‘Do or do not, there is no try.’
Not Aristotle, nor Nietzsche, nor even Clarkson, but Yoda. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that, geek that I am, Star Wars floats my boat, though that line by Yoda always sat uncomfortably with me, as a life lesson, because if at first you don’t succeed, then what?
It’s like saying, regards Epsom: do or do not, there is no trial. The Classics need trials as much as the trials need Classics, depending on them for colour, context and clarity. Look at how the filtration system has worked wonders for this year’s Derby, telling us, and indeed telling trainers, sometimes by surprise, exactly who should and shouldn’t be there.
Never more than this supplementary season have the trials been so valuable, so vital, as a stock-taking survey. Even at the sensitive, sophisticated and systematic stable of Aidan O’Brien, in the game of nature versus nurture, nature has won out, via the Vase, by refreshingly revealing Sir Dragonet as one for the Derby, and possibly the one for the Derby.
All of which brings us to the curious case of Pink Dogwood. O’Brien hasn’t blinked, and he hasn’t bothered with the Oaks trials, seemingly and significantly safe in the knowledge that he doesn’t have to, as in other applicants need not apply, confident that he already has the perfect applicant for the job.
There was no Ballydoyle trialist at all at either Lingfield or York, and the one thrown into the Cheshire Oaks, Secret Thoughts, was a complete dart in the dark, there with no ambition other than to try to stimulate her, hiked up in trip, to no avail.
If there’s an Irish trial for the Oaks, outside of the too-close-for-comfort Irish Guineas, then it’s the Blue Wind Stakes at Naas, and while Aidan O’Brien went there with two, Pink Dogwood wasn’t one of them, her preparatory work on the track all done as early as April, in a mere Listed race at Navan, but Moore was aboard, Ryan’s report and rapport enough to ringfence her there and then for Epsom.
Justifying the price of Pink Dogwood isn’t about the form-lines but reading between them, of centring on the confidence circling her, and precisely who that confidence is coming from. There’s a sensation of a storm brewing, predicted in part by her pedigree, being a half-sister by a Derby winner (Camelot) to an Irish Derby winner (Latrobe).
In short, if she obliterated the Oaks field, it’s easily explained, but it’s harder – much harder – to jump on the bandwagon beforehand, given the odds she now is, considering the dots that still have to be joined up.
It’s how a Classic should be, with that Classic mix of potential and proven form, but in a season where the trials have done so much, the fact that Pink Dogwood has done so little is the story, and the conundrum.
Knowledge is power, and, unlike the Oaks, or the Derby, there is certain knowledge in the French equivalent on Sunday, in that Persian King, we know for certain, is the best horse in the race. If only it was so simple.
There are more runners in the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly than in the Derby at Epsom, enlarging the effect of the draw, and Persian King hasn’t hit lucky, out in 14 (of 15), amid the wider implications of the trip, an extra two furlongs for him.
Persian King’s dam won over that far, but it’s the Kingman in him that we’ve seen, above all, so far.
The draw and his dynamics are the reason Persian King is odds against for the French Derby, but if there’s a superstar amongst the three-year-olds in Europe then he’s probably it. That’s why Sunday at Chantilly is every bit as important and influential as Saturday (or Friday) at Epsom, for shaping a season that really starts this weekend.