Epsom Derby 2023: An Early Look at Contenders For the Big Race

Epsom RacecourseWith the turf Flat season just about underway, the discussion is now beginning to turn to the 2023 editions of the Classics. The Guineas meeting at Newmarket is first up in May, but for most, the Epsom Derby in June remains the pick of the bunch.

At present, the Derby market is predominantly shaped by potential and juvenile form from last season. More will be known following the Guineas, Craven meeting, and other key races such as the Derrinstown and Lingfield Derby Trials, but here we take an early look at five eye-catching contenders for the historic event.

Auguste Rodin

  • Trainer – Aidan O’Brien
  • Sire – Deep Impact
  • Dam – Rhododendron (Galileo)

With eight wins to his name, Aidan O’Brien is already the most successful trainer in the history of the race, making any runner hailing from his Ballydoyle operation of obvious interest. O’Brien has a total of 29 colts entered at the time of writing, but the one to have captured the imagination of punters is Auguste Rodin.

Typically for an O’Brien runner, this one is a regally bred sort. Deep Impact is yet to sire the winner of the Derby but has given us the 2018 2000 Guineas champ, Saxon Warrior, and 2021 Oaks heroine Snowfall. Dam Rhododendron, meanwhile, was a three-time Group 1 winner and finished runner-up to Enable in the 2017 Oaks. No shame in that.

At the track, Auguste Rodin has so far delivered on his potential. Beaten first time up, he rebounded with three successive wins last season, headlined by a strong staying effort to land a heavy ground edition of the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

Imperial Emperor

  • Trainer – Charlie Appleby
  • Sire – Dubawi
  • Dam – Zhukova (Fastnet Rock)

Charlie Appleby is another trainer who has a host of potential candidates for the big one, with six nicely bred sorts amongst the current list of entries. Imperial Emperor possibly hasn’t achieved as much on the form book as Silver Knott or Flying Honours, but it is this son of Dubawi who has come in for the most early support.

Barring Galileo, Dubawi is just about the most successful stallion of the modern era. The Godolphin flagbearer is yet to produce a Derby winner, but is no stranger to Classic success, with three 2000 Guineas winners, and a St. Leger hero amongst his progeny. Dam Zhukova looks a good fit for the race, having impressively won the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes over 1m3f.

Imperial Emperor has been seen just once at the track but certainly made a favourable impression when landing his maiden in impressive style at Newmarket. There seemed more to come and we might just see it on the big day.


  • Trainer – William Haggas
  • Sire – Nathaniel
  • Dam – Aghareed (Kingmambo)

Of the unraced colts among the entries, one to immediately catch the eye is the William Haggas-trained, Naqeeb. It has been a while since Haggas has tasted Derby triumph, with his only win coming with Shaamit back in 1996. As such, a second success is certainly long overdue and, on paper at least, there’s plenty to like about this colt.

Stallion Nathaniel has already proven his mettle at providing Epsom Classic winners, having sired the 2022 Derby king, Desert Crown, and the brilliant Enable, who counted a win in the 2017 Oaks amongst her many Group 1 successes. However, what really makes this one stand out on the page, is the dam, Aghareed.

A Listed winner in France, this daughter of Kingmambo has made a flying start to life in the breeding shed, producing three foals to date, all of whom have gone on to be rated 100+. The pick of that trio being Hukum, who landed a Group 1 over this course distance in the 2022 Coronation Cup, and Baeed, who at one stage was the highest-rated horse on the planet last season.

Proud And Regal

  • Trainer – Donnacha O’Brien
  • Sire – Galileo
  • Dam – Simply Perfect

Standing head and shoulders above the rest in the list of modern sires is the late, great, Galileo. Winning this race in 2001, the pride of Coolmore has sired five Derby winners to date, including four in the space of the past 10 years. Having passed away in 2021, the stallion only has a couple more chances to add to that haul, but does look set to be represented this year.

Of the 11 Galileo offspring amongst the 103 entries, one of the most likely sorts would look to be Proud And Regal from the yard of Donnacha O’Brien. With the dam, Simply Perfect, being a dual Group 1 winner, there is plenty of class on both sides of the pedigree, and if Donnacha has picked up any ideas from his father, he should be well-positioned to ready one for Epsom in June.

Unlike many of these, Proud And Regal already has a Group 1 success to his name, having landed the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud on his final start at two. Impressing with his stamina in that heavy-ground event over a mile, this step up in trip may well suit. He also has a name that may appeal to punters in the first Derby since the Queen died.

White Birch

  • Trainer – John Joseph Murphy
  • Sire – Ulysses
  • Dam – Diagnostic (Dutch Art)

Ireland will, as ever, have a strong hand in this race. Amongst the raft of contenders from the O’Brien yards, a runner from the less heralded John Joseph Murphy operation has also thrown his hat into the mix, in the shape of shock Ballysax Stakes winner, White Birch.

This beautiful grey wouldn’t make as much obvious appeal on paper as others in the field. However, he is by a son of Galileo, in Ulysses, who is already promising to surpass his efforts on the track with his performance at stud.

Looking back at that Ballysax Stakes event, White Birch was sent off as the rank outsider of the field, with the Aidan O’Brien duo, Alexandroupolis and Denmark, expected to dominate proceedings. However, none could match the last to first effort of White Birch, with the fact that he only got on top close home auguring well for this step up to a mile and a half.