Racing: Dubai Destination ready to lay claims to a role in Derby

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The Independent Online

Two decades and more have passed since the winner of the Predominate Stakes went on to occupy the same position in the Derby. Troy romped home by seven lengths at Goodwood in 1979 before repeating the feat at Epsom and although he was not the last high-class horse to win the race – Pentire did so in 1995 and Dubai Millennium three years ago – the contest stands low in the pecking order of the so-called trials. The reasons are not difficult to fathom.

Two decades and more have passed since the winner of the Predominate Stakes went on to occupy the same position in the Derby. Troy romped home by seven lengths at Goodwood in 1979 before repeating the feat at Epsom and although he was not the last high-class horse to win the race – Pentire did so in 1995 and Dubai Millennium three years ago – the contest stands low in the pecking order of the so-called trials. The reasons are not difficult to fathom.

As a race in its own right, it carries only Listed rank, as opposed to the Group Two status of the Dante Stakes, and so attracts lesser competitors. It is also the last of the recognised domestic dress rehearsals, only 18 days before the real thing, which minimises the window of recovery in the event of minor injury. In its favour, the undulating track can give a horse a valuable lesson in how to handle Tattenham Hill.

Although Dubai Millennium made a certain impact at Epsom by starting favourite before he boiled over into seventh place, the only Predominate Stakes runners to feature in the Derby finish since Troy have been Rankin (2nd at Goodwood, 3rd at Epsom), Touching Wood (2nd in both) and Elmaamul (2nd and 3rd).

Among today's six runners, another walking advertisement for the delights of the second-largest of the United Arab Emirates is foremost in the Derby market. Dubai Destination looked a colt of immense promise at two but he has not raced for eight months and two of his Godolphin stablemates, Naheef and Al Moulatham, are now preferred by punters.

If the son of Kingmambo's length defeat of the subsequent Dewhurst Stakes, Grand Criterium and 2,000 Guineas winner Rock Of Gibraltar in the Champagne Stakes last year was for real, then the Tipperary team may yet be looking over their shoulders. After being given as long as he needed to put the ligament injury that ruled him out of the Dewhurst behind him, Dubai Destination has proved slow to blossom and it was only after a workout last week that he was given the signal to re-enter the fray.

His team have warned that he will benefit from today's shakedown. "He is not hard yet but he is fit enough to run," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, "and the gloves are now off."

The streetfighter most likely to test Dubai Destination is Playapart. Gerard Butler's charge was only third under a moderate ride in the Dee Stakes at Chester and, the day before the £11,000 Derby forfeit is due, is given this chance to prove himself the bright prospect he looked when he won at Newmarket last month. Pat Eddery, who returns from suspension needing just 13 winners to pass Lester Piggott's career total of 4,493, replaces Eddie Ahern (himself suspended) on board.

Of the other Derby entrants, Coshocton comes from an unplaced run in the 2,000 Guineas (an effort his shrewd trainer, Michael Jarvis, insists should be ignored); Frankies Dream steps up from winning a maiden at Lingfield; and Sparkling Water drops down a grade after chasing home well-regarded Fight Your Corner in the Chester Vase. Highdown is not entered at Epsom but his narrow defeat of Moon Ballad at Newmarket was made to look good when the Godolphin horse won the Dante Stakes.

It will take a performance of some authority to rattle the dominance of Ballydoyle at the head of the Blue Riband betting. But despite the Predominate Stakes' recent record and the fact there is no Derby aspirant judged worthy of ante-post odds shorter than Dubai Destination's 25-1, today's events should not be treated with derision. Changing views is what Classic trials – and indeed Classics, standardsetters for a generation rather than championships – are all about. The 1979 three-year-old crop was not regarded as being much cop until Troy put himself among the greats with his performance at Epsom.

If the sport's juggernauts are carving the Classics up between them, there are pickings left at lower levels and yesterday the William Haggas-trained Dupont made it a European Guineas double when he added the German version at Cologne to his Italian success. Darryll Holland took the initiative on the Zafonic colt two furlongs out and came home three lengths clear of the favourite Next Desert.

Pearl is placed above Best Mate in rankings

Florida Pearl is rated 1lb superior to the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate in the National Hunt classifications announced yesterday.

Willie Mullins's King George VI Chase and Martell Cup winner is placed on a mark of 171 by the handicappers when assessed over three miles. He did beat Best Mate at Kempton on Boxing Day but the latter, who had an under-par Florida Pearl back in 11th at Cheltenham, comes out superior, on a mark of 169, at two and a half miles.

Flagship Uberalles, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, is on the same mark at the top of the two-mile category.

With the novice chasers, the Tim Easterby-trained Barton and Martin Pipe's Royal Auclair come out top over three miles and two and a half miles on 153 and 152 respectively. However, the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy winner, Moscow Flyer, achieved a rating of 159 in the two-mile category.

The ill-fated Valiramix would have won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham had he survived that race in the view of the officials as they put him on 170, 10lb ahead of the winner Hors La Loi III and Istabraq. The French-trained Baracouda reigns supreme on a mark of 170 among staying hurdlers.

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