06/01/2017 2:40PM

Epsom Derby looks wide open


Trainer John Gosden won his first Epsom Derby in 1997 with Benny the Dip. It took Gosden until 2015 to win his second with Golden Horn, but on Saturday at Epsom Downs, Gosden will send out the co-favored Cracksman with a decent chance to win the Derby for the second time in three years.

Post time for the Derby is 11:30 a.m. Eastern, and the course is expected to be rated “good.”

Cracksman wears the same silks as Golden Horn, those of Anthony Oppenheimer, and will have the same rider, Frankie Dettori, on his back. Whether he proves anywhere near as good as Golden Horn, however, remains to be seen, as Cracksman has no more than a debut win last October at Newmarket and a nose victory at Epsom in an April 26 Derby trial on which to base his prospects.

But it is that kind of year, with the Derby lacking anything resembling a standout.

The most lauded member of the 3-year-old class of 2017, Churchill, won the Irish 2000 Guineas over a mile last week rather than testing his stamina over the Derby’s 1 1/2 miles. But Churchill’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has plenty of other chances in the race – six, to be exact. In alphabetical order, O’Brien’s starters are Capri, Cliffs of Moher, Douglas Macarthur, The Anvil, Venice Beach, and Wings of Eagles.

At the top of the O’Brien heap in terms of betting and reputation is Cliffs of Moher, who will have the stable’s lead rider, Ryan Moore, piloting him around the idiosyncratic Epsom course. Cliffs of Moher is the other co-favorite in Derby antepost betting, but like Cracksman, his résumé is thin. Cliffs of Moher raced twice at 2 and only made his stakes debut in the listed Dee Stakes on May 12 at Chester, winning in decent if unspectacular fashion.

Cracksman, a son of the great Frankel, at least has raced over the Epsom course and had no trouble with it in his trial. Cracksman, who runs with a wild, jumping stride, was getting a good-enough trip just behind the leader in his Derby prep until Permian raced up along his outside and took away Dettori’s room with less than a quarter-mile to run. Cracksman had to wait and swing wide, and he nipped Permian at the wire with the same determined late burst that had won his debut last fall. Permian also is rated in the top tier of Derby hopes after winning the Group 2 Dante Stakes following his narrow loss to Cracksman.

Venice Beach led a one-two-three sweep of the Chester Vase for O’Brien, beating Wings of Eagles and The Anvil. All three of those O’Brien horses would need to step forward to contend.

Coming from a different direction entirely is another son of Frankel, Eminent, who was an encouraging third in the English 2000 Guineas but whose stamina to stay 12 furlongs remains in doubt.

Best Solution wintered in Dubai before easily winning the Lingfield Derby Trial, a race that typically has little bearing on the Derby itself. But in a year as chaotic as this, one never knows.