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Racing: Derby main aim as Motivator misses Guineas

This is the time of year that bubbles get burst, when the reputations of last year and early evidence of spring gallops receive the acid test of the racecourse.

This is the time of year that bubbles get burst, when the reputations of last year and early evidence of spring gallops receive the acid test of the racecourse.

Among the 2,000 Guineas considerations, Aidan O'Brien's Grand Central has already popped, while further encouragement for those behind the Guineas favourite, Dubawi, came yesterday when it was announced Motivator's bubble will not even be inflated.

Michael Bell's unbeaten son of Montjeu worked respectably on Newmarket's Summer Gallop yesterday, but the overriding message he delivered in the gallop was that middle distances are be his forte.

Motivator, who won the Racing Post Trophy last season, went a mile in the hands of Johnny Murtagh and pulled six lengths clear of the recent Doncaster winner Cool Panic. Suddenly great races were entertained for the colt, but these do not include a Guineas here in 17 days' time. The suspicion is that Motivator will require a distance of ground and give underfoot to be at his best.

"This was Motivator's first serious piece of work of the year," Harry Herbert, racing manager to owners Royal Ascot Racing Club, said. "We wanted to get a guideline from Johnny, who was keen to ride him today and has committed himself to the association through the season. Johnny got off Motivator and said he was a horse who would take some beating in the Arc and described him as a very serious middle-distance performer.

"We feel he is a mile and a quarter, or a mile and a half horse. These decisions are never easy - there are so many pieces of the puzzle to put together- but we do think it is in Motivator's interests for a long-term career to go for a Derby trial [specifically York's Dante Stakes on 12 May] and, if he runs well in that, tackle the Derby, which has always been his target.

"Not many horses win the Guineas and the Derby. His pedigree suggests he is a middle-distance horse, although he also possesses an abundance of speed."

Dubawi, who won a trial of dubious merit at Nad Al Sheba on Monday, is now down to 7-4 favourite for the race over the Rowley Mile, a price contraction which owes more to what Motivator will not do rather than what he achieved.

Sir Michael Stoute's Rob Roy will stake his claim in the Craven Stakes tomorrow, while one small chip was thrown on to the Guineas table yesterday when Tucker won a conditions stakes for David Elsworth. He was cut to 33-1 (from 100-1) for the first Classic.

The extra furlong is presumed to be within Tucker's compass. "That's only another 10 cricket pitches and I can hit a golf ball that far," Elsworth said. "He's a proper horse, but whether he's good enough to win a Guineas is another thing."

As he embarks on a 27th season, Elsworth is clearly still in possession of his mercurial skills. He also won the first race of the season on the Suffolk turf when Top Gear collected the Museum Maiden Stakes. "He's my best three-year-old distance colt at the moment without doubt," the trainer said.

This race was evidence that the passing of the seasons is not quite through. The winning jockey was the all-weather protagonist Ian Mongan, who was breaking a losing run of 63 rides. The penalty for defeat would have been severe. Top Gear is owned by his mother-in-law.

Top Gear earned a 33-1 Derby quote for his beating of Signatory, but, as the runner-up's trainer, John Gosden, observed, just one step has been taken on the marathon Flat journey.

"We've had a good meeting at Doncaster and a good meeting at Kempton, but it's serious now," he said. "We've been working our horses with each other and we've got our personal lines, but you never know until you get to the arena.

"From now on it's hang on to your hats until November. April is a tough month, then we have the levelling month of May." And, by the time that levelling has finished, plenty of reputations will be buried underneath.