Dr Massini injects new vigour into Derby betting

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Racing

GREG WOOD

reports from York

Given the choice between a nine-runner maiden and a hassle-free drive home, there were probably plenty of racegoers at Kempton's Bank Holiday meeting 11 days ago who set off for the car park before the last. If so, the odds are now just 7-1 that they missed the racecourse debut of the 1996 Derby winner.

The colt in question is Dr Massini, who won the maiden in considerable style and yesterday followed up in the Glasgow Stakes, which was surely the best race for pounds 8,000 we will see all season. On paper, Astor Place and King Alex were difficult and very promising opponents, but once Mick Kinane got Dr Massini going with two furlongs to run, there could be but one winner and the manner of his victory suggested that there is better still to come over the Derby's extra two furlongs.

There was - briefly - 33-1 still on offer for Epsom early yesterday morning, but the quote was down to 16-1 before the stalls had opened, and two minutes later the bookmakers set about their prices with even greater vigour. Coral and Ladbrokes now offer 7-1 that Michael Stoute will shortly saddle his third Derby winner, and since Kinane now seems to have found his Classic ride, Dr Massini may even challenge Glory Of Dancer (top-priced at 5-1) for favouritism on 8 June.

"Mick said that he was looking around a bit, but he was going on at the end and a mile and a half will definitely suit him," Michael Tabor, the winning owner, said afterwards.

When High Baroque won the Chester Vase in Tabor's colours, it seemed a little unfortunate that he had not been entered for the Derby, but his owner clearly suspected that he had a stronger candidate hidden away in Newmarket. Tabor recently sold a chain of betting shops for a colossal sum, and spent yesterday morning taking all the fancy ante-post prices he could find. Now that all the real value has gone, however, there are a couple of points which backers should consider before stepping in at shortening odds.

First, for all King Alex's great promise, he remains simply a maiden winner and thus a slightly dubious yardstick, while Glory Of Dancer's Dante was a contest of considerable strength in depth. Lack of experience, too, must be a worry. In two races, Dr Massini has beaten a total of 13 runners around two of Britain's flattest and easiest tracks. Whether he will adapt readily to 20 or so opponents around Epsom's twists and hills remains to be seen.

Kinane, assuming he takes the ride, will be a crucial factor, and his enormous ability was demonstrated once again in the day's richest event, the Yorkshire Cup. Riding Classic Cliche, last year's St Leger winner, in place of the suspended Lanfrano Dettori, Kinane galvanised his mount into a renewed effort two furlongs out just as Strategic Choice seemed ready to overhaul him.

This was Classic Cliche's first run since the Leger, but according to Simon Crisford, representing his owners, Godol- phin, "we knew he was very fit and he hasn't missed a day's work since last November. Michael said that he thought the Ascot Gold Cup would be a lovely race for him, but he's never been beyond 14 furlongs and we haven't decided whether to go further with him, keep him at this trip or even go back to a mile and a half. There's Group Ones all across Europe."

The victory was the seventh of the meeting for Kinane, who has been the main beneficiary of Dettori's absence, and the Irishman owes a debt of thanks to the Newmarket stewards, who objected to Dettori's use of the whip on Mark Of Esteem in the 2,000 Guineas. It could have been even worse for the Italian, with Diffident and Kinane starting second-favourite for the Duke of York Stakes, but for once the Godolphin magic failed, as did the strong favourite, Passion For Life.

The victory here of Venture Capitalist, a seven-year-old who generally makes his way in handicap company, implied that the latest crop of sprinters is painfully short of class.

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