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Epsom's Derby the most valuable and one of the most wide open


The Derby will be the most valuable race ever run in the UK with Saturday's feature being the focus of a terrific seven-race simulcast programme from Epsom's unique racecourse.

Not only is it the most valuable but Saturday's spectacular is so fiendishly competitive that it is as almost as hard to predict the colt who will start favourite as they leave the gates as it is to predict the winner.

Perhaps the popularity of Frankie Dettori will lever Wings Of Desire, who emerged from obscurity to stylishly win last month's G2 Dante Stakes (2080m) at York, into favouritism for this historic G1 clash over 2409m on Epsom Downs.

Dettori narrowly escaped serious injury in a fall at a minor meeting in the UK earlier this week. But in Hong Kong last December the 45-year-old Italian was named World's Best Jockey after making an incredible return to the big time having almost disappeared into the shadows a couple of years earlier.

He memorably rode last year's Derby winner Golden Horn who - like Wings Of Desire - was trained by charismatic John Gosden, now Britain's predominant trainer and commanding a following almost comparable to that of Dettori.

Irish-trained colts have become a feature of Derby success in recent years, and are responsible for eight of the last sixteen winners of the Epsom Classic.

The hugely touted US Army Ranger has been considered their main contender for a long time even though he failed to produce the fireworks expected of him in the G3 Chester Vase (2460m) last month. In a tense finish that day he only just overcame Port Douglas - also trained by Aidan O'Brien - and also angling for Derby glory.

Confidence seems to have slightly diminished in US Army Ranger now, and more momentum seems to be directed towards other Irish raiders including Deauville and Idaho - other accomplished O'Brien-trained three-year-olds - as well as Moonlight Magic and Harzand - both winners of their trial races and both overseen by Irish training legends - Jim Bolger and Dermot Weld respectively.

Sir Michael Stoute, another training legend, has been without a Derby runner in the last four years but he has won Britain's greatest race five times and when Stoute sends one to Epsom he tends to mean business.

The veteran Newmarket trainer famously plays his cards close to his chest but his bullishness about Ulysses - a well-balanced and beautifully bred colt whose only win came when thrashing a field of maidens - is hard to ignore.

Ryan Moore, his jockey for that Newbury romp is committed to O'Brien's US Army Ranger so Stoute was quick to engage the increasingly successful Andrea Atzeni for Ulysses' big Saturday assignment.

Ulysses is likely to be suited to the softish ground expected to prevail at Epsom after an unpredicted amount of rain landed on the track earlier this week. And slow ground conditions should also favour well fancied French challenger Cloth Of Stars, trained by France's unstoppable Andre Fabre.

This son of Sea The Stars - winner of both starts this season - has had a similar preparation to Fabre's Pour Moi back in 2011 including a trip to Epsom to familiarize himself with the oddities of the track. Pour Moi- it will be remembered - came with a stunning surge to win that year's Derby under Mickael Barzalona, the jockey of Godolphin's Cloth Of Stars on Saturday.

The other big prize on Saturday is the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Cup for older horses and there is a certain favourite for this event (also over 2409m) in the shape of the brilliant Postponed.

Atzeni's mount has made an impeccable start to 2016 with two Meydan victories including a power-packed triumph in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m), one of the world's richest races.

Postponed will start a hot favourite but three G1 winning fillies -  Simple Verse, Found and Arabian Queen - are expected to take him on. Postponed's trainer Roger Varian says: "My horse is in peak condition but it would be foolish to be complacent with those three classy fillies all wanting to get us beat."


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