Born to be a champion

The Derby: Entrepreneur has the Classic pedigree to strike gold while there may be a Silver lining for Dunlop; Sue Montgomery says Michael Stoute's striking colt has been groomed for stardom
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The Independent Online
The best occasion of the sporting year is less than a week away. In six days' time, with the 218th Derby, we will have that crucial piece of the season's jigsaw, the one that will enable us to see what the picture might be. Because the Derby has for so long been the ultimate target, there is the temptation to see it as an end, but it should more properly be regarded as a beginning.

It is the Derby winner who sets the middle-distance standard for the year and lays the foundation for competition during the summer and autumn, and it is still the one contest that the professionals want to win. A good Derby winner will hold his own through the year; a champion will repel all comers of all ages. There are good vintages and bad ones, and it is unrealistic to expect anything else.

But when two of the most respected trainers in the business announce that their trial-winning Derby candidates will be running for place money only, you have to begin to believe that we may have an '83 Dom Perignon on our hands.

The sparkler in question is Entrepreneur, whose impressive victory in the 2,000 Guineas, on his seasonal debut and on his first venture into Pattern company, consolidated his place at the head of the Derby market. The Michael Stoute-trained colt owns most of the qualities desirable in a potential Derby winner: he has an excellent turn of foot; he is a balanced, powerful, athletic individual; and, although untested over 12 furlongs, has a genetic heritage that indicates he should get the trip. In the opinions of John Gosden and Luca Cumani, who saddle, respectively, the Dante Stakes winner Benny The Dip and Grapeshot (Predominate Stakes), if he stays, he wins.

Entrepreneur has been marked for stardom almost from Day One. Four months after his sister Dance A Dream ran second in her Oaks, he cost 600,000 guineas at Tattersalls yearling sales in Newmarket, a price-tag that, should he triumph, would make him the most expensive Derby winner ever bought.

But he is already money well spent, and his owner Michael Tabor seems possessed of another essential quality in horse-racing, luck. In his relatively short tenure in the sport, other bearers of his blue- and-orange colours have included Thunder Gulch, winner of a Kentucky Derby and last weekend's Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Desert King.

Entrepreneur would not, however, be the first apparently unbeatable Derby hotshot to tumble, as El Gran Senor, second at 11-8 on in 1984, and Tenby, 10th when 5-4 on four years ago, will testify. And not every eventual champion was obviously identified in the run-up to Epsom; Generous, for instance, was only fifth choice, at 9-1.

To win a Derby, a horse must stay every yard of 12 furlongs and be able to quicken, and one of the few who has proved he can do both is Silver Patriarch, winner of the Lingfield Trial. Although he has shown his best on easy ground, his trainer John Dunlop is adamant he will not be inconvenienced by a faster surface.

Entrepreneur's sire Sadler's Wells, champion sire of Europe, has yet to get a Derby winner, and has the French challenger Cloudings, Mulsalsal and Ghataas on his back-up team. But it would be sod's law if one of his stallion sons could reach the target before him. Silver Patriarch is from the first crop of one, Saddlers' Hall, and In The Wings, already responsible for the admirable Singspiel, has a lively enough outsider, Symonds Inn, the hope of the north.

The 2,000 Guineas apart, the trial with the best record in recent years has been the Dante Stakes. In the past two decades four winners have gone on to Epsom success, most recently Erhaab three years ago. Benny The Dip looks sure to run an honest race, but may find the trip beyond him. Another who is proven over the distance is Single Empire, who already has a Derby, the Italian version a week ago, to his name. After the disappointing show by the Guineas runner-up Revoque in Ireland the same afternoon, he is likely to carry the honour of Manton, and is improving. There is growing confidence behind Fahris, a son of Generous who disposed of the close Italian Derby third Panama City in good style at Newmarket in the spring but has suffered sinus problems since.

Although he is no price for the once-a-year-backer, I will stick with Entrepreneur to follow in the footsteps of Nashwan and should he win, it is to be hoped that he may be given the chance to go after Nijinsky and have a crack at the Triple Crown. Silver Patriarch will test him all the way, followed in by Single Empire and Benny The Dip, with Symonds Inn one for the longshots.