If Ed Walker was to be granted one wish to mark the 10th anniversary of becoming a trainer, the chances are celebrating victory in next month’s Investec Derby with English King would be it.
Since making the perfect start to his career when enjoying a winner with his first runner Riggins in a Listed event at Kempton in November 2010, the 37-year-old has gone on to achieve plenty of success both at home and abroad.
Though Walker is no stranger to preparing a horse for a Classic after readying stable stalwart Stormy Antarctic for the 2000 Guineas four years ago, having a strongly-fancied runner in the Derby presents an altogether different challenge – but one he is looking forward to.
He said: “I’ve never trained a runner in the Derby and I vowed that I wouldn’t run a horse in the race unless it deserved to be there and in my mind this horse does.
“It is not a race to just have runners in, as it’s a vicious race that leaves a mark on horses if they are not up to it. The reason the Derby is such an important race is that it’s the ultimate test of a racehorse.
“If I was to only ever win one Classic it is pretty obvious it would be the Derby. I’d not complain about winning a Guineas, obviously, as that would be great, but the Derby is the Derby at the end of the day.”
Compared to a number of his Epsom-bound rivals the son of 2012 Derby hero Camelot achieved relatively little as a two-year-old, with just a maiden win at Newcastle to his name.
However, after trouncing his rivals in the Lingfield Derby Trial on his comeback, Walker is confident English King – who runs in the Bjorn Nielsen colours made famous by Stradivarius – has the perfect credentials to try to emulate his sire.
Walker said: “In terms of is he good enough, that is a question that is still to be answered, but he could not have been more impressive at Lingfield and he did it in a good time. We know he will stay the trip and he will likely handle Epsom, having handled Lingfield.
“Lots of boxes are ticked and I think he has all the credentials to be a Derby horse.
“He relaxes and is a straightforward horse and in a Derby you have got to settle and stay and have a turn of foot, which he has all of. Like his owner Bjorn Nielsen has said, I would not swap him for anything.”
With the last few Derby trials still to be run, the father of two will be monitoring each and every one closely, though he feels in 2000 Guineas hero Kameko he may have already seen the chief threat to his very own rising star.
He said: “It is interesting watching all these trials and it is exciting to be part of it. The Guineas is always the best Derby trial in my opinion and the winner was very impressive. He had a troubled passage and still managed to beat some very good horses.
“The big question mark for him is will he stay, but at the same time he is a multiple Group One winner and a Classic winner that was very impressive in what I think was a good Guineas. He is a very worthy favourite and I have huge respect for him.”
As the big day gets ever closer, a few restless nights are likely to be had by Walker. But for now his focus is simply on making sure he continues to keep English King ticking over.
He added: “There was never a question where he would be going next after Lingfield, it was always going to be Epsom. Now we just have to get him there in as good form as possible.
“He came out of the Lingfield race well and has been cantering away. He is fit and happy and we’ve got plenty of time to get him ready before the race.
“At the moment the nerves are fine as we are three weeks away. A good friend of mine said you have two choices, you can either stress and fret, or enjoy the experience.
“I will try to do the latter as we have been very patient for this moment – it’s what we all dream about.”