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Who is the best Ballydoyle Derby bet?Posted on Thursday 2nd June 2016 @ 08.09

Will Rooney examines whether US Army Ranger should be the shortest price of Aidan O'Brien's Epsom Derby contenders.

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The Epsom Derby is the crown jewel of British Flat racing and is the prize every Flat trainer dreams about winning when they first take up their licence.

The race is watched by millions at home and across the globe and consistently produces superstars in the equine world - the likes of Shergar, Mill Reef, Galileo and Sea The Stars have all won the contest on the Downs emphatically and became legends of the sport.

This time last year, Golden Horn was all the rage heading into the contest. He was the final piece to what was a murky Derby picture when he swept past stablemate Jack Hobbs in the Dante Stakes at York in imposing style and was even more impressive one month later at the Surrey track.

However, 12 months on and, just days until the big race, deciding on a winner is still problematic. There is no stand-out star amongst the three-year-olds, unlike in recent years when Golden Horn, Australia and Camelot all duly obliged as the betting market suggested.

The Derby has been happy hunting ground for Aidan O'Brien. The Ballydoyle handler has trained five Derby winners since 2001. His first Derby winner, Galileo, has proved pivotal for him and the Coolmore trio of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and John Magnier, with the son of Saddler's Well being the sire of both Ruler Of The World and Australia, winners of the race in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

There's no surprise that O'Brien and a son of Galileo head the betting for this year's renewal. Whilst the racing world's attention was fixed on the heroics of Sprinter Sacre and Thistlecrack during the winter, the County Wexford man was slowly but surely nurturing US Army Ranger into a Derby horse.

Silence turned into whispers and then whispers into a rumour that had more substance than Louis Van Gaal's inevitable departure from Manchester United. US Army Ranger was the horse O'Brien had the highest hopes for to win the Derby - and that was before he had even seen a racecourse.

US Army Ranger made his debut at the Curragh in April and produced a highly impressive performance to beat an odds-on Dermot Weld horse. What was more taking was that an O'Brien horse won first time out. Generally, he likes to mature them slowly - and who can blame him given his glittering resume he boasts - but US Army Ranger more than lived up to the hype.

The Chester Vase was up next for the colt. Arguably the toughest racecourse either side of the Irish Sea, given its short home straight that suits speed horses rather than stayers, US Army Ranger clung on for victory in receipt of four pounds from stablemate Port Douglas. He was far from convincing that day and, although the Coolmore team were pleased given his inexperience, he did not scream out that he was a Derby winner in the making.

US Army Ranger is currently around a 4/1 shot for the Derby and looks to mirror Ruler Of The World's heroics three years ago, who also won the Chester Vase before subsequently landing the Epsom Classic.

However, Ruler Of The World won the Chester Vase by six lengths without getting out of third gear and was sent-off 7/1 for the Derby, whereas US Army Ranger is already three points shorter in the betting and with more to prove. It's also worth noting that it was just Ruler Of The World's second start when winning on the Roodee but he looked like a much more mature horse than US Army Ranger.

On bare form, Port Douglas should be shorter than US Army Ranger but instead is 12 points bigger his stablemate. Port Douglas' two-year-old form is fairly solid, having won a Group 2 in Ireland ahead of Beacon Rock, who's trained on himself for O'Brien this term, and was just five-and-a-half lengths behind Marcel in the Racing Post Trophy on unsuitably soft ground.

Port Douglas could well have won the Chester Vase but for losing the rail on the run for home and should come on plenty for his first run of the season. He's a son of Galileo out of Walzerkoenigin, a former Group 2 winner in Germany for trainer Peter Schiergen, so could have both the stamina and speed which is needed to win the race.

Deauville too should come on from his first start of the season. He too is a top of the ground horse who did not handle the soft conditions at Doncaster in the Racing Post Trophy like Port Douglas but got within half-a-length of John Gosden's Foundation in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes last season.

He had to play bridesmaid to another Gosden horse, Wings Of Desire, in his first start of the season in the Dante Stakes last month. Deauville shaped nicely throughout the race and was just scalped in the closing stages by Wings Of Desire, who had the benefit of two runs previously.

The Dante is so often the strongest form heading into the Derby and this year was no different. He reversed form with Foundation, who was race fit, by one-and-a-half lengths and also had previous ante-post favourite Midterm well in behind.

Being a son of Galileo out of Walklikeanegyptian, he is a full brother to The Corsican, who finished fourth in last year's Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and, by the look of his Dante run, should have no problem stepping up to 1m4f.

And what about Shogun, who can still be backed at 33/1 with some firms? He ran no sort of race last time out in the Irish 2,000 Guineas but, on his previous start, he ate up the ground in the closing stages on a better surface in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown to finish second and he should relish the step up in trip.

O'Brien produced one of the biggest shocks in recent years to win the Oaks with 50/1 shot Qualify 12 months ago and it would be no surprise, given his training abilities, if one of his runners weaker in the market ends up in the winners' enclosure.

Whether a US Army Ranger fan or not, the fact is that he does not warrant being the market favourite and arguably is not even O'Brien's main protagonist for the 216th running of the Epsom Derby.

[Will Rooney]

Article Posted on Thursday 2nd June 2016 @ 08.09

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