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Newmarket Derby hope John Leeper in good shape for Ed Dunlop ahead of bid to follow in father's footsteps at Epsom Downs




Newmarket trainer Ed Dunlop believes he is in with a real chance of pulling off the most fitting tribute to his late father John – by winning The Derby with a colt named after him.

John Leeper, who will be ridden by Kirkling-based Adam Kirby, has been ranked by the bookies as a 7/1 fourth favourite after yesterday's declarations for Saturday’s Classic on Epsom Downs (4.30pm).

The three-year-old son of Frankel and 2010 Oaks winner Snow Fairy was named after the dual-Derby winner, who died in July, 2018 aged 78 after owner Mrs Patino asked permission from Dunlop’s mother.

John Leeper and William Buick winning The Betway Fairway Stakes at Newmarket on May 15 Picture: Dan Abraham focusonracing.com
John Leeper and William Buick winning The Betway Fairway Stakes at Newmarket on May 15 Picture: Dan Abraham focusonracing.com

The La Grange Stables trainer will be looking to match the achievement his father had with Shirley Heights in 1978 and Erhaab in 1994 with his first entry in the prestigious race since 2016.

He told SuffolkNews John Leeper was looking good in his final gallop on the Al Bahathri Polytrack earlier today.

“He did his final piece of work this morning which we were very pleased with and now it will just be a question of keeping him ticking over well and healthy until Saturday,” he said. “Hopefully it will be a bit cooler.”

Ed Dunlop and father John, who his Epsom Derby horse is named after Picture: QIPCO British Champion Series
Ed Dunlop and father John, who his Epsom Derby horse is named after Picture: QIPCO British Champion Series

Put to him that it would be a real special one if he had a good result, having had a best of three fifth-placed finishes in The Derby to date, he said: “Yes, absolutely. There is the sentiment with being named after my father, the sentiment of having trained the mother to win the Oaks. Yes, it would be a great story and a lot of people have latched on to it and fingers crossed he can run very well.

“It is a step up in trip but he won a Derby trial at Newmarket (Fairway Stakes on May 15) over a mile and a quarter and the next logical step was going for the Derby, if we felt it was the right thing to do.

“His owner was very keen to and we are happy to.”

He admitted it will be an emotional day whatever the result, though is not under-estimating the task of stopping Aiden O’Brien capturing a third straight victory in the Classic.

“There could be tears either way if he wins, loses or draws, I don’t know, we’ll see,” he said.

“I’m sure it would be a very popular result if it happens so fingers crossed.

“He has got a chance but it is very competitive and of course with it being the Derby Aiden O’Brien wins it most years. But we are there and there are many other horses with shots at it, including many others trained in Newmarket.

Newmarket trainer Ed Dunlop is hoping to have a big smile on his face when The Derby finishes on Saturday afternoon Picture: Mark Westley
Newmarket trainer Ed Dunlop is hoping to have a big smile on his face when The Derby finishes on Saturday afternoon Picture: Mark Westley

“We are under no illusions but we will give it our best.

“We’ve been fifth three times and one is enough!”

O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet (6/4) is set to go off as favourite with stable-mate High Definition in second (5/1).

Elsewhere, Newmarket-based jockey Andrea Atzeni believes Roger Varian’s 12/1 shot Third Realm has a chance of causing an upset to deliver him a first Derby winner.

* See Thursday's Newmarket Journal print edition for the latest Pin Money weekend racing tips.

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