Duke of Firenze has “brilliant chance” at Epsom

Friday and Saturday aren’t just about the Oaks and Derby at Epsom, with several other high-profile races taking place at the famous racecourse and this includes the Epsom Dash on Saturday.

Although Hathiq is trading as the 5/1 favourite and Copper Knight has been chalked up as 8/1 second favourite, Duke of Firenze has been talked up immensely by his trainer David Griffiths who is expecting a big run from a horse regarded as a dash specialist.

The Investec “Dash” Handicap is run over five furlongs and it’s a race that is open to any horses aged three or older, with Duke of Firenze aged ten but expected to give a strong account of himself on Saturday.

Trainer Griffiths is certainly not shy about the horse’s chances and claims that he’s got a brilliant prospect of scoring after an excellent track record when it comes to racing over five furlongs.

Griffiths said: "He’s got to go there with a brilliant chance, he’s gone up to 90 and is running off 89 with his two penalties.

"He loves Epsom, he’s right back to his best and from a purely handicapping point of view, he was beaten a short neck in the race off 107 two years ago. If he’s back to as good as he is, he’s seriously well handicapped off 89.

"It was difficult for him last year. He started off 107 after finishing fourth in the Abbaye and he struggled – I couldn’t really put my finger on why.

"The fact that he did struggle meant he came down 23lb in the weights. We took a couple of runs to get him back and feeling okay at home, but the win at Thirsk gave him massive confidence and he loves York. He was well handicapped on his old form but he did it well and has come out of it really well."

The ten-year-old landed victory in the Dash in 2013 as a four-year-old and has since finished third in both the 2016 and 2017 renewals. Six years ago he was trained by Sir Michael Stoute and Griffiths is now looking to follow in his footsteps on Saturday.

Duke of Firenze has won his past two races and has bags of experience coming into the race, although no ten-year-old has ever won this race and we should note that it’s a fiercely competitive heat.

Indeed, some expected the horse to be retired after a troubled 2018 although the trainer has kept the faith in his charge and will now hope to reap the dividends on Saturday.

"I know a few people had said after he’d run a few times that he didn't want it anymore, but he never showed us that at home. He’s always worked well," Griffiths said. "He was fancied a couple of times to get his form back and it didn’t happen for one reason or another.

"He had a real good first two years with us, winning at York twice, running well in the Abbaye. He just missed a year and that's the only thing I can put it down to.

"They never lose the ability until a certain point, but as long as you look after them the better ones have got it there. He didn’t have it last year but he looks to have found it again now."

Caspian Prince will also run in the race for Griffiths, with the top weight making it easier for the other runners. The ten-year-old will be off ten stones and that explains the odds of 16/1 that the stablemate of Duke of Firenze wins instead.

He added: "Caspian Prince has stayed in at the confirmation stage and he’s rated 114, that’s keeping the weights down so we’ve booked Franny Norton for him. He’s probably one of the best lightweights in the country. If they have confirmed Caspian Prince they will probably declare him, so we’ve booked Franny.

"On the track Duke Of Firenze is nothing like a sprinter, he’s not like Take Cover or even Ornate, he doesn’t have to go down last or be led down or have a blindfold in the stalls. He’s so straightforward on the track whereas at home he can be a bit of a monkey."

Hathiq runs for trainer Denis Hogan and the five-year-old looks primed to run a fast race, with the Irish raider showing plenty of class when winning at Tipperary before scoring again at the Curragh. Both successes were over five furlongs and further improvement is expected.

Copper Knight also has to be respected, with the five-year-old trained by Tim Easterby although it’s worth noting that this horse was beaten by Duke of Firenze at York a few days ago.

Nine days earlier, the horse had won at the Knavesmire after finishing second in a handicap race at Chester.