Racing: Bell blames pace for Motivator defeat

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"He's fine," said trainer Michael Bell. "He ate up when he got home on Saturday night, he had a lead out this morning and he's none the worse for his exertions. In fact, looking at him standing in his box he doesn't look as though he had a tough race at all."

The Derby is seldom the most rigorous examination a three-year-old will face in the course of a full season and the drop back to 10 furlongs at Sandown is a difficult test. The eight who passed, most recently Mill Reef and Nashwan, all well above average Derby winners, and Bell and his team may take comfort from the fact that among those who failed were two more superior performers, Sir Ivor and Reference Point.

The last-named redeemed his reputation in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes once returned to a mile and a half and the contest, to be run at Newbury 19 days hence is the next obvious target for Motivator, who remains among its market leaders.

The date, though, is only lightly pencilled in. "We have no set plan," said Bell. "Realistically, the King George might come a bit soon. But we have yet to discuss it. The most important thing is that the horse is fine. He has no divine right to win every race he's in and I hope he has been only temporarily dethroned."

Bell is of the opinion that the uneven pace of the Eclipse Stakes, rather than the trip or the fast underfoot conditions, was the prime factor in the Royal Ascot Racing Club star's first reverse.

Motivator sprang keenly from the stalls and led through the first quarter-mile, before Hazyview took over and steadied the gallop. From then the 2-5 favourite was always going slower than ideal for Johnny Murtagh, who had his hands full of tugging, rather than taut, reins.

"I'm sure our horse is effective over a mile and a quarter," said Bell. "It's deeply disappointing he got beaten but I think it was the muddling pace as much as anything that accounted for his defeat. Give credit to the winner but I have to say had they gone a faster pace Oratorio would possibly have struggled to lay up even more. For a championship race it was a very slow time.

"The ground was possibly a factor as well but he could have been going two strides faster from a long way out and I think we might have had it in the bag. But it's so easy to be wise after the event. Hindsight is a very potent weapon."

Oratorio's victory set a statistical precedent, for never before have four different winners of Europe's four premier juvenile contests gone on to score at Group One level at three.

The Aidan O'Brien- trained son of Danehill, who took France's Grand Criterium last year, followed the examples of Dubawi (National Stakes, Irish 2,000 Guineas), Shamardal ( Dewhurst Stakes, French Guineas and Derby and St James's Palace Stakes) and Motivator (Racing Post Trophy).

The Godolphin team must now do without both Shamardal, conqueror of Oratorio at York but retired on Friday with a chipped ankle bone, and Frankie Dettori, who broke a collarbone in a ghastly fall from Celtic Mill in the opening contest at Sandown on Saturday. The Italian, the reigning champion rider, will be out of action for at least a month; Jamie Spencer is now as short as 4-6 to take the title and rather rubbed home the point by riding the first four winners at Carlisle on Saturday night.

Celtic Mill, who crashed to the ground and flipped over twice after clipping a rival's heels, was reported undamaged yesterday by trainer David Barker.

"I saw Frankie afterwards," he said, "and he was shocked and sore. But the speed it happened, I think they've both been pretty lucky. It could have been so very much worse."

At Chantilly yesterday, Mick Channon-trained Rocamadour did best of the raiders in the Prix Jean Prat in third place, beaten a nose by runner-up Starpix on the line as Turtle Bowl swept to a length victory.

The Group One circus next pitches up tomorrow at Newmarket, where last year's winner Soviet Song is among seven distaffers declared yesterday for the Falmouth Stakes on the opening day of the July meeting.