Sixteen runners are set to line up for the 237th running of the Derby at Epsom on Saturday.
Here’s a look at some of the potential story lines which could be making the headlines.
‘I won the Derby, I won the Derby’ – could Dettori do it again?
The unbridled joy of Frankie Dettori after silencing the harbingers of gloom about his career by steering home the John Gosden-trained Golden Horn to victory in 2015 will live long in the memory.
That day, after a striking success in the Dante Stakes at York, the pressure was massive for the Dettori/Gosden axis to deliver; 12 months on however, as the pair team-up with Wings Of Desire, expectations are somewhat different.
The improving colt, owned by his breeder Lady Bamford, also won the Dante, but only narrowly, and this time there’s a long list of plausible alternative fancies.
But, for the sport, a third victory in the race for such a highly-recognisable figure as 45-year-old Dettori – riding in his 21st Derby – would be priceless in terms of exposure during an action-packed summer of sport when the struggle for coverage is intense.
A famous five runners for Aidan O’Brien
As he looks for a fourth Derby success in five years – and sixth overall – Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien saddles practically a third of the field, all owned by the Coolmore racing and breeding empire, although this isn’t actually his biggest challenge.
In 2009, O’Brien’s prolific Ballydoyle Stables in County Tipperary provided six runners, and two years earlier no fewer than eight of his horses lined up – but he didn’t win the prize either time (it was Sea The Stars and Authorized, respectively).
What the size of the squad – four of them sons of Coolmore’s champion stallion Galileo – indicates is the open nature of the 237th Derby, in which you could support anyone of about 10, and not look entirely ridiculous.
Unbeaten US Army Ranger, very narrow winner of the Chester Vase on only his second start, has long looked like the team’s figurehead, and is the choice of Coolmore’s number one jockey Ryan Moore, a tip in itself for many.
But Port Douglas, second at Chester when conceding a small amount of weight, and Deauville, runner-up to Wings Of Desire at York, also have solid credentials.
And it’s another significant ‘family’ day for the O’Briens. While the trainer’s jockey-son Joseph, rider of Derby winners Camelot (2012) and Australia (2014) has retired, his younger brother Donnacha, 17, makes his Epsom Derby debut on outsider Shogun.
Stoute double-handed as he looks to hit rivals for six
An eight-length win in a maiden race at Newbury started the Ulysses bandwagon rolling towards Epsom, although it was six uncharacteristically bullish words from his five-time Derby-winning trainer Sir Michael Stoute that sent it into something approaching overdrive.
The trainer of winners Shergar (1981), Sharastani (1986), Kris Kin (2003), North Light (2004) and Workforce (2010) said he was “certainly very hopeful of his [Ulysses’] chances”.
That was interpreted as a big shout-out for the offspring of 2001 Derby winner Galileo and Light Shift, successful in the Oaks of 2007.
While Stoute’s apparent enthusiasm has made Ulysses a major Derby fancy, it’s his booking of jockey Kieren Fallon to partner Across The Stars, the stable’s other big-race contender, that has caught the eye.
The six-time champion, rider of Kris Kin and North Light, has found himself with a lower profile in recent seasons, but his aptitude for navigating the notoriously tricky twists and turns of Epsom is legendary, and is why for fans he remains ‘King Kieren’.
The Sheikh looking to play the Godolphin Blues
Sheikh Mohammed’s vast Godolphin racing and thoroughbred breeding network has won the Derby twice, but never yet with the jockey wearing the distinctive silks that have seen the global, Dubai-based operation dubbed ‘The Boys in Blue’.
Both Lammtarra (1995) and New Approach (2008) ran in the colours of other members of the Sheikh’s family, and how he’d relish the opportunity to remedy that situation. This is perhaps the year for it to be done as two live chances are aimed at the Classic, historically known as the ‘Blue Riband’.
Although neither is part of Godolphin’s in-house training set-up, both Cloth Of Stars, the Prix Greffulhe winner from French-based Andre Fabre’s string, and Moonlight Magic, part of the Jim Bolger team in Ireland, boast admirable credentials, particularly maybe the latter.
With his upward trajectory and being a nephew of Derby winners Galileo and See The Stars, this beautifully-bred colt, ridden by a blue-clad Kevin Manning, could easily fulfil Sheikh Mohammed’s dream.
Were that to occur, it would certainly be a most significant step in – and perhaps the completion of – Godolphin’s rehabilitation following the infamous doping scandal of 2013 – at about the time actually that these two horses were being born.
Whatever happens, it’s in the record books
With a total purse of £1.55m, the 2016 Investec Derby will go down in history as the most valuable race ever staged in Britain, because of an unprecedented four supplementary – late – entries, each costing £75,000.
Cloth Of Stars is one late-comer to the party, along with Wings Of Desire – who’d been entered but then removed, having demonstrated little promise until as recently as mid-March – while the other two are Humphrey Bogart and Red Verdon.
Humphrey Bogart, named by his owners at Chelsea Thoroughbreds after the star of the iconic film Casablanca, and a first runner in the race for both trainer Richard Hannon junior and jockey Sean Levey, put his name in bright lights with success in the Derby Trial race at Lingfield.
Meanwhile, the Ed Dunlop-trained Red Verdon, the latest in a long line of horses owned by Hong Kong businessman Ronnie Arculli to have the colour red in their names, has earned his place with impressive wins at Chester and Haydock. Champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa will take only his second Derby mount on the colt.
Under the radar…
Considering he was runner-up in the 2000 Guineas, Massaat makes a relatively unheralded appearance in the Epsom line-up.
But the Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum-owned colt, in the care of rookie trainer Owen Burrows, a former jump jockey and, more recently, right-hand man to Stoute, seems to tick plenty of boxes, with the possible exception of his stamina over the mile-and-a-half-long course.
The Massaat team will be hoping for more luck than that enjoyed by Barry Hills, Burrows’ predecessor at his stables in Lambourn, Berkshire: not only did Hills never win the Epsom Derby, but to make matters worse he was second four times.
Not much has been said or written about Harzand, trained for the Aga Khan by Dermot Weld in Ireland, and the winner of both of his races in 2016, one the prestigious Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown in good style.
Recent rain at Epsom, which has affected the going quite considerably, will favour this colt, one of three in the field sired by Sea The Stars.
Ground conditions are also encouraging those around the David Simcock-trained Algometer, whose second place behind one-time Derby favourite Midterm at Sandown in April, would seem to put him right in the mix.