Racing: Act One poised to upstage the big battalions in French Derby

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Although the Derby at Epsom provides the benchmark for middle-distance three-year-old colts, the version at the Surrey town's twin, Chantilly, is run first this year. Among the 15 runners in today's Prix du Jockey-Club, which takes place before the elegant backdrop of the 18th-century folly that is a former royal stable block, is a horse with an unblemished record.

But, although Act One, unbeaten in all his five runs, is resident in France, he flies the flag for Britain. His owner, Gerald Leigh, has achieved much in the three decades since he launched his breeding operation and is one of the few small-scale operators producing enough quality to take on the big guns. His 1999 crop of foals has proved his best, containing as it did Gossamer, who a week ago thwarted an Aidan O'Brien 1-2-3 in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, and Act One, who last year prevented an O'Brien clean sweep of all ten juvenile colts' Group One races in Europe.

Act One, trained by Jonathan Pease, has galloped serenely onwards this year, winning France's two most important trials, the Prix Greffulhe and Lupin, and will start at short odds to give Leigh, who is seriously ill, his second Classic in seven days and add £385,607 to the charity CancerBACUP's coffers, to which the owner has pledged his winnings.

O'Brien sends out four of what is perceived as the Ballydoyle second XI to test him and a good showing will be a mighty boost for the A-team at Epsom next weekend. Stable jockey Mick Kinane has opted for Diaghilev, at 3.4 million guineas the most expensive yearling ever auctioned in Europe, with Jamie Spencer on Galileo's brother, Black Sam Bellamy, and Johnny Murtagh on Kentucky Derby flop Castle Gandolfo.

Apart from Act One, the best of the rest of the home side on the book are Khalkevi, winner of all three of his starts, and Sulamani, who has been competing at a lesser level but showed a remarkable turn of foot to win last time.

The Prix du Jockey-Club is not often exported. The first foreigner to triumph was the David O'Brien-trained Assert 20 years ago, immediately followed by Caerleon, handled by his father, Vincent. The pair remain the only two victors from Ireland. In 1989 Old Vic (Henry Cecil) became the first of only four from Britain to plunder France's great three-year-old prize, Sanglamore (Roger Charlton), Celtic Swing (Lady Herries) and Holding Court (Michael Jarvis) being the others.

The sole British-trained challenger in today's 162nd renewal is Frankie Dettori's mount, Simeon, trained in Middleham by Mark Johnston. The Lammtarra colt, owned by a group of Maktoum associates, has won his last five starts, most recently the Sandown Classic Trial, and was a supplementary entry for the Group One feature.

As expected, his stablemates, Bandari and Fight Your Corner, both recent Maktoum purchases after impressive trials wins, were supplemented to the Epsom Derby yesterday at a cost of £90,000 each. Bandari will carry Sheikh Hamdan's colours and Fight Your Corner those of his namesake nephew, second son of Sheikh Mohammed.

The addition of the pair to the field brings the purse for the Derby, Europe's richest race, to a record £1.38m, of which £789,498 will go to the winner.

At yesterday's five-day stage for the Oaks, there were no unexpected absentees as 18 fillies stood their ground.

In Kempton's feature, the Heron Stakes, Hero's Journey continued his upward progress and booked his ticket for the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot later this month with a length defeat of 2,000 Guineas seventh Compton Dragon.

At Doncaster, Gallant Hero gained a battling length-and a-half victory over Godolphin debutant Wadmaan in the Rosehill Stakes and is a possibility for the King Edward VII Stakes at the royal meeting.

At a lower, but still worthy, level, 12-year-old sprinter Palacegate Touch came within a short-head of a record-equalling 34th career victory in the apprentice handicap at the South Yorkshire track. Perhaps this weekend his connections can forgive the winner, Snow Bunting, who was bred by the Queen.