Sandown Park missed the several bursts of rain in the Esher vicinity yesterday, and Luca Cumani's heart missed several beats. The Newmarket trainer was emboldened by the news that the ground for Saturday's Eclipse Stakes is likely to ride good to firm, ideal conditions for his Japan Cup winner, Falbrav.
The five-year-old, already a Group One winner this term having put Longchamp's Prix d'Ispahan in his locker, is to have his third jockey of the campaign, following Kieren Fallon's decision to plump for his main employer, Sir Michael Stoute. He will partner Islington for the Newmarket trainer.
Falbrav, the best horse to have come out of Italy in recent times, was ridden by Marco Demuro when fifth to Nayef in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. Now it is Darryll Holland's turn. "We've had Italian, we've had Irish and now we're trying Dutch," Cumani said yesterday. "He's in flying form and riding with a lot of confidence, a lot of flair. He's one of the men to have at the minute."
It may be a financially rewarding spare ride for Holland, who is the only man making a fight of it with Fallon in the jockeys' championship this season. The Mancunian was on Falbrav at Headquarters yesterday morning, supervising a piece of work over seven furlongs in company with two galloping partners. "It was a pleasure to sit on a quality horse and I'm very much looking forward to riding for Mr Cumani," Holland, who won the 1999 Eclipse on Compton Admiral, said. "The ground is all important for Falbrav, but Sandown appears to have missed most of the rain and we're hoping that continues.
"Falbrav was a little way behind Nayef in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, but I have a hunch he's better than the form he showed there. With a huge field I'm sure there will be a strong pace at the weekend and that will suit my mount. I can't wait for the race now."
Cumani, who took over Falbrav for this season, stressed that it was not a life-saving piece of work with the big day so close, but pronounced himself happy with what he had seen. "He enjoyed himself," the Italian said. "He's well.
"He's got a mountain to climb on Saturday, but he's a genuine Group One horse. Nayef and Islington are going to be very hard to beat, and there is also a big field to overcome."
Cumani's opinion of his horse's calibre is questioned in the form book, in which it is noted that Falbrav is not expected to be a force at the highest level in this country. That seems harsh considering his victory at Nakayama last November, when Golan was among the vanquished. It was a third Group One race to add to those achieved domestically from his former Italian base.
"It would be premature to say he would prove to be below top class over here," Cumani added. "He didn't have the rub of the green at Ascot. He was bumped by Ekraar after a furlong, which cost him position and rhythm. You can't afford that in races at that level."
Falbrav is a top-priced 8-1 shot for an Eclipse which is likely to prove far more populous than usual. The betting remains light though until the exact composition of the field is known. Norse Dancer, the Derby fourth who has been supplemented at a cost of £20,000, was one of the few movers yesterday. He was trimmed to 11-2 (from 6-1) by William Hill.
ECLIPSE STAKES (Sandown, Saturday): Coral: 9-4 Nayef, 9-2 Islington, 6-1 Norse Dancer, 7-1 Falbrav, 8-1 Grandera, 9-1 Bright Sky, 11-1 Hold That Tiger, 14-1 Balestrini, 16-1 Olden Times, Indian Creek, 20-1 Victory Moon, Sights On Gold & Ikhtyar, 22-1 Bandari. William Hill: 2-1 Nayef, 4-1 Islington, 11-2 Norse Dancer, 8-1 Falbrav, 9-1 Grandera, 10-1 Bright Sky, 11-1 Hold That Tiger, 12-1 Balestrini, Indian Creek, 16-1 Delsarte, Olden Times, Princely Venture, 20-1 Bandari, Dutch Gold, Sights On Gold.
NB: Looking Down
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