Dushyantor to set the standard

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The Independent Online
Derby Day - the best, most magical day of the racing year - is less than a week away. And as usual during the build-up some sections of the media have been betraying the great race. Instead of emphasising the positive, the unparalleled excitement of watching high-class thoroughbreds carve a niche in history, the dismal johnnies carp about the so-called failings.

This year's Derby - the 217th - is shaping up to be a fascinating renewal, with the prospect of a decent field, open betting and the answers to many intriguing questions. Several less fashionable stables will be represented, and promise to be as competitive as the usual high rollers.

The owners of the so-called no-hopers - don't forget that three years ago two 150-1 shots finished in the frame - will have some of the best fun of their lives on Saturday, and it would be a sour type who would deprive them of it.

Much has been made of the fact that the likes of Prize Giving and High Baroque are not running. The entry system certainly needs looking at, but last-minute, expensive supplementary entries are not the answer: the race should not be a private party for the super-wealthy.

The much-trumpeted absence of Pentire last year did not detract one jot from the thrilling spectacle provided by Lammtarra and Co - indeed it set the season up. The Derby is not the end, it is the beginning: there is no law that decrees the Derby winner must be, or even should be, the best horse of his year.

But the Derby is the race that sets the standard and lays the foundation for the competition during the summer and autumn, and it is still the one contest that the professionals want to win. But there simply cannot be a superhorse every time.

Of all this year's trials, the Dante Stakes seems the best guide, but the horses will not necessarily finish in the same order. The York race, over 10 furlongs, was slowly run and although Glory Of Dancer did little wrong in beating Dushyantor comfortably, it may be a different story over a truly run mile-and-a-half. Last-placed Bahamian Knight's victory in the Italian Derby has not disabused that notion.

Glory Of Dancer showed commendable acceleration in the Dante and though his pedigree guarantees him neither the class nor the stamina for Derby glory, he has the runs on the board. A bigger doubt concerns his temperament and conformation, neither ideal for Epsom.

Dushyantor was marked for stardom from the day he was born. His owner- breeder, Khaled Abdullah, has some 150 foals to name each year, and normally delegates the task. But he gave personal attention to this son of his favourite mare, Slightly Dangerous - who also produced the 1993 Derby hero Commander In Chief - bestowing on him the name of a village in India.

A return to 12 furlongs will surely show the thrice-raced colt, the apple of Henry Cecil's eye, to his best advantage and his York experience will have given him vital ringcraft.

Surprisingly, his outstanding sire, Sadler's Wells, has not yet fathered a Derby winner, though he has come close with King's Theatre and Tamure. This may be his year: he also has the Michael Stoute-trained pair Double Leaf, fifth in the Dante and a sparkler on the gallops since, and Dr Massini.

Even Top's genetic background says stamina, so he has already rewritten his pedigree by going close in the Guineas over a mile. He deserves the utmost respect. Storm Trooper will appreciate the step up in trip, and he and Jack Jennings will ensure a true test. St Mawes should stay, but may not do it fast enough and may find the track problematic. Mystic Knight appeals as a long-shot.

On Friday, Pricket, a full- sister to the 1988 heroine Diminuendo, can give Sheikh Mohammed compensation for the enforced Derby absence of Mick's Love and Mark Of Esteem by taking a third successive Oaks for Godolphin. The filly looked a class act on her reappearance at Newmarket and her home work has been immaculate. She may have most to fear from her former Cecil stable-mate Lady Carla, although any rain will aid the cause of another Warren Place filly, Magnificient Style.

Sue Montgomery's tips

1 Dushyantor 5-1

2 Even Top 6-1

3 Double Leaf 14-1

4 Glory Of Dancer 5-1

Long shot: Mystic Knight 20-1