Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IAN FORSYTH
Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IAN FORSYTH

UK trainer William Haggas, a man with close ties to SA, will try to end a 25-year drought when he saddles Mohaafeth in the 242nd running of the Epsom Derby on Saturday.

It was 1996 when Haggas, son-in-law of legendary jockey Lester Piggott, won the world’s most famous race. It was a huge achievement by the young trainer who was then 35.

Bookmakers quote Mohaafeth, a son of Frankel who races for the Shadwell estate, as a 7-1 chance, and he’s been around this price since winning the Newmarket Betfair Stakes by five lengths. Jim Crowley has been booked for the ride.

Interviewed about Saturday’s race, Haggas said: “The race means exactly the same as it did 25 years ago in that it’s the ultimate test for an English trainer to win or to try to win. We’ve thrown a few darts at it unsuccessfully. It’s a very hard race to win.

“Whether he’s a better horse at a mile and a half or a mile and a quarter I’m not sure, but there’s no better race in the world than Saturday’s so we’ll be very keen to give it a go.”

Haggas has made it clear that Mohaafeth will be withdrawn if the going comes up soft. However, that seems unlikely as a decision to start irrigation was made on Monday.

“The going is good, good to firm in places,” said Epsom clerk of the course Andrew Cooper.

The Derby is, indeed, a hard race to win — unless you are Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien. He bids for a historic ninth Derby triumph on Saturday.

At Monday’s forfeit stage, O’Brien left six horses in the race headed by the two market fancies Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition. His other entries are Kyprios, Sir Lamorack, Van Gogh and The Mediterranean.

There are three other acceptors from Ireland: Mac Swiney (Jim Bolger’s Irish 2000 Guineas winner), Southern Lights (Joseph O’Brien) and Seattle Sound (Luke Corner).

The worry for Mac Swiney backers is that no horse has done the Irish 2000 Guineas-Derby double since Grundy in 1975. Nevertheless, jockey Rory Cleary remains confident saying: “You saw the way he raced at the Curragh, he’s just a very simple and easy-to-ride horse. He covers the ground and settles very well.”

Ryan Moore is likely to choose Bolshoi Ballet as the colt was most impressive when winning the Derrinstown Stud stakes at Leopardstown by six lengths.

Apart from Mohaafet, the chance of a home country win may rest with Charlie Appleby’s Dante Stakes winner Hurricane Lane, the mount of William Buick.

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy will ride Adayar for the Appleby yard and he said: “I’m super-excited to be involved in the race. He’s by Frankel out of a Dubawi mare and is lightly-raced. I’d like to win the Derby — hopefully it’s this year.”

Interestingly, Mrs John Magnier is co-owner of both Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition and also three-year-old Power Ranger who runs in the fourth race at the Vaal on Thursday.

A R1m buy as a yearling, Power Ranger will start a short-priced favourite following a pleasing debut at Turffontein. With the Derby on Saturday, it’s doubtful the Vaal race will get a mention in the Magnier household.

Mike de Kock’s representative is not the most expensive runner in the Vaal field as Sean Tarry has R2,4m buy, Track Commander, in the 1,400m contest. The horse has been gelded so an improved performance is on the cards.

Vaal Selections

1st Race: (1) Pick A Lily (7) Raising A Storm (9) Theroseofbecharre (8) Go Dream Machine

2nd Race: (2) Team Gold (3) Aunty Lizzy (1) Bronco Blitz (4) Bella Chica

3rd Race: (2) Bathing Beauty (1) Cold Fact (5) Social Image (7) Rompin Stompin

4th Race: (10) Power Ranger (2) Track Commander (7) Knightflight (3) Silly Fella

5th Race: (2) Set The Standard (1) Zeal And Zest (6) Afraad (7) Smiley River

6th Race: (5) Var Aglow (4) Lagertha (2) Marengo (1) Ace Of Spades

7th Race: (2) Bold Ransom (4) Mombela (5) Oravar (3) Valyrian King

8th Race: (3) Dubawi Princess (13) Now You See Me (11) Lee Express (10) I Dream Of Genie

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