Epsom Derby: John Leeper all set for emotional bid for trainer Ed Dunlop and late father

John Leeper, trained by Ed Dunlop, is fourth favourite for Saturday's Cazoo Derby at Epsom; John Leeper, son of Frankel and 2010 Oaks winner Snow Fairy, is named after Dunlop's late father, who trained the winner of the Derby in 1978 and 1994

John Leeper with jockey Adam Kirby, who takes the ride in the 2021 Epsom Derby 2:04
Trainer Ed Dunlop admits there will be tears if his Cazoo Derby contender John Leeper, named after his late father, wins Saturday's Classic at Epsom

What's in a name? For John Leeper's trainer Ed Dunlop, victory by any other name in the Cazoo Derby would not taste as sweet.

Dunlop's contender, bred as a son of Frankel out of the trainer's 2010 Oaks heroine Snow Fairy, is named after his late father, himself a dual-Derby winning trainer with Shirley Heights in 1978 and Erhaab in 1994.

After spring victories at Newcastle and Newmarket, John Leeper has earned himself a shot at the Classic and is currently fourth favourite behind Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition - trained by the race's record-winning trainer Aidan O'Brien - and Jim Bolger's Mac Swiney.

Dunlop told Sky Sports Racing: "It's a great story from an English point of view to have a horse named after my father, who won the Derby twice. Quite rightly people are latching on to it. There's obviously a lot of sentimental reasons for it all.

"There is pressure because of his name, but he doesn't know what his name his.

"The Derby needs a good boost. I'm sure Aidan (O'Brien) will win and have the first four as he normally does but we'll give it as good as we can.

"We'll shed a tear if he wins."

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John Dunlop, left, at the 1979 Derby awards after victory in the race the previous year with Shirley Heights
Image: John Dunlop, left, at the 1979 Derby awards after victory in the race the previous year with Shirley Heights

Dunlop is not hiding the excitement of a first Derby runner since 2016 and his best chance since Native Khan finished fifth in the 2011 edition.

"We haven't had a good horse in a while but this horse has got to go a long way to be as good as his mother," Dunlop said. "It's very exciting, we're lucky to have him.

"He's very good looking. He's a big, strong horse and weighs over 500 kilos.

"There are very few horses who even have a chance to run in a Derby but this horse is bred to. Not saying he'll win it, but he deserves to be there. At the moment, all roads lead to Saturday."

Ed Dunlop
Image: Ed Dunlop is hopeful John Leeper will see out the Derby trip

Having won twice over 10 furlongs this year, the Derby's mile-and-a-half trip is something of an unknown for the three-year-old colt, but Dunlop is holding out hope he will stay the trip.

Asked if John Leeper will improve for the step up in distance, Dunlop said: "I've no idea. Mummy [Snow Fairy] won the Oaks but she was probably better at a mile and a quarter.

"The Frankel progeny all look to stay well. We've always thought he should stay well.

"He won going away at Newcastle and the good thing we saw at Newcastle in the farcical race was that it took William Buick a long time to pull him up, suggesting he should stay.

"We've all been down this route before, we'll just have to wait and see what happens on the day."

Pressed on whether he believes his star horse is good enough to win Saturday's Classic, Dunlop replied: "I've finished fifth in the Derby three times, how would I know that?"

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