There is a tendency among some British punters to see the French Derby as little more than an interesting appetiser for the serious business at Epsom, but in the last two years at least, such patriotism has proved sadly misplaced. Both Helissio, in 1996, and Peintre Celebre, last year's winner, went on to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and mark themselves down as exceptional colts. It is hard to say the same of either Shaamit or Benny The Dip, the winners at Epsom in those years.
This year, what is more, there may be a direct line of form to link the French and English Derby winners at an unusually early stage of the season. Saratoga Springs, winner of the Dante Stakes at York this month, is the most formidable member of a three-strong foreign challenge for tomorrow's Classic, and at this stage is also an intended runner in the original Derby next Saturday. If he does indeed make it to Epsom, he is the probable mount of Pat Eddery, although Mick Kinane, his rider tomorrow, made it clear yesterday that he will not decide on his own preference among Aidan O'Brien's extensive team until next week.
Saratoga Springs put up a resolute performance to win the Dante, but it hardly carried the stamp of irresistible brilliance, and he may struggle to cope with the best of the French colts. Chief among them is Croco Rouge (3.20), who won the Group One Prix Lupin at Longchamp. A repeat of that form should be good enough.
The quantity of televised racing in Britain today is not, somewhat predictably, matched by its quality, and the Coral Sprint Handicap at Newmarket is a race which will suck in many thousands of punters and then spit most of them out again.
One consolation is that several of the more obvious choices contested the same race at Lingfield three weekends ago, when Hill Magic came with a strong finish to beat 19 opponents, including Nuclear Debate, Night Shot and Harmonic Way. The message of that form, however, is that there will again be little to choose between them, and it may pay instead to look further down the list. Magic Rainbow (3.40) is a tentative choice, but he has solid excuses for his last two disappointing runs on turf and had previously appeared to show improvement when winning on the all-weather. At 20-1 with Ladbrokes this morning, he is at least a sporting price.
Another who could go well at decent odds is MUGELLO (nap 3.10), who carries top-weight in the five-furlong handicap but should be suited by the return to the minimum trip. Desert Lady (next best 4.15) is also improving, while at Stratford, Venetia Williams can win the Horse & Hound Cup for the second year running. Teeton Mill (4.30) is her runner in the main event on the final day of the 1997-98 National Hunt season. The jumpers will not get much of a holiday, however. The new campaign starts at Hereford on Monday.
NAP: Nuclear Debate
NB: Teeton Mill
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