English King was installed as the Derby favourite shortly after his emphatic win in the trial at Lingfield earlier this month – but truthfully, my interest in him was formed a while ago now.
I watched his debut at Newmarket back in October last year, and Ed Walker’s then two-year-old was the one that caught my eye before they even got to post. He was an expensive son of Camelot, owned by Bjorn Nielsen, that looked the part.
After the race – in which he finished seventh – he went straight into my tracker. In fact, here’s exactly what I wrote: “Expensive purchase with a Derby entry. Well-bred. Very green but stayed on (wants further). One to keep an eye on for sure.”
Now, I’m not going to lie and say that, right there and then, I fancied him for the Derby. I didn’t – but I was pleasantly surprised when he went off 13/2 for a maiden at Newcastle over 1m2f a month later.
The way he won that day really stuck with me. He travelled with purpose, and put the race to bed very easily with a brilliant turn of foot. That’s when I knew we were looking at a really good horse (see my Five horses to follow this Flat season piece).
So, fast forward to the start of the month and English King makes his seasonal reappearance in the Derby Trial at Lingfield – the race won by subsequent Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck last year.
Was it the strongest renewal? No. Not even close. However, Andrew Balding’s Berkshire Rocco, rated 104, provided a good standard to see how much English King had improved as a three-year-old. The answer? Loads.
English King travelled with his usual authority, and all Tom Marquand needed to do was press go and the son of Camelot was home and dry. He was cut instantly to favourite for the Derby, and he’s only shortened since – currently 5/2 with Betfred.
Many experts far smarter than me have studied that Derby Trial and concluded that it was a particularly fast-run race, and so English King probably had no right to win it in the manner he did.
Santiago’s win in the Irish Derby last weekend has strengthened the form too, given Berkshire Rocco was just two lengths off him in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot. English King, however, beat Berkshire Rocco by over two lengths, pulling away, still on the bridle.
Something people are also overlooking is that Newcastle maiden I referred to. That’s working out well – with the second, third and fifth winning since.
Even when you put form aside though, I think English King has all the right credentials for the Derby. He handled Lingfield, which is used for the trial for a reason, just fine. Being a son of Camelot – who won the Derby right after winning the 2000 Guineas – and on what we’ve seen so far, he has the perfect blend of speed and stamina, which we all know is crucial when it comes to the Derby.
I also think it’s a big plus that Frankie has been booked. Sure, it’s harsh on Marquand, who I really feel for in this situation, but the fact of the matter is that Dettori is the greatest jockey in the country, especially on the big stage, so I can understand the thinking.
I can understand the question marks about English King’s price. I understand people’s fears that Ed Walker has never won a Classic (although nobody had won one until they won it) and I can understand how, at face value, he’s only won a maiden at Newcastle and an ordinary Derby trial – however, I think he has the strongest claims of a field with several questions to answer.
For example, while I obviously fear the 2000 Guineas winner Kameko (4/1), he’s making the step-up from 1m to 1m4f for the first time, and his breeding suggests that might not be within his reach. Aidan O’Brien’s Vatican City (8/1) also has stamina to prove after his admittedly eye-catching second to Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas – while Mogul (6/1), another of the O’Brien battalion, has a very disappointing reappearance to put miles behind him.
However, I do really fear his Russian Emperor (6/1). I think the Hampton Court he won at Royal Ascot will prove to be strong form, and I have absolutely no doubts he will relish the 1m4f trip for the first time. Aside from English King, he has the most obvious claims in my book.
It won’t be the same, an Epsom Derby without the five-figure crowds, but it looks a cracking race – and I’m hoping the King reigns supreme.