The purists will insist that Saturday’s 2017 Derby at Epsom is not one of the great versions of the three-year-old Classic, whose history traces back to 1780 and whose geography involves unforgiving climbs, sharp descents and a unique camber.
It is certainly true that no champions have emerged - so far - but what has evolved is an enthralling horse race with endless sub-plots. These include multiple contenders from Britain’s big battalions and lesser names hoping to steal the prestige - and the money - in the richest ever G1 Derby at Epsom (2405m).
Exceptional Newmarket trainer John Gosden sums it up: “It’s a very open race - perhaps the most open Derby of modern times - and it’s a great race which means that people can be bold and have a go.”
And the man who sent out Golden Horn to win in 2015 under Frankie Dettori is certainly having a go this year with five potential runners, including possible favourite Cracksman - owned like Golden Horn by Anthony Oppenheimer and also the mount of the irrepressible Dettori.
“Cracksman is no Golden Horn,” admits Gosden of the son of Frankel, unbeaten in two starts. “But he’s been and done it at Epsom (winning the Derby Trial there in April) and Frankie says that he’s crying out for 2400m.”
Gosden’s other ammunition includes recent Goodwood winner Khalidi, supplemented at a cost of £85,000 (HK$850,000) this week, the other supplementary entry being the permanently underestimated Permian. This colt very nearly held off Cracksman in that Derby Trial and his two subsequent victories in a busy career include York’s G2 Dante Stakes (2051m), sometimes the most crucial Derby audition.
Permian’s trainer Mark Johnston says: “I’m not having sleepless nights about it, but we have to run. The evidence shouts that Permian has got better since Epsom and Cracksman is going to have improved to beat us again.”
Group 1 wins have dried up in recent years for Saeed Bin Suroor but he has scored 179 of them worldwide, first having been thrust into the spotlight when Lammtarra won the Derby 22 years ago.
Sheikh Mohammed’s long-standing trainer feels a period of turbulence for the stable is now resolved and is buzzing about the prospects of his three candidates - Best Solution, Dubai Thunder and Benbatl.
Undoubtedly, Listed Lingfield Derby Trial (2321m) winner Best Solution has the strongest form of the trio but one senses that the 48-year-old trainer is particularly drawn to Dubai Thunder, similarly inexperienced as Lammtarra all those years ago with just one win from one run.
“I like him very much for the Derby despite his lack of experience. I know that one day he’ll be something special,” remarks workaholic Bin Suroor, who says he hasn’t had - or wanted - a holiday in 25 years.
Then of course there is Aidan O’Brien’s numerically powerful challenge as the Irish maestro seeks a sixth success in the Epsom Classic - having also won all four Classic races run in Britain and Ireland so far this year.
It is hard to decipher which of the Ballydoyle contingent is the strongest player, though early betting directs one towards Chester winner Cliffs Of Moher and Capri, both sons of Galileo, with the latter trying to become the first grey to win the Derby in living memory.
Lots of other excitements on the six-race simulcast programme include the ’Dash’, that famous 1000m downhill rush. One of the big talking points in this test of pure speed is the possibility that popular veteran Caspian Prince will win this hugely-competitive race for a third time for a third different trainer.