and who’s to say that bold, front-running tactic won’t pay off again when he makes his Group One debut. 

Knight To Behold Star Rating ? 4 ?

Masar (centre, blue) powers miles clear of his pursuers in the Craven Stakes.

William Buick stole a march on his rivals in the first half of the Craven and Masar never looked back, powering to a superb nine length victory. The Godolphin flag-bearer was backed into favouritism for the Guineas following that demolition and, although he could only finish third at Newmarket, he lived up to his star billing with a very encouraging display.

Masar is a big-time performer, with plenty of experience and comes into Epsom on the back of a strong showing in, arguably, the best trial. His sire, New Approach won the Derby in 2008 and dam, Khawlah won Grouped races out in Meydan over trips further than a mile. Masar could be the best each-way prospect in this year’s Epsom Derby.

Masar Star Rating ? 4.5 ?

After watching Nelson pounding down the Rowley Mile in pursuit of Roaring Lion in the Royal Lodge Stakes, there was little doubt in my mind he would improve with the step up in trip during his three-year-old campaign. A smart victory in the Ballysax on his reappearance was the perfect prelude to the Derrinstown Trial, but Nelson found himself severely wanting for pace on better ground at Leopardstown, plummeting back through the pack before trailing over the line sixth.

Despite that poor showing, I’m not prepared to give up on Nelson. I think he’s a very progressive stayer and certainly has a big win in him. Sadly, with the ground likely to be quick at Epsom, that triumph won’t be coming in the Derby and I’d be surprised if Nelson was declared.

Nelson Star Rating ? 3 ?

Oisin Murphy guides Roaring Lion to an impressive victory in the Dante.

For a moment, I thought Roaring Lion was producing a run worthy of challenging Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas. Oisin Murphy’s mount ploughed a lone furrow down the near rail and a bit of company would have helped him keep to his task a little better and maybe finish a little higher than fifth. None-the-less, it was an encouraging performance following that flat showing in the Craven and Roaring Lion entered the Dante as the favourite.

The field were tightly packed entering the final third of the race, until Oisin Muprhy spied a gap and asked Roaring Lion to go. John Gosden’s mount put the race to bed in the blink of an eye, powering to a lengthy triumph over Mildenberger on the Knavesmire. 

While that was a very taking performance, there will still signs of his old wanderings as he veered increasingly left in the closing stages. Better balance is required on the undulating track at Epsom, but there’s no doubting Roaring Lion deserves his stop near the head of the betting – although there are others who hold greater appeal at their ante-post prices.

Roaring Lion Star Rating ? 4 ?

After ending his two-year-old campaign with a wonderful battling victory over Roaring Lion in the Racing Post Trophy, Saxon Warrior was one of the talking horses heading into 2018. As he had shown signs of strong staying ability, I feared a slight lack of pace would hinder his performance in the Guineas, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Saxon Warrior shifted from second to fifth gear in the space of 50 yards and comfortably claimed the first Classic of the season.

Aidan O’Brien cannot contain his excitement when he discusses Saxon Warrior and it’s very easy to see why. Some have suggested this son of Deep Impact isn’t bred to stay a-mile-and-a-half, but with names like Galileo and Danehill in his family tree, there’s a strong chance he could show further improvement with the step up beyond the mile.

Flat racing hasn’t seen a Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970, but there’s a strong chance this colt could follow in those illustrious footsteps. I would be surprised if Saxon Warrior didn’t live up to the hype and win the Epsom Derby.

Donnacha OBrien drives Saxon Warrior (right, purple) to a tremendous triumph in the 2000 Guineas.

Saxon Warrior Star Rating ? 5 ?

Last summer, The Pentagon was being touted as a future Derby winner after a couple of strong victories at home in Ireland. Aidan O’Brien’s colt ran a respectable race to finish third in the Racing Post Trophy, but two further thirds in the Ballysax and the Derrinstown can be seen as hugely underwhelming performances.

There’s no doubting The Pentagon has talent and the step up to 12 furlongs is likely to suit, judging by his breeding. Recent performances, however, cannot be overlooked and The Pentagon has plenty of ground to make up on four of the five horses sitting at the top end of the Derby betting.

The Pentagon Star Rating ? 3.5 ?

Young Rascal (right, yellow) beating Dee Ex Bee (left) in the Chester Vase.

James Doyle was on hand to guide Young Rascal to a routine victory on debut, before heading to Chester for a tilt at the Chester Vase. William Haggas’ charge travelled powerfully throughout that Group Three. Doyle angled his mount out wide to circumnavigate the fading leaders and Young Rascal produced an excellent run to snatch a superb victory.

Wings Of Eagles won the Derby after finishing second in the Chester Vase and I think that has been a contributing factor behind several expert’s tipping Young Rascal - and even Dee Ex Bee -  to win the Derby. True, William Haggas’ charge showed plenty of class and potential when winning that day, but the form of the Vase doesn’t look particularly impressive and I worry the step up to Group One company may have come a little too soon.

Young Rascal Star Rating ? 4 ?

Full Epsom Derby Star Rating Guide

? Saxon Warrior 5 ?
Masar 4.5
Delano Roosevelt 4
Knight To Behold 4
Roaring Lion 4
Young Rascal 4
Dee Ex Bee 3.5
Hazapour 3.5
The Pentagon 3.5
Kew Gardens 3
Nelson 3

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2018 Epsom Derby tips - Star rating guide for Epsom’s main event

Our expert has looked at some of the key players set to line up in the Epsom Derby and provides readers with his tips via his star rating guide for Saturday 2nd June.

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