Racing: Second Empire is doubtful for Derby

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The Independent Online
SECOND EMPIRE, the Derby favourite, injured himself on the gallops yesterday morning and is now struggling to regain fitness for the Blue Riband.

The alarm bells - and the Lutine bell for the many punters who have backed the Irish horse - started ringing after the unbeaten colt was not among the declarations for his intended seasonal reappearance, today's Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh.

Aidan O'Brien, Second Empire's trainer, explained the absence. "The horse pulled muscles in his hind quarters at exercise this morning," he said. "It will be a few days before we know the extent of the problem. At this stage the French Guineas is out but we won't know until early next week about the Derby."

Second Empire had started the day as the 5-1 Derby favourite with Ladbrokes. That position and those odds are now taken by Gulland, with Xaar on 7- 1 and City Honours on 10-1.

There is probably more value in supporting Dr Fong, who won a Newmarket Stakes yesterday at Headquarters from several other Derby entries. Henry Cecil, Dr Fong's trainer, later said he would have been happy if the colt had finished third. He will not, presumably, offer the same sentiment following the horse's next appearance, almost certainly in York's Dante Stakes.

The form of last year's Derby did not collapse at Newmarket yesterday when Romanov, the Epsom third, overturned placings with the runner- up, Silver Patriarch. Romanov was in receipt of 5lb and won by a neck so he had better enjoy the moment. It should not happen again.

Godolphin drew a blank as it fired its first shots of the 1998 British Flat campaign, but insisted it will go into the Guineas with all guns blazing. Simon Crisford, racing manager to Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai enterprise, insisted: "Judge us at the end of the Guineas meeting - not now."

"We're really panicking now," Crisford said tongue in cheek after Godolphin's Nasaayem finished third in the opening maiden stakes.

"Seriously, she's run a promising race and we're looking forward to both Guineas races now." Their Derby entry Mutawwaj also performed creditably when third in Dr Fong's Newmarket Stakes, however Happy Valentine dropped away into fifth after making the running in the Jockey Club Stakes.