Racing: Ballad's message of support for the Godolphin band

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The Independent Online

There was a smile of contentment on the face of the Godolphin racing manager, Simon Crisford, after the Dante Stakes here yesterday, but the image in his mind was not the panting form in front of him in the winner's circle. Even as Moon Ballad and Jamie Spencer flashed past the post a length and a quarter in front of Bollin Eric with the shredded reputations of a couple of high-profile Derby contenders blowing down the straight behind them, Crisford was basking in the knowledge that the chestnut is by no means the blue team's number one Epsom contender.

Indeed, he might even bat as low as four in the order. The Guineas flop Naheef was the name that sprang to Crisford's lips as the one to carry the first colours, with Moon Ballad jostling for position with Al Moulatham and Dubai Destination. "Forget the Guineas as far as Naheef is concerned," he said, "it just wasn't him that day. He has done really well since then and this result is a massive encouragement. Winning a trial with one of the supporting cast is always good news."

Moon Ballad, a son of Singspiel and the speedy Velvet Moon, is an effective runner from the front and as he swung off the turn into the long straight and turned his blinkered head for home it was clear that the relentless pace he had set had had the desired effect. "I was told just to go with him," Spencer said, "and he had them all in trouble four out. He wasn't stopping at the end either."

Whether or not Moon Ballad will see out an extra furlong and a half at Epsom 23 days hence, or whether he will even be given the chance, is open to debate. "He's from a very fast family," said Crisford, "and he has a lot of class, but stretching him to 12 furlongs might be asking a big question. But it was nice to see the way he had them at it as soon as the taps were turned on." There was a marked divergence of bookmaker opinion as to the quality of the colt's performance; the Tote have slashed him to 12-1 third favourite, behind the Ballydoyle pair High Chaparral and Hawk Wing, but 33-1 is available at Ladbrokes.

Al Moulatham, already a winner over a mile and a half, joins Naheef as a Derby definite for Godolphin, but Dubai Destination's participation will depend on events over the next few days. The colt was a bright young talent last year, when the scalps on his belt included the Guineas winner Rock Of Gibraltar, but his season was truncated by lameness and he has been slow to blossom in his second term. Sheikh Mohammed's men have not yet given up on him, however. "He might run in the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood on Tuesday," said Crisford, "though he will have to work well on Saturday morning to do so."

The Dante Stakes is traditionally a solid guide to events at Epsom, with two Derby winners (Erhaab and Benny The Dip), four seconds (King's Theatre, Dushyantor, City Honours and Sakhee) and two thirds emerging from the principals here over the past eight years. But yesterday's running may not improve that record, with the winner uncommitted, the runner-up (on whom Robert Winston earned a four-day ban for his efforts with the whip) not entered, though the French version, the Prix du Jockey-Club, is an option, and the third, Balakheri, all but ruled out. "That's as good as he is," was the realistic assessment from trainer Sir Michael Stoute.

But at least the Aga Khan's colt performed with honour, unlike his Royal-owned stablemate Right Approach. The last time the Queen celebrated a Jubilee, the silver one, she won two Classics with Dunfermline but there will be no repeat in this golden year. Right Approach, described by Kieren Fallon earlier in the year as potentially the best he had ever ridden, trailed in eighth of the nine runners. "Never travelling," reported Fallon, "and did not feel comfortable from the start."

One place in front was the first-time-blinkered favourite Sir George Turner, who was removed from Epsom reckoning by Mark Johnston. "There's no getting away from it, he ran terribly," the trainer said. "The blinkers didn't work."

The Stoute squad has another chance today to produce a Derby contender when L'Oiseau D'Argent, the seven-length winner of a maiden 10 days ago on his debut, faces just two rivals in the Glasgow Stakes. But the focus today is less on gilded youth and more on golden oldies, notably the splendid warrior Persian Punch. Six take on the nine-year-old in the Yorkshire Cup, the best staying race of the season so far, and although the mile-and-three-quarter distance is his minimum these days and he must concede weight all round the Knavesmire is the ideal track for a horse with his "thou shalt not pass" attitude.

DERBY (Epsom, 8 June) Ladbrokes: 9-4 Hawk Wing, High Chaparral, 4-1 (with a run) Bandari, 16-1 Naheef, 20-1 Gamut, In Time's Eye, Sorcerous, 25-1 L'Oiseau D'Argent, 33-1 Balakheri, Moon Ballad. Tote: 9-4 Hawk Wing, High Chapparel, 12-1 Moon Ballad, Al Moulatham, 16-1 L'Oiseau D'Argent, Naheef.