06/02/2016 2:26PM

Epsom Derby wide open without a standout

Nikki Sherman
Found, the winner of the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf, runs Saturday in the Group 1 Coronation Cup.

Wings of Desire won the Dante Stakes at York for trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori. So did Golden Horn in 2015 before his ringing triumph in the Epsom Derby. But after that, the pair diverges.

Golden Horn’s Dante win by nearly three lengths made him 3 for 3 in his career, and in it he beat the well-regarded Jack Hobbs. Wings of Desire, off a maiden win in his second start, ground out a neck victory over Deauville, a horse of no special merit so far, and the fact that that résumé has made him the antepost favorite for this year’s Derby says all one needs to know about the unsettled nature of Saturday’s race.

Wings of Desire is one of 16 Derby entrants, and he might or might not be better than, say, half the field. A quartet of supplemental entrants – why not take a chance? – outnumber the Derby’s Group 1 winners by four. A horse named Ulysses needed three races to win a maiden, and his eight-length score May 13 at Newbury was enough to propel him toward the top of the betting market. “Wide-open race” might be too gentle a term for this field.

Complicating matters more has been rain at Epsom Downs. The Derby has recently been run on ground between firm and fast, but it will be some manner of soft on Saturday. Some horses won’t handle the idiosyncratic left-handed course, featuring the famed sharp bend called Tattenham corner, and others will flounder on the ground.

Five-time Derby winner Aidan O’Brien might have all possible scenarios covered with a five-strong entry, but none of his quintet stands out. Deauville is one of them, but U.S. Army Ranger is the best backed of the O’Briens, a general second choice behind Wings of Desire.

U.S. Army Ranger is 2 for 2 in his brief career, with a heavy-ground maiden win at The Curragh in April followed by a narrow victory over another O’Brien-trained Derby hope, Port Douglas, in the Chester Vase. The form of that race was questioned at the time, but the longer things have gone without an emergent favorite, the less humdrum it looks. O’Brien’s other two are Humphrey Bogart and Shogun, both of whom feel slightly overmatched but neither of whom is impossible in this unsettled race.

Cloth of Stars, invading from France for Godolphin and trainer Andre Fabre, who won the 2011 Derby with Pour Moi, merits a long look. He finished his 2-year-old campaign with a second in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud and has won his two starts this year, both at 1 1/4 miles. Those races came at left-handed Saint-Cloud, and Cloth of Stars has handled going ranging from soft to good. His qualifications are as strong as anyone’s in a Derby that could fall in nearly any direction.

Found, Postponed in Coronation

The picture looks far less blurry in the Group 1 Coronation Cup, the Derby’s supporting feature, with Postponed, Found, and Simple Verse the clear principals in the 1 1/2-mile fixture.

Postponed has won his last four starts, two Group 1s and two Group 2s in England, France, and Dubai, and was especially impressive in capturing the $6 million Sheema Classic at Meydan in his most recent race. Postponed might prefer good going but won the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes over soft ground last year.

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, Found already has started three times this season but was convincingly beaten by Fascinating Rock last out in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and will need to step up her game to beat Postponed. Simple Verse won a pair of important Group 1s to close out her 3-year-old campaign and surely was prepping for this race when second April 30 in her 4-year-old debut.