The Aga Khan's team of three for tomorrow's Irish Derby may be reduced to a mere two in the morning. Favourite backers panic not; his unbeaten hotshot Dalakhani's participation is not in doubt. But Alamshar, no mean back-up, may be ruled out by a combination of circumstances, medical and meteorological.
The colt, who finished third in the Derby three weeks ago, is undergoing treatment for a minor back injury, which is the first problem he must overcome, but rain in Co Kildare has thrown a secondary spanner into the mix for a horse who prefers dry conditions. His trainer, John Oxx, who won Ireland's premier Classic three years ago with the same owner's Sinndar, said yesterday: "He came out of Epsom very well and he's been in good form and good health. But he's just got a little bit of a pulled muscle. He's having intensive physio and he hasn't missed any work but there's a question to be resolved.
"The other question mark is the rain. We could take a chance on the ground, but we can't if his back is not right. He would be only 50-50 to run at the moment."
Run or no, the next target for Alamshar, who started 4-1 second favourite at Epsom and finished a length and a short-head behind Kris Kin and The Great Gatsby, will be the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. "He is more of a summer horse and he likes the summer ground," Oxx added.
Even if, as seems likely, the colt is absent tomorrow, the overweening dominance of the major players in the modern game will be illustrated starkly at the Curragh. For if either the Ballydoyle-Coolmore operation or the Aga Khan had elected to run only their best contender, the 138th running of Ireland's most important and valuable contest would have been a three-horse race. As it is, 10 are scheduled to take part: six trained by Aidan O'Brien; three, from two different stables, carrying the Aga's silks and one sole interloper. But if the equine branch of racing suffers from hegemony, so too does the canine, for half of the runners in one of the weekend's other derbys, tonight's greyhound version at Wimbledon, hail from the same kennel.
O'Brien is used to breaking records and setting milestones. Where the Curragh Classic is concerned he already has one in the book; 12 months ago he became the first trainer to complete a clean sweep in the race when High Chaparral led home Sholokhov and Ballingarry. This afternoon he will add another - his muster is larger than the five sent out by his predecessor and namesake at the Co Tipperary fastness, Vincent, in 1969 - and will be trying for another. With his charge Galileo successful two years ago, victory would make him the first man to train three successive Irish Derby winners. The team is led, on paper and in the betting market at least, by The Great Gatsby, who, as a 20-1 shot, came out best of the Ballydoyle quartet at Epsom after an inspired trailblazing ride from Pat Eddery.
This time Mick Kinane takes over the hot seat and may again be on a hiding to nothing. In the Derby he finished 16th on Brian Boru, 9-2 on the day, and although public shakedowns have pushed the colt who was Blue Riband winter favourite down the pecking order, the in-house hierarchy may have yet to be definitively established. Jamie Spencer takes the ride tomorrow.
However, mob-handedness does not always guarantee success. The foremost of Vincent's quintet was Reindeer, who could finish only third and the O'Brien contingent may face an insuperable obstacle in Dalakhani. Even if the ground will suit most of them - The Great Gatsby, Brian Boru, Powerscourt and Handel are all sons of Sadler's Wells - it will also find favour with the French crack, electrifying runaway winner of his local Derby, the Prix du Jockey-Club, last time. Oxx's other runner, Alisar, will be there as pacemaker.
Produced to win six from six by Alain de Royer-Dupré, it is hard to make a case against the grey, a Darshaan half-brother to Daylami, giving another rising star, French-based Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, his fourth Classic of the year. But even if the colt confirms his status as the class act among middle-distance three-year-olds, the previous generations will be waiting from now on. Tomorrow afternoon at St Cloud, in the Grand Prix, four-year-old Sulamani, winner of the Sheema Classic in Dubai in March, will make his European debut ahead of his tilt at the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Victory would give the Godolphin team a century of Group or Grade 1 wins worldwide.
In Britain over the weekend the accent is on quantity rather than quality, with 10 meetings today and tomorrow. For the punter, the most serious event of the day will be the longest of the weekend's trio of Derbys, the so-called pitmen's version at Newcastle and even more so as the two-mile Northumberland Plate is part of a Scoop 6 rollover which could, including next week's bonus, yield a payout of more than £1m. The life-changing suggestions are Country Reel (1.45), Seel Of Approval (2.15), Menhoubah (2.35), Sentinel (2.50), Trade Fair (3.10) and Pivotal Point (3.40).