Racing: Big three to extend Derby domination

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The Independent Online

Racing, and the Derby in particular, has followed the recent shape of football's Premiership. And for those taken by ideas of unpredictability and a democracy of success it is a rather unsettling trend.

For Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, we can read Ballydoyle, Godolphin and Freemason Lodge. Both sets have developed overwhelming supremacy over their rivals.

Nowhere on the turf is this phenomenon more stark than in the Blue Riband. Last June, Sir Michael Stoute's Freemason Lodge beat Ballydoyle when Kris Kin defeated the The Great Gatsby. Twelve months earlier, Ballydoyle beat themselves with Godolphin in third place when High Chaparral led home Hawk Wing and Moon Ballad. In 2001, Ballydoyle beat Stoute and Godolphin when the frame was filled by Galileo, Golan and Tobougg. Recent evidence suggests that not only is it near impossible to win the Derby if you are outside the cartel, it is extremely difficult to reach even a place. Like football, racing has become more calculable, less sensational.

This season's premier Classic promises, or rather threatens, to be exactly the same. The big three provide the first three in the betting, with nothing else available at single-figure odds.

It is a salutary thought to anyone who has got involved in the business of ante-post betting. After the round of trials which began at Newmarket and then spun through rehearsals at Chester, York and Goodwood we have arrived at a seemingly most predictable point.

Immediately after the 2,000 Guineas, Aidan O'Brien's Yeats was the Derby favourite at around 7-2. Ballydoyle's chosen one is now about 5-2, mainly because he is still alive. Most of the movement in the Blue Riband market is of the up and out variety, caused by horses that spoil their prospects or simply do not turn up at Epsom. Yeats has barely been afforded that opportunity. His warm-up race was a spectacularly uncompetitive Derby Trial at Leopardstown.

Snow Ridge, who is trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, is about half his post Guineas odds and the only other colt which has made a significant move is Stoute's North Light, the Dante winner, who was cut again to 7-2 (from 4-1) by William Hill yesterday.

Along the way, the bookmakers have been angling for suckers using horses with remote possibilities, the most recent bait being Almuraad and Cairdeas. How much the layers take for this type of horse or how much the bookmakers stimulate the market themselves is known only within their dark walls.

Nevertheless, bookies tell you that they do not make much money on the ante-post market. It is a belief not to be taken too seriously. It is rather like the fallacy that cheats never prosper. The temptation is to ask: then why do the bookies do it?

The Oaks has been only marginally more competitive than the Derby in recent years. Had Andrew Balding's Casual Look not won last year (and she should have been beaten by Ballydoyle's Yesterday) it would have been a hat-trick also for the big three in the fillies' Classic.

Clive Brittain is never afraid to drop a goldfish into the shark tank and the Newmarket trainer indicated yesterday that Sunday's Italian Oaks winner, Menhoubah, could go for the big girls' version on 4 June. "We'll weigh the filly when she gets back from Italy, but she appeared very unconcerned the way she walked away from the race," the trainer said. "A couple of warm days in the paddock and I would think she'd be back on song.

"She's not the biggest filly in the world but she's got a heart as big as she is, so that helps. You know she'll stay the Oaks trip, you know that she's athletic and she'll handle the track and those things alone you need in your favour at Epsom." The identity of your trainer helps a little as well.