May 24 (UPI) -- It's a bit of a slow week in North American racing -- at least until Memorial Day on Monday -- so let's look a week farther up the stretch and see what our good friends at Epsom have in store for us in the 240th running of THE Derby on June 1.
We'll also take a brief gander at the Japanese Derby, the final Group 1 race of the Hong Kong season, the Irish Guineas and Gold Cup, what's up in France and the Kranji Mile in Singapore. We're nothing if not global.
Tuesday was "Breakfast With the Stars" day at Epsom, and also a scratching deadline for the Derby. That done, 18 3-year-old colts remained in for the race, though how many actually will run won't be known until next week. Some key players are on the fence.
Aidan O'Brien has eight of the 18. If all were to go, it would equal his record eight starters in the 2007 field. That year, his best finish was second with Eagle Mountain. Blessed with superior stock from the Coolmore lads, O'Brien has won the Derby six times with Galileo, High Chaparral, Camelot, Ruler of the World, Australia and Wings of Eagles.
This time around, his most-fancied are progeny of two of those past winners.
Sir Dragonet, a Camelot colt, opened eyes wide with a dominating victory in the Group 3 Chester Vase May 8 in only his second career start but would need a supplemental entry fee to get into the Derby -- a minor inconvenience for the Coolmore lads. The fact he's the 3-1 favorite with official Derby bookmaker Unibet speaks for itself.
Broome, an Australia colt, was a comfortable winner of the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown May 12 and is the second-favorite for the Derby at 7-2.
At somewhat longer odds are O'Brien's Anthony Van Dyke (4-1), Japan (10-1), Circus Maximus (14-1), Cape of Good Hope (25-1), Norway and Mohawk. Each and every one of that lot is by Galileo so the odds are three of O'Brien's former Derby winners will be represented in this year's renewal.
While not committing to anything in particular, O'Brien told Tuesday's Breakfast With the Stars by phone from Ireland, "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."
American fans should pay attention even if British racing isn't front and center on their radar. Some -- perhaps several -- of these 3-year-olds are very likely to appear in the rich grass races at Belmont Park and Saratoga this summer.
With a big Derby chance if he runs is Dante Stakes winner Telecaster (7-1). But trainer Hughie Morrison said Tuesday he has concerns after the "very hard" effort in the Dante and will wait on a decision. "If the horse did run," Morrison said, "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."
Morrison has saddled only one Derby starter, Pisco Sour, who reported ninth in 2011.
Also in the mix are Bet34 Classic Trial winner Bangkok, trained by Andrew Balding; Dante Stakes third Surfman (Roger Varian); and Qipco 2000 Guineas fourth Madhmoon (Kevin Pendergast). Godolphin, winner of the 239th Derby with Masar, has only Line of Duty, a long shot trained by the not to be underestimated Charlie Appleby. Appleby student Masar went to the post at odds of 16-1 at year ago.
Two-time Derby-winning trainer John Gosden has left three in the mix, all available at generous odds for those with a fancy.
The Derby festival, of course, also includes the Investec Oaks and the Investec Coronation Cup -- the latter for 4-year-olds and up. We'll have more on those in the coming week.
Elsewhere around the world:
Yes, more from England. Dee Ex Bee, last year's Derby runner-up, easily dispatched four rivals in Wednesday's Group 3 Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown, a preliminary bout before the Group 1 Gold Cup at Ascot. There, Dee Ex Bee can expect to meet the reigning European stayer champion, Stradivarius. The margin, after 2 miles of the Henry II, was 1 3/4 lengths with Mekong finding running room late to land second.
Sunday's Standard Charted Champions & Chater Cup is the final Group 1 race of the Hong Kong season and also one of those rare Sha Tin "stayer" races at 2,400 meters. But the distance has seen an uptick in popularity since local runner Exultant popped up to win the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase last December at the same 2,400 meters. He went on to win the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters and finished a game second to Japan's Win Bright in the Group I QE II Cup on Champions Day.
Trainer Tony Cruz cautiously says Exultant could be headed to Japan in June for the Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen. But, the trainer said Tuesday, "What's very important is how he pulls up after this race and that will tell us if we're going anywhere else with him."
Sunday's nine entries feature Japanese raider Happy Grin; the last two Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup winners, the siblings Glorious Forever and Time Warp; along with the promising 4-year-old Dark Dream and this season's Group 2 Jockey Club Cup winner, Eagle Way. Last year's winner, Pakistan Star, returns but without his distinctive green-and-white blinkers and earmuffs as trainer Paul O'Sullivan tries to get him to relax early and make one late sprint to the wire. "If he relaxes, he'll be very competitive. But he has to switch off," O'Sullivan said.
Saturnalia, undefeated after four starts, puts that streak on the line in Sunday's Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby. The race is one of the highlights of the Japanese racing calendar and has produced some eventual champions.
Saturnalia, a Lord Kanaloa colt, ended a 3-for-3 2-year-old season winning the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama. He eked out a win in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas in April, winning a three-way sprint to the wire by a head over Velox and another nose from Danon Kingly. Admire Mars was fourth.
"He did lean a bit in the closing stages last time," said Yasuyuki Tsujino, assistant to Saturnalia's trainer, Katsuhiko Sumii. "But there are still things to work on with him. It's no easy thing to win a Classic race, but he showed he has the ability and power to do so."
Velox and Danon Kingley are back to try again Sunday.
Saturday's three local Group 1 races feature the Kranji Mile, with a pair of highly regarded Hong Kong invaders.
Southern Legend, trained in Hong Kong by Caspar Fownes, comes to the equatorial regions after finishing sixth in Almond Eye's Group 1 Dubai Turf victory in March at Meydan. "He had a good freshen after his Dubai run," Fownes said after Southern Legend stretched his legs Tuesday at Kranji. "He seems to have bounced back."
The aptly named Singapore Sling -- he got the name in his native South Africa -- also worked a bit early Tuesday. Trainer Tony Millard's wife, Beverly, oversaw the effort and reported, "It was a quiet morning for him. Uneventful is good."
In the days of Singapore's international Group 1 events, Hong Kong routinely swept the placings.
Saturday's Group 1 Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas promises to be one of the best so far in the young season with one-time Investec Derby favorite Too Darn Hot pitted against Qipco 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia and Craven Stakes winner Skardu. After Telecaster handed Two Darn Hot his first defeat in the Dante Stakes at York, trainer John Gosden originally targeted the St James's Palace at Royal Ascot before detouring to The Curragh. Despite his loss, Too Darn Hot has drifted toward favorite status with major bookmakers in the UK. Including Magna Grecia, Aidan O'Brien saddles five of the 14 left to run in this 1-mile affair.
O'Brien's "A Team" -- Pink Dogwood, "We always thought she was going to be our main Oaks filly" -- is pointed for the Investec Oaks. But that doesn't mean the Ballydoyle champion is empty-handed with five of the 11 in Sunday's Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas at The Curragh, pending final declarations.
O'Brien also has four of the eight, pending declarations, in Sunday's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, looking to work some prestidigitation with Magical, Magic Wand, I Can Fly and Flag of Honour set to run.
Magical and Flag of Honour are cross-entered in a very tough field for Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Paris Longchamp. Still in at press time were the likes of 2018 French Derby winner Study of Man, Addeybb and the Goldolphin trio of Barney Roy, Dream Castle and Wild Illusion. The latter, a 4-year-old Dubawi filly, won last year's Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines over the course before a second-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. This is a world-class bunch, even if a few don't make the final roster.
On the same program is the Group 1 Saxon Warrior Coolmore Prix Saint Alary for 3-year-old fillies. Coolmore is not represented in the field but the colors of many other top Europeans are. The race looks ripe for the plucking.