Epsom Downs staged its annual Breakfast With The Stars media event on Tuesday ahead of the Investec Derby Festival on Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1.
Aidan O'Brien and John Gosden were among a host of trainers and jockeys to share their thoughts ahead of three feature G1 races over the two days - the £1.5 million Investec Derby, the £500,000 Investec Oaks and the £425,000 Investec Coronation Cup. All three contests are part of the British Champions Series.
O'Brien revealed that he could run as many as eight horses in the Investec Derby on Saturday, June 1, as he seeks a record-equalling seventh success. A total of 18 colts remain engaged following today's scratchings deadline.
Ireland's 21-time champion Flat trainer has a litany of talent at his disposal for the premier Classic, with a number of his team landing most of the recognised trials in the run-up to the 12-furlong event.
O'Brien's revealed that his team is likely to be spearheaded by the unbeaten Sir Dragonet, who is 7/2 joint-favourite with Unibet, the official betting partner of the Investec Derby Festival.
The son of Camelot backed up victory in a Tipperary maiden in April with a taking eight-length victory over stable companion Norway (33/1) in the G3 Chester Vase over an extended 12 furlongs earlier this month.
Despite talk earlier this week of Sir Dragonet potentially heading for the French Derby at Chantilly a week later, the Coolmore triumvirate of John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor are now reportedly favouring supplementing the colt for the Epsom Downs showpiece at a cost of £85,000.
Also at the head of the market is Broome (7/2) who has captured a pair of G3 races at Leopardstown this term. An impressive eight-length winner of the Ballysax Stakes in April, the son of Australia landed the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on May 12 last time out.
Discussing his Investec Derby team in a phone interview this morning, O'Brien commented: "Sir Dragonet has been going great at home. If I had a bet on it, I think the lads are favouring towards running him at Epsom over France. We don't have to make our mind up until the supplementary stage but we are favouring Epsom.
"He was always a very easy horse at home and has only done what he was asked. He has never tried to stand out from the crowd. What we have asked him to do he has done really well. The only time he has been asked is when he has run twice. He showed that he quickens nicely over middle distances. I know John Magnier considers Epsom to be the Holy Grail and the ground is Epsom is always beautiful.
"Broome has had two runs. Ryan and Donnacha have been happy with him and everything has been good with him. Norway ran well at Chester and he stays the mile and a half, which he did well at Chester."
O'Brien's other contenders include Listed Lingfield Derby Trial victor Anthony Van Dyck (5/1), Listed Dee Stakes scorer Circus Maximus (20/1) and G2 Dante Stakes fourth Japan (9/1).
Assessing his team, O'Brien said: "To be fair to all of the horses, they have all done what has been asked of them. We have run the horses in the trials and we knew they were all going to come forward from it.
"I know Maria [Niarchos-Gouazé] and the lads thought about Epsom for Circus Maximus after Chester and I think we knew that he would come forward from Chester.
"Anthony Van Dyck was always a horse we thought would get middle distances. We kept him to short enough distances last year and he ran some really good races as a two-year-old where he won the Futurity and was third in a Dewhurst. We always thought he was going to be a middle distance horse so we were delighted with how he got on last year. Ryan was very happy with him at Lingfield and he thought he got the trip well.
"Cape Of Good Hope won the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom and he has come forward again from that. He is a full-brother to Idaho and Highland Reel. When we stepped those two horses up to a mile and a half, they improved again.
"Norway ran well behind Sir Dragonet at Chester and he will improve for that run and he proved he stayed the trip.
"Japan will improve an awful lot from the Dante. That was his first run of the year and he did a bit of work this morning which went very well. I think he will get the mile and a half very well.
"Mohawk ran at Chester and ran very well. We are not sure if he is a definite mile and a half horse, so we could wait for the French Derby with him.
"I think there will be a good crew of horses there. If their work goes well between now and then, we should have a good crew at Epsom."
O'Brien has saddled seven winners of the Investec Oaks and he is set to be represented by Pink Dogwood, a 3/1 chance with Unibet for the £500,000 contest which takes place on Friday, May 31. The daughter of Camelot ran on strongly to capture a Listed race over 10 furlongs at Navan on her reappearance.
He continued: "Pink Dogwood runs in the Investec Oaks and we are very happy with her. We loved her last year and we always thought she was going to be a middle distance filly and we always thought she was going to be our main Oaks filly. She was only just ready to start when she won at Navan and that was a slowly run race and she has come forward from that. She could be joined by a couple of others including Fleeting. Pink Dogwood will be the main one."
2018 G1 St Leger winner Kew Gardens will represent team Ballydoyle in the £425,000 G1 Investec Coronation Cup on Friday, May 31, following a satisfactory return to action when second in the G3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester earlier this month. "Kew Gardens will run in the Coronation Cup," said O'Brien. "The plan was to always go to Chester just to show that he handled a left-handed track. When he ran at Epsom in the Derby last year, he was a bit disappointing so we wanted to make sure he handles a left-handed track. The Coronation Cup is the plan. Magical will run at the Curragh this weekend."
Hughie Morrison will make a decision in the next "seven to 10 days" about the participation of Telecaster in the Investec Derby.
Winner of the G2 Dante Stakes at York last week over an extended 10 furlongs, the son of New Approach is a 7/1 shot with Unibet. Telecaster finished second on his first start at Doncaster to fellow Investec Derby entry Bangkok (8/1) and Morrison is in no rush to make a decision as to whether to stump up the £85,000 supplementary fee.
He revealed: "Telecaster had a very hard race against Too Darn Hot last week at York. We are going to need a bit more time before we make a decision.
"There is only a 16 day gap between the Dante and the Derby. We are perfectly happy with him and we are doing everything we would like him to do after a race. We will bide our time until as late as possible.
"I have not spoken to the owners yet in detail. If the horse did run, I would not be able to put my hand on my heart and say that he has fully recovered. It would be wrong of me to say and you can't really judge after a big race, because he is not the sort of horse who is going to be working all the time as he doesn't need a lot of work.
"He has an extremely high cruising speed. As a three-year-old staying colt, he is the best I have ever trained. He has shown us things no other horse has done. He finds everything very easy. He is very much like his mother [Shirocco Star] who I also trained.
"Telecaster is growing up all the time. We'll definitely push it till at least the weekend as it is a serious lot of money. We have got a free entry into the Irish Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris, so we will have to think about that too.
"Marmelo is absolutely bang on course to run in the Investec Coronation Cup. The horse is in excellent form and he has come on again from Newbury."
Oisin Murphy could ride Telecaster in the Investec Derby and he commented: "I saw Hughie Morrison at Windsor and he said that Telecaster has come out of the Dante very well. Obviously he hasn't spoken to the owners yet and it is still early days, so I think they'll make a decision in the next few days. It's a short period of time from the Dante to Epsom, but all has gone well so far. It is every jockey's dream to have a big ride in the Derby.
"I felt he showed how much speed he has in the Dante, because he sat just off the lead off a strong pace. He relaxed on the run to the straight and I had time to fill him up before we went again. He beat the best two-year-old we have seen since Frankel in Too Darn Hot. Take nothing away from Telecaster who beat some very smart horses.
"He is bred for the job being out of New Approach and Shirocco Star, an Oaks second. It took Frankie about 50 years to win the Derby, but hopefully one day it could happen for me! I am still learning about the race, but it would be nice to go a few places better in this year's renewal."
Newmarket trainer John Gosden confirmed that he will be doubly represented in the Investec Oaks. Mehdaayih is the 5/2 favourite with Unibet following a striking four and a half-length success in the Listed Cheshire Oaks on May 8 and the daughter of Frankel is due to be supplemented for the fillies' Classic at a cost £30,000. Similarly, Gosden will saddle Anapurna (7/1), winner of the Listed Lingfield Oaks Trial by six lengths on May 11.
Discussing the pair, Gosden said: "The plan is to supplement Mehdaayih - the owner is keen to do so and we are too. Anapurna has come out of Lingfield in great order and has been left in the Oaks.
"They are both athletic and light on their feet so should handle the track but, in the heat of the race, they have to be on the right lead and you never know and it is a different ball game. Both fillies won their trials with great authority and Anapurna probably has more of an emphasis on stamina with her pedigree. I couldn't be happier with both fillies.
"Entitle is more likely to go for the Ribblesdale, we have been very happy with her since the Musidora.
"I couldn't be happier with both of our Oaks fillies and Rab [Robert] Havlin will ride the one Frankie [Dettori] doesn't. We have two realistic chances in the race and I think the betting indicates who is our best."
Gosden has also left Private Secretary (25/1), unbeaten in two starts this term, and Salisbury scorer Humanitarian (40/1) in the Investec Derby. The trainer added: "Private Secretary is a possible for the Derby and he won nicely at Sandown. We have been happy with him since and he'll be kept in the race along with Humanitarian, who had a slight hold-up after having a setback at the start of the season.
"We will discuss things with both of their owners before making a final decision. One has to be bold sometimes and have a good look at such a wonderful race as the Derby."
St Leger runner-up Lah Ti Dar is on course to run in the G1 Investec Coronation Cup following a battling success on her return to action in the G2 Middleton Stakes over an extended 10 furlongs at York on May 16.
The four-year-old daughter of Dubawi is a 3/1 shot with Unibet, while Gosden could also saddle Coronet (12/1) in the 12-furlong contest, who finished fourth on her return to action in the G2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on May 4.
Gosden continued: "Lah Ti Dar was running over very much a minimum trip at York, but she got the job done. Coronet has come out of Newmarket well and that race turned into a three-furlong dash. We will be staying in the Coronation Cup with both of those and it's looking like it will be a small, but high-quality field."
Frankie Dettori has captured the Investec Derby on two occasions, whilst he has won the Investec Oaks four times. The Italian is relishing this year's Investec Derby Festival, but has yet to decide whether he will partner Anapurna and Mehdaayih.
Dettori revealed: "Horses can change a lot and some improve and some don't. In terms of the Oaks, I will sit down with John after riding their work this weekend and then make a decision.
"Anapurna and Mehdaayih won both of their trials really easily. I don't want to put any names in my mouth. At the moment, I am pretty open-minded and will make a decision after the weekend. Both fillies have a winning chance.
"John said Private Secretary has improved a lot and he won the race at Sandown which Jack Hobbs famously won. He is rated 92, so he'll have to improve a lot to be competitive, but if John says that the horse has improved, then you have to listen. I will probably ride him this weekend and we'll take it from there.
"I was involved in the Dante and I was impressed with Telecaster. I know he is not entered at the moment, but Too Darn Hot is a pretty good horse and I couldn't peg back Telecaster. I thought that Too Darn Hot is blessed with so much speed that we tried him over a longer trip, but he was just far too keen early on and we just couldn't bridge the gap. So the plan with him is that we'll drop back to a mile.
"Lah Ti Dar and Coronet are two nice fillies and that is another decision I will have to make with regards to who I ride in the Coronation Cup.
"The Derby weekend is a showpiece weekend for our sport. Every sport has their showpiece events and we have the Derby. It doesn't get any bigger than this. 300 years of history and everybody wants to win it. I'm ultra-excited and let's hope I have a winner."
Roger Varian brought as Investec Oaks entry Tauteke to work at Breakfast With The Stars and the Sea The Stars filly galloped six furlongs with stable companion Shagalla. Second to Anapurna in the Listed Lingfield Oaks Trial, Tauteke is on course to re-oppose her conqueror in the Investec Oaks.
The Newmarket handler commented: "It was a beautiful morning and it was good to bring Tauteke here this morning. I think if it fits into your race schedule or whatever prep race you choose for the Derby meeting, this morning works very well. Kingston Hill came here for this morning. It doesn't suit every horse, but it is a good test for the right horse.
"It was not a case of coming here this morning and kicking her in the belly two furlongs out to see how good she is. She worked on Saturday morning and ran in the Lingfield Oaks Trial so fitness is not an issue, she is ready to go. She has run three times and Lingfield was her first run on Turf. Although she has run three times, she is still inexperienced and it was good to bring her here to give her a day out. This morning was just a training exercise. I was delighted with how Tauteke moved and it was a controlled exercise.
"No decision has been made about Nausha's participation in the Oaks. She only ran last week in the Musidora. She cantered yesterday and looked in great form. I will want a week to gauge her form and I think we are leaning towards the French Oaks at the moment. I would not rule her out of Epsom and she came out of the Oaks very well."
Surfman (20/1) finished third in the Dante and is a possible runner in the Investec Derby, with Varian continuing: "I was thrilled with Surfman's performance in the Dante. I thought it was a slightly frustrating race in terms of how it panned out. We wanted to ride him quietly as he didn't have vast experience. I wanted to continue his education. However, turning for home on good to firm ground on a flat track, we were a little out of our ground. He made up eye-catching ground in the straight.
"I thought it was a good performance and who knows how lose he would have come if the race had panned out slightly differently. He has come out of the race well. He is in the Derby and we don't need to make any decision about whether he runs in the Derby until Thursday morning next week.
"I would love to have a crack at the Derby, but it is about doing what is best for the horse. He is going to be a great horse going forward. I think he is a genuine G1 performer. Whether he is a horse to chance our arm in the Derby next weekend, I honestly don't know. I want to watch him for seven to 10 days before making a decision. I have not seen him much since York and I want a full week to watch him train. Next week, we will have a clearer idea in terms of the field so he is no more than a possible at this stage."
Varian captured the Investec Coronation Cup with Postponed in 2016 and will be represented this year by Defoe, who runs in the same colours of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum. Second in the G2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on his latest start, Varian has been delighted with the six-year-old's subsequent work.
"Defoe will run in the Coronation Cup", commented Varian. "He ran well at Newmarket and has taken a bit longer to come to hand this year. He is a six-year-old now, is a gelding and he probably just needed his work. He worked this morning and I've never known him to be in better form. We would love a drop of rain which may or may not come next week and I think he will run very well."
Veteran Irish trainer Kevin Prendergast is set to be represented in the Investec Derby by G2 winner Madhmoon (12/1), who finished fourth behind Magna Grecia in the G1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 4.
The Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned colt, who defeated Broome impressively in a G2 contest at Leopardstown in September, has yet to race over further than a mile.
Prendergast said: "Madhmoon is doing very well and we are very happy with him.
"We thought the draw was all right going into the Guineas, but listening to the jockeys and everybody afterwards, it was not a good draw. The first and second came up the stands' rail as did the sixth who raced that side.
"Madhmoon finishes his races well. He won twice over a mile as a two-year-old and that is usually a good indication for longer trips as a three-year-old. Hopefully, he will get the extra half mile at Epsom.
"He is a very straightforward horse. Everything he does, he does it well. He is very genuine.
"I would like to see good raceable ground, not rock hard and not soft. Good ground, which is what they usually have at Epsom.
"My dad never won the Investec Derby, though he had several horses placed in it. He won almost every other race on the programme in England and Ireland, but never the Derby. It would be a great thrill for me if Madhmoon could run very well.
"We beat Broome two and a half lengths in the G2 at Leopardstown last season and he is almost favourite. If we get the trip, we have every chance."
Andrew Balding believes Bangkok, who is owned by emerging powerhouse King Power Racing, is up there with the best three-year-old colts he has every trained.
After three starts without success in 2018, Bangkok defeated Telecaster in a maiden at Doncaster on March 30 and followed that up with a dominant success in the G3 Classic Trial at Sandown Park on April 26.
Balding said of the Australia colt: "Bangkok is a horse we have always liked. He probably did not achieve what he should have done last year, but the way he wintered and relaxed in his work at home, we were getting pretty excited in March.
"The maiden he won at Doncaster has obviously worked out pretty well, with Telecaster second, albeit he was having his first ever race, and daylight back to the third. We were really pleased with the way he did it that day, his work improved again and then he won well at Sandown. He is in a great place at the moment.
"The reason we ran at Sandown was to give us the option to go again if things did not work out, but they did and we did not feel it was necessary to go again. He is a horse who gives generously in his work in the mornings, and is just a lovely horse to watch on the gallops. He is very well-balanced with a wonderful pedigree and looks just the type for the race.
"Elm Park was a very good horse and him and Bangkok are probably the best three-year-old colts I have had in my training career. Elm Park was very good, but didn't stay the trip at Epsom and then the rest of his career was cut short by injury.
"We will probably leave until the 11th hour before deciding if Morando runs in the Investec Coronation Cup.
"It was a big performance at Chester, but the ground was unusually soft and he just ploughs through it. He obviously needs that sort of ground to be seen at his best, but on Good ground, he could probably run a place."
King Power's Racing manager Alastair Donald added: "Everything has fallen into place this year [for King Power Racing] whereas last year was very much a developing year. It is just very sad that the Chairman, as we call him, is not around to see the fruits of his investment.
"We in the main bought three-year-old types and it appears to be paying off at the moment. The Chairman had a list of 37 yearlings that year and spent a long time naming them all. He gave Bangkok a very strong name because he stood out on pedigree. He is bred to be a very good horse and his half-brother Matterhorn has improved with age. I think Bangkok has a big future.
"The Chairman very much wanted a stable jockey and he suggested Silvestre [De Sousa] a while back, which has turned out to be a great choice. Silvestre is such a strong jockey and puts a horse in the race. There has been rarely an occasion we have been watching a race and thinking 'God, where are we now'.
"Whether or not Queen Power runs in the Investec Oaks is still to be discussed. I would imagine there will be a decision in the next day or two. She also has the option of the French Oaks. There would be a question mark about stepping her up to a mile and a half at this point, though I am sure she will get it in time."
Ralph Beckett has captured the Investec Oaks on two occasions, courtesy of Look Here (2008) and Talent (2013). He is set to saddle the progressive Manuela De Vega, who is a 14/1 chance with Unibet.
The daughter of Lope De Vega was unbeaten in two starts last season, latterly capturing a Listed race at Pontefract over a mile, and was a four and a half-length second to Investec Oaks favourite Mehdaayih on her first start this term in the Cheshire Oaks on May 8.
Beckett said: "Manuela De Vega has done very well since. I was pleased with her work this morning where she did six furlongs on the grass. It was a nice even bit of work and she will go straight for the Investec Oaks.
"We didn't go to Chester expecting she would win. We went with hope more than expectation. She had been very behind in her coat and was only just ready for Chester, so I was very pleased with the way it went. Harry Bentley gave her a good introduction, it was only her third run. She is quite a street-wise filly, but she needed it and it did her the world of good to go round Chester and go in between fillies.
"We nursed her to Chester as she had just done two very easy bits of work at home. I would expect her to be a lot more competitive at Epsom.
"Manuela De Vega is different to our two Oaks winners as she was able to win a Stakes race at two, and neither Look Here or Talent could do that. She is a lot more forward at home than that lot and also showed more at two, including a lot more speed. I would be confident that this filly could handle Epsom. Although she has only had three starts, she organises herself very well and it is just a question of whether she is good enough and we won't know that until Friday week."
Sylvester Kirk is hoping popular five-year-old Salouen can go one better in the Investec Coronation Cup, having gone down by a head to Cracksman in agonising fashion 12 months ago.
Salouen warmed up for his Epsom Downs assignment with an impressive seven-length victory in the Listed Buckhounds Stakes at Ascot on May 11.
Kirk said: "Salouen has come out of Ascot well and goes for the Investec Coronation Cup.
"He got a soft lead last year and ran a very good race. He is probably going into the race in better form this time around.
"He is a very straightforward horse and we are lucky to have him. He is very easy to deal with, even though he is a five-year-old entire.
"The owners enjoy every moment and it would be great if he can run another big race at Epsom."
Oisin Murphy, who rode Salouen at Ascot, commented: "Salouen is the coolest horse in training. With Enable starting off at Royal Ascot, this looks a genuine opportunity to get a G1 under his belt. He ran very well at Ascot on his first start this season and if he improves on that again at Epsom, he could take a fair bit of beating."
Andrew Cooper, Epsom Downs' Clerk of the Course, provided an update on the ground ahead of the Investec Derby Festival.
Cooper said: "The track is Good ground at the moment. We watered yesterday for the gallop today as it was on the fast side of Good. Speaking to the riders after, it has ridden as Good ground.
"In terms of the weather outlook, the rest of this week is looking dry in the south east with similar temperatures to today. There is a bit of uncertainty about next week and a suggestion from Tuesday that things may be a little bit unsettled for a couple of days. I have had a forecast like that so many times over the years and it may come to nothing, but next week is potential headache because it could go one of two ways - it could be dry or it will have an unsettled feel.
"As with every year, we are determined not to run the Investec Derby on ground that is quicker than Good to Firm. In terms of out preparation over the next 10 days, that is very much our focus."
Investec Derby - Unibet prices: 7/2 Broome, Sir Dragonet; 5/1 Anthony Van Dyck; 7/1 Telecaster; 8/1 Bangkok; 9/1 Japan; 12/1 Madhmoon; 20/1 Circus Maximus, Surfman; 25/1 Cape Of Good Hope, Private Secretary; 33/1 Norway, Line Of Duty; 40/1 Mohawk, Sovereign, Humanitarian, Alfaatik; 50/1 Pablo Escobarr; 200/1 Htilominlo; 250/1 Hiroshima
Each-way ¼ 1,2,3
Ed Nicholson of Unibet commented: "It is very difficult to price up the Investec Derby because Aidan O'Brien has so many contenders. Having heard the trainers this morning, the picture is still quite muddy.
"We are 10/1 that Aidan O'Brien has a one, two, three, and 11/4 the forecast. He is 1/3 currently to win the Investec Derby simply because he has so many horses at the top of the market after almost a clean sweep of the trials. It is Aidan O'Brien's Derby as it stands.
"Broome and Sir Dragonet are vying for favouritism, with Anthony Van Dyck at 5/1. Telecaster is 15/2 and you could see that coming in in price if it is announced that he is definitely going to run."