IT'S crunch time for the massive Epsom Derby gamble Desert Crown.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt has been the subject of a huge plunge in the betting for the Classic on June 4.
The unbeaten three-year-old was a 33-1 shot just over a week ago, but he is now as short as 11-2 with the bookies.
And his Derby credentials will be put to the test on Thursday when he runs in the Dante Stakes at York.
That race is considered one of the most important Derby trials, with previous winners like Golden Horn, Authorized and Motivator following up at Epsom in recent years.
And with the long-time Derby favourite Luxembourg ruled out of the race through injury, the race has a wide-open look to it.
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The markets have been volatile since news of Luxembourg's setback was made public.
A good – or bad – performance on the track can see a huge shake-up in the betting.
That was the case on Sunday, with Stone Age cut into 5-2 favourtism from 12-1 after he won the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown.
But Desert Crown, who won his only start at Nottingham in November, has yet to race this season and could well move to the head of the Derby betting if he bags the Dante at York.
If he flops, the punters who have taken part in the huge gamble will be pulling their hair out.
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Bruce Raymond, racing manager for Desert Crown's owner Saeed Suhail, told the Racing Post: "The plan is to run him on Thursday. He works very well.
"Sir Michael is bringing him along very gradually. A month ago you certainly wouldn't think about any Derby, but he's starting to hit the right note now.
"Our horse will stay very well and whatever he does in the Dante he'll improve a lot for it.
"I wouldn't worry about him getting beaten in the Dante because it's his first run of the season and Sir Michael's are not yet firing on all cylinders.
"He will be a decent horse – whether he comes right for the Derby I don't know – but he'll be a good horse later."
Coral's David Stevens added: "Desert Crown has been the subject of a positive bulletin from connections and he will get his own chance to test his credentials in this week’s Dante.
"A clear-cut victory at York would surely see him take outright favouritism for the Epsom Classic.”
Desert Crown will face another Derby dark horse in the Dante in the shape of Magisterial, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, plus Aidan O'Brien's Point Lonsdale.
The three-day Dante Festival kicks off on Wednesday, when Emily Upjohn will attempt to book her ticket to the Oaks in the Musidora Stakes.
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