Grand Rock claimed a narrow victory in the Investec Derby “Wild Card” Conditions Race at Epsom.
The extended one-mile contest offers the winner automatic entry into the £1.5 million Investec Derby next June, with Mark Johnston’s 2017 winner Dee Ex Bee going on to fill the runner-up spot in the premier Classic last season.
Having also landed last year’s renewal with Persian Moon, Johnston attempted to claim a third straight win with King’s Caper, who set out to make all the running under Joe Fanning.
The William Haggas-trained Grand Rock was the 5-4 favourite on the back of an impressive win at Hamilton in August – and after mastering King’s Caper inside the final furlong, James Doyle’s mount had enough in hand to hold the strong-finishing Night Colours at bay by a neck.
King’s Caper was last of the three runners – just under two lengths further away.
Haggas said: “He’s a nice horse who has improved a lot. His first run at Haydock was ordinary, but he won well at Hamilton and he won well again today.
“He doesn’t do a lot in front, but I think that soft ground really suits him.
“That (Derby) is a long way off, but the automatic entry is not something to be sniffed at. Today was hardly a Derby trial, but it’s a nice race to win nonetheless.
“I think we’ll probably find a stakes race for him somewhere before the end of the season while conditions appear to be in his favour.”
Later in the afternoon, Gary Moore’s King Of The Sand won the Apprentices’ Derby under 7lb claimer Rhys Clutterbuck.
In a race run in deteriorating conditions, the field was well strung out turning for home – and it was 14-1 shot King Of The Sand who boxed on best to score by five lengths from Hydroplane.