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Breakfast With The Stars

Breakfast With The Stars, hosted by Clare Balding and Nick Luck, took place early on the morning of Thursday, May 24, at Epsom Downs Racecourse, eight days ahead of the start of the Investec Derby Festival.

The Investec Oaks headlines on the first day, Friday, June 1, Investec Ladies’ Day, with the Investec Derby and the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup (Sponsored By Investec) the key attractions on Investec Derby Day, Saturday, June 2.

Horses running at the Investec Derby Festival got the chance to exercise on the unique undulating course today, while there were also interviews with many others hoping to be represented over the two days.

Two from Andrew Balding’s Kingsclere yard, Minimise Risk (Investec Derby) and a lead horse, Ispahan, did a seven-furlong spin. Minimise Risk, with Jimmy Fortune up, came out on top by a length.

Photo by Bill Selwyn
© Highclere Thoroughbred Racing

Balding also trains a leading Investec Derby hope in Bonfire, winner of the principal trial, the Betfred Dante Stakes at York. So far he has had a 100 per cent record in Classics at Epsom Downs as Casual Look took the Investec Oaks in 2003.

He said: “Before this year, I haven’t had a horse who has got to this stage in the Investec Derby.

“I was delighted with Bonfire at York - he did everything we could have asked for and he seems to have come out of the race very well.

“He gave a buck on the gallops yesterday which is a good sign - he is a naturally fit horse. It is very exciting.

“We had a big meeting at the beginning of the year with the owners, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, and sat down to talk with Harry Herbert and John Warren about the best way to progress to June.

“Unfortunately, he had a dirty scope when we first hoped to run at the Craven meeting and the horse was getting bored and needed some stimulation. Carolyn Warren came up with the suggestion of sending him to Dan Jocelyn, a very accomplished event rider, who lives near us. We sent him there for a couple of sessions just to break up the routine.

“That helped and obviously we had the aborted mission to Chester, which might have dragged some horses down, but it seemed to really stimulate him which was good.

“I have to thank Minimise Risk for not running Bonfire at Chester. Minimise Risk had handled soft ground when he won his maiden at Newbury but he could not handle the conditions at Chester at all because the ground was just so saturated. He is a progressive horse and he grew up in the same paddock at Highclere (Stud) as Bonfire and Camelot. It is quite amazing - there was Vow at Highclere as well and between Highclere and Kingsclere there is a little place called Watership Down (Stud which has Investec Oaks hope The Fugue) is close by so next weekend is going to be quite something for a little valley.”

Asked by his sister, who described him as a Derby boffin, if he thinks about what it might be like to win the Derby, he replied: “No - I would not let myself think that because the Derby is everything.

“For everyone who trains racehorses it is the race. It has got over 230 years of history and, as you say, sad people like myself look through the records of the past and you see all the great names there. Obviously, you have got to have the aspiration to have your name on the list as well. It is a big occasion and I am really looking forward to it. I am grateful for having two horses good enough.

“I have most of the Derby racecards from 1964 onwards.”

Fortune, who partners Bonfire in the Investec Derby with Jamie Spencer on Minimise Risk, said: “I was very impressed with Bonfire in the Dante - he travelled very well - we got there far too early but I was very impressed by the way he stuck his head out. He certainly won going away.”

Asked whether the horse’s temperament will withstand the hullabaloo of Derby day, the jockey replied: “Of course he will. People have gone on about this horse’s temperament. He is a jack the lad - he likes to do things his own way - but no way does he worry or get upset. He is very genuine and he is actually a very easy ride when he is going.

“I have not ridden him since York and I very rarely ride him at home - I think I have only ridden work on him three times. Leanne Masterton rides him at home.

Imperial Monarch
© Caroline Norris

Imperial Monarch

“I think Bonfire will stay but he is not guaranteed to stay - we won’t know until the day. I really like the horse of Aidan’s (O’Brien - Imperial Monarch) who won the Sandown Trial. He impressed me that day and I’d say he would be as big a danger as the favourite (Camelot).

“It was routine work on Minimise Risk this morning. He cantered before striding on in the last two furlongs - he’d be a fair bit behind Bonfire.”

William Haggas is another trainer with a 100 per cent record in Epsom Downs Classics, having had one runner in the Investec Derby, Shaamit, who won in 1996 and one in the Investec Oaks, Dancing Rain, who was successful in 2011.

He had two horses work this morning, the half-brothers Beaten Up (with Liam Jones up) and Harris Tweed. The former holds an entry in the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup (Sponsored By Investec). They started out at the mile pole and went a good pace, with Beaten Up drawing clear in the final furlong.

Haggas also has a leading Investec Oaks hope in Vow, who like Bonfire is owned by the Pocahontas Syndicate of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing.

The Newmarket trainer said: “Vow is quite idle - a good mover and a good stayer. She tries quite hard. I have no idea how she has come out of her Lingfield win as she is idle. She is similar in that way to Dancing Rain, who did not look an Oaks winner last year - it is a leap of faith.

“It is quite a difficult one to judge really - have I got them fit enough? The temptation is to work them too much but fortunately I have been doing this for a long time. I have made so many cock-ups over the years, I will try not to make one this year.

“Beaten Up is a talented performer and why not go for the money. That is why we went to Dubai. We wanted to give him more experience which is one of the reasons we brought him here today. He is a very powerful relentless galloper. The Coronation Cup is a very good race.

“Johnny (Murtagh) is coming over to ride Vow and he will partner Beaten Up as well.”

John Gosden, who won the Investec Derby with Benny The Dip (1997), worked three horses this morning. Last year’s Ladbrokes St Leger winner Masked Marvel (William Buick) goes for the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup (Sponsored By Investec), while Joviality (Robert Havlin) targets the Group Three Princess Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored By Investec) on the opening day. There was also a lead horse, partnered by Saleem Golam. Masked Marvel finished ahead of the lead horse with Joviality in third after none were pushed hard.

Gosden, who also trains leading Investec Oaks chance The Fugue and Investec Derby hope Thought Worthy, said: “The Fugue is a very nice filly. We had a very dry autumn and winter then torrential rain in April and May.

“York was the first major meeting to start on good ground. The Fugue was asked a big question. She ran in the 1000 Guineas on ground that was a little bit specialist and she was struck into. She came out of that well and won nicely at York. You need luck in running at Epsom and I hope she stays.

“Thought Worthy is taking the same path as his brother (Lucarno fourth in the 2007 Investec Derby). This horse will come to Epsom next week in good order, stay the trip but the Hill might be a bit of a question mark. He only ran Saturday so I was not going to bring him down here today. The Derby is a great race to be part of and owner/breeder (George Strawbridge) is game for it.

“The Derby is fascinating as you have an exceptional horse in Camelot, while there is the indefinable and wonderful man Jim Bolger (with Parish Hall) who can pull rabbits out of any hat.

“Masked Marvel is a lovely horse and he broke the track record when racing into a headwind at Doncaster which takes some doing. We ran him the other day in the knowledge that we needed to get him on the track, to let some steam off, but he did not like the ground. He worked well this morning and handled the Hill better than he did last year.”

Buick, due to partner The Fugue in the Investec Oaks, Thought Worthy in the Investec Derby and Masked Marvel in the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup (Sponsored By Investec), commented: “I am very fortunate to have a good book of rides. It is great.

“The Fugue is a lovely filly - she won the Musidora very easily - she has the quality to go very close.

“She has a realistic chance of winning the Oaks which is very exciting. That is the good thing about her - she has a great temperament.

“She was great before the race at York and travelled beautifully in it. She has done everything right and she strikes me as a filly who will go round Epsom, though you never really know until the day. I feel she has all the right attributes.

“Thought Worthy did well to win at Newmarket over his minimum trip. He looked beat but appreciated the rising ground and will definitely excel over a mile and a half . There is plenty of improvement in him but whether he will handle the track I am not sure. He deserves his chance.

“Masked Marvel went well this morning - the ground was too soft for him at Newmarket. The way he went this morning, you would have to be hopeful at Epsom.”

Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O’Brien was interviewed over the phone by Clare Balding.

© Caroline Norris

He has the favourites for both Epsom Downs Classics next week. Camelot is priced at 8/11 favourite for the Investec Derby by William Hill, Offficial Betting Partner of the Investec Derby Festival, while Maybe leads the way in the Investec Oaks at 11/4.

O’Brien has five horse left in the Investec Derby and six in the Investec Oaks. His son Joseph, 19 yesterday, will ride Camelot.

The trainer said: “Camelot has been good (since winning the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in early May) - everything is fine.

“He has been going gently and everything is well so far. I am happy with him.

“He has always been a very special horse here, from day one. He was a very short-priced favourite when he went for his maiden and then I was very happy with him in the Racing Post Trophy. His first big test was the Guineas.

“He is one of those very special horses. He is very relaxed, very straightforward and very calm but has a lot of nervous energy.

“All the others are on Derby work regimes and everything has gone well so far. They will go through all the tests next week and we will decide what to do.

“We are under no illusions with the Derby. We had two very special horses in High Chaparral and Galileo and have not won it since. The race is a very difficult test of a horse. There cannot be any chink in their armour and everything has to go right on the day. We are delighted to get there with horses with chances.

“Maybe would be the first one to mention for the Oaks - we were very happy with her run in the Guineas when the ground was a bit on the slow side. Obviously, she is by Galileo and she has a very fast pedigree so a mile and a half is unknown until we do it.

Kissed would be the next one. We were very happy with her first run of the year at Navan and she won very nicely.

Betterbetterbetter ran a good race at Chester and Joseph said if he was ride her again he might delay her challenge. Was had her first run back at Naas but I am not sure she will be ready in time. Twirl returned at York and would like to step up to a mile and a half. The Oaks is an incredibly important race for the pedigree.”

Turning to the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup (Sponsored By Investec), O’Brien said: “Hopefully, Joseph will ride St Nicholas Abbey. That is the plan anyway. He is definitely the main runner we will have there.”

Jim Bolger is running Parish Hall for the first time this year in the Abu Dhabi Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh on Saturday and then last year’s winner of the Group One Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket could go for the Investec Derby.

The trainer explained: “He tends to run a bit and looks like a horse who is going to stay too.

“I’d have gone for the Newmarket Guineas. That was the plan initially but the ground was not suitable at Newmarket.

“We have only one week between the races (Irish Guineas and Investec Derby) so we will have to see how he comes out of it. But he is a fairly hardy horse and I am expecting him to be fine after his run at the Curragh.

“I hope he wins at the Curragh. I think he is good enough to win a Classic - I would not mind if it was on Saturday.

“He will really come into his own when he gets 10 furlongs and a mile and a half. He is the first foal of the dam. I shouldn’t have huge expectations but he is already a Group One winner. I hope he can build on Saturday’s run.

“It looks like Aidan’s horse (Camelot in the Investec Derby) is the one that everybody has to beat.

“We will have some idea on Monday (whether Parish Hall will go for the Investec Derby) but it will have had to clarify itself by Wednesday.

“I am very keen to get him to Epsom - if I thought the horse was well, I’d give it a go.”

Rugged Cross was the final horse to experience the Epsom Downs track this morning. Trained by Henry Candy, who sent out the second Master Willie in 1980, and ridden by Dane O’Neill, the Investec Derby outsider cantered.

Andrew Cooper, Clerk of the Course and Director of Racing at Epsom Downs, described how the ground has dried since Tuesday of last week.

The aim is to ensure that the Investec Derby is run on ground no faster than good to firm.

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