Racing: Cumani's High-Rise in the ascendancy

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THERE is no doubt a good reason why the Dante Stakes, over the flat, galloping track at York next week, is apparently reckoned a better preparation for Epsom in June than the Derby Trial at Lingfield this afternoon, but at first sight, it is far from obvious. Lingfield, after all, is an undulating downland track with a steep descent into a sharp, left-handed home turn, and thus as close as you will get (with the possible exception of Brighton) to the unique challenge of Epsom.

And yet many leading trainers seem to automatically favour the Dante for their principal Derby hopes, and the winner of next Wednesday's race will almost certainly emerge from what is a very confused ante-post market to be the clear favourite come the big day itself. Do not be lured into dismissing today's race as a contest for second-strings, however, for while no horse has won both the Trial and the Classic during the 1990s, three did so in the previous decade, while two recent winners, Bob's Return and Silver Partriarch, have gone on to win the St Leger.

Silver Patriarch, in fact, was just a flared nostril away from beating Benny The Dip at Epsom almost 12 months ago, so the long odds available for the Derby against three of today's runners, Alboostan (33-1), High- Rise (33-1) and Sadian (40-1) could well appear very generous with the benefit of hindsight.

Not that hindsight is much use to punters, who could do a lot worse than take a small ante-post interest on all three in the expectation that they will be sitting on at least one high-value bet by the end of the afternoon. For those who prefer to be more selective, however, it may be that HIGH- RISE (nap 4.10) is the one to back.

On bare form to date, Alboostan's second to Border Arrow in the Fielden Stakes gives him the most obvious chance, while Sadian's blue-blooded pedigree (by Shirley Heights out of the French Oaks winner, Rafha) will offer encouragement to some. While High-Rise has won only a limited stakes at Pontefract this season, however, he did so in the manner of a very useful colt, and it is also worth remembering that Luca Cumani, his trainer, used this same race as the Epsom preparation for Kahyasi, his 1988 Derby winner and the last horse to complete the double.

The Oaks Trial has pinpointed a Classic winner rather more recently, and it was the way in which User Friendly swept around the turn a few years ago which convinced many punters that she was the one to back at Epsom. Today's renewal does not appear to be of quite the same quality, however, and Bristol Channel, a half-sister to Tenby, is the only runner with even a half-serious ante-post quote for the Oaks. She is making her seasonal debut, however, as is Godolphin's Shimaal, and there is no worthwhile bet to be found.

The sprint handicap is something of a puzzle, with the stalls arranged on the stands' side but the form horses all drawn low. In the expectation that they will head for the far fail, though, Lord Lieutenant (next best 3.10) looks a fair bet to reverse recent Newmarket form with Epsom Cyclone.

There are no fewer than three Group One events on the card at Longchamp tomorrow, all of which will feature on Sunday Grandstand. British yards will send out seven of the 13 runners for the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas), but it will take an exceptional performance to beat Criquette Head's With The Flow, who has won all three of his races to date.

The Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) has three overseas runners among a 15-strong field, including Alec Stewart's Elshaams and La Nuit Rose, who runs for Godolphin. The Dubai-based operation also saddles Mudeer, second in last year's Racing Post Trophy, in the last of the Group One events on the card, the Prix Lupin.