Can anyone beat Bolshoi Ballet? 

Credit: PA

Britain’s most significant races in 2020 have all gone across the water to Ireland and Jim Bolger can stick the boot in further by winning the Cazoo Derby with Mac Swiney.

In an outstanding 45-year career, Bolger, 79, has “produced” a number of humans and horses significant to the racing world; Sir Anthony McCoy, Aidan O’Brien, Paul Carberry, Kevin Manning (his 54-year-old son-in-law who is in the hot seat today), St Jovite, and, perhaps most pertinent to Mac Swiney, New Approach, the 2008 Derby winner and the colt’s sire.

New Approach was one of the most underestimated Derby winners. He fought Manning for his head for the first six furlongs, but came home as hard as he went out. As a stallion, he has already sired a Derby winner in Masar. His son is the logical choice today, especially after a significant amount of rain fell yesterday, in what looks an open edition but, nevertheless, one capable of throwing up a smart winner, which, in relative terms, the race has lacked since it was won by subsequent Arc winner Golden Horn in 2015.

The chances of it being a better race improved dramatically when  O’Brien decided at the 48-hour stage to field just a single runner, Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite, and not the usual squadrons of pacemakers, diversions and distractions. Sure, at least one jockey will come in and say they did not go fast enough for him, but it gives the race a chance to develop organically and, in theory, it brings the speed horses into play rather than setting up for he who plods the longest.

Classic form is generally the best. It should be stronger than the trials and, having won the Irish Guineas, beating the English Guineas winner Poetic Flare, Mac Swiney is not just the only Classic-winning colt in the contest, he is the only one to have won at Group One level as a juvenile apart from Gear Up. Those two apart, there are no other Group One winners in the race. And while some runners will get metaphorically dashed on the treacherous rocks of Tattenham Hill’s shoreline, and the race will reveal others to be mere handicappers masquerading as Group One colts, and generally sort the men from the boys, it is not to say there is not one or more in the field who aspire to Mac Swiney’s level. Bolshoi Ballet is favourite for good reason.

He is trained by O’Brien, who has won the race a record eight times, including six of the last nine. He had an under-par Mac Swiney behind him in the Derrinstown, which he won by seven lengths, and he is by super-sire Galileo, but his dam’s sire, Anabaa, was an out-and-out sprinter, which raises a small question mark in my mind about a mile and a half. I like unbeaten colts because it means their limits have not yet been reached and Charlie Appleby’s Hurricane Lane is the only one yet to have tasted defeat among today’s dozen runners.

He is workmanlike and not flashy, does not win by the length of a cricket pitch when the width of the popping crease will do. Sea The Stars was a bit like that. One Ruler has two-year-old form with Mac Swiney and ran a good race in the Guineas, but he wears the Godolpin No 2 silks. Hurricane Lane is one of five Frankel colts in the race. Another is Frankie Dettori’s mount, John Leeper, who is named after his trainer Ed Dunlop’s father, John Leeper Dunlop, who trained Shirley Heights and Erhaab to win the race. He is going the right way, but whether he is quite there yet I have my doubts.

Mohaafeth cantered all over his rivals in a Newmarket Listed race last time and was vying with Mac Swiney for my selection until the ground turned good to soft yesterday. He looks a fast-ground horse. Each-way chances include the Lingfield Trial winner Third Realm, and Youth Spirit. Indeed, if it went to the owner who had made the most effort to be at Epsom then it would be won by Youth Spirit, the Chester Vase winner.

He carries the silks of Ahmed Al Shaikh who began his journey from Dubai 17 days ago, travelled to Greece, an amber-list country, where he stayed for 12 days before flying on to London, where he self-isolated for five days. “This is the situation,” explained Al Shaikh, who owned last year’s runner-up Khalifa Sat. “If he finishes in the top five, I will be very pleased, but I think he can do better than that.

“I believe in this horse and he will fight. I have just 15 horses, so to have Derby runners two years in a row is like a dream.”

But it has been a good year in sport for those not in the first flush of youth and today Bolger can become the oldest winning Derby trainer and Manning the second oldest jockey ever to win it.

Marlborough’s horse-by-horse guide

The 241st Epsom Derby takes place on Saturday. Here, Marlborough takes you through each of the runners and gives his verdict on who will win.


Long-striding, consistent son of Frankel who has placed in two recognised Derby trials. Tough draw, ground has come in his favour but likely to appreciate further than 1m4f.

Bolshoi Ballet

Powerful galloper whose six-length romp in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial rocketed him to the head of the Derby market. Sole Coolmore representative; the one to beat.

Gear Up

Group 1 winner on heavy ground last year. Seasonal reappearance in Dante saw him come up short; this trip will suit but too much to find here.

Hurricane Lane

Dante Stakes winner who has yet to be beaten in three career starts. Yesterday’s rain will only have helped his chances and he has plenty going for him.

John Leeper

Imposing colt whose raw talent has thrust him into the Derby picture. Another who might have been helped by yesterday’s rain. But will this test come too soon in his development? 

Mac Swiney

Dual Group One winner whose record on good ground or faster reads 9-8-4 versus a soft-ground record of 5-1-1-1-1. This trip can help and the rains have come for him. Strong chance.

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Strong-travelling colt who has come alive on fast ground this year. Rain unhelpful and not certain to relish this trip as well as some of his rivals; live chance nevertheless.

Jim Crowley aboard Mohaafeth

Credit: PA

Mojo Star

Runner-up on both career starts in maiden/novice company. This major step up in class likely a bridge too far and will do very well to make his presence felt; outsider.

One Ruler

Finished a respectable sixth in the 2,000 Guineas, historically a strong pointer for this race. Major stamina doubts stepping up four furlongs in distance; will do well to figure.

Southern Lights

Suffered interference when staying on behind Bolshoi Ballet at Leopardstown latest. Can show more here up in trip, but surely has too much to find with some of these.

Third Realm

Looked potentially high-class in winning the Lingfield Derby Trial on soft ground at just his 3rd start. Must now translate that form. Ground will surely help; live chance.

Youth Spirit

Strong-staying winner of the Chester Vase, a race that has had a sizeable bearing on the Derby in recent years. That was on similar going and stamina assured; rates a lively outsider.

Our tip to win
Bolshoi Ballet

It speaks volumes that, having had six horses entered prior to the final declarations, Coolmore have elected to field just one runner here in the shape of BOLSHOI BALLET, a thoroughly uncomplicated colt who has passed his two tests this season with flying colours. Bolshoi Ballet is sure to sit handy throughout and, with stamina assured, he can take plenty of pegging back. Of the remainder, Youth Spirit makes appeal as an each-way alternative – seven of the last nine runnings of the Chester Vase have produced a colt to finish in the first three in the Derby, including two winners.