Racing: Episode reveals more bad news for Godolphin

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The Independent Online

It is far better to have an embarrassment of riches than to be humiliated by them. A merciless display of galloping by Septimus here yesterday complicated the dilemma facing Kieren Fallon, who already had a choice between Horatio Nelson, Dylan Thomas and Papal Bull in the Vodafone Derby. For Frankie Dettori, in contrast, the great race looks certain to prove elusive for another year after Palace Episode staggered home stone last in the Totesport Dante Stakes.

The 2006 Classics are proving a radically different experience for the Ballydoyle and Godolphin stables. In the 2,000 Guineas, Opera Cape finished last behind George Washington. Godolphin could not even muster a runner in the French version, again won by Aidan O'Brien with Aussie Rules. Now it seems as though Saeed bin Suroor is unlikely to saddle a runner in the Derby, where O'Brien will be fussing around the parade ring with at least three.

The chances are he will end up hoisting his stable jockey on to Septimus, who had run a rusty race in France on his reappearance but was a different animal this time. He has certainly developed into a gorgeous colt since last year, but the overnight downpour had ensured a test that would call for more functional virtues.

Dettori was determined to dictate the pace on Palace Episode, having found conditions inimical to patient tactics on Portrayal in the previous race. But the little colt was never able to impose himself, and by halfway Michael Kinane had decided to set a more purposeful tempo on Best Alibi. By that stage, the inexperienced Leningrad had already squandered too much energy in rear - much as Proclamation did in this race last year - while Fallon, as usual, was restlessly pestering his mount into a rhythm.

The Sadler's Wells colt was in full flow halfway up the straight, taking over the lead 300 yards out and requiring just the one slap to draw eight lengths clear of Best Alibi. It was another 11 lengths back to the outsider, Snowqualmie Boy - a telling measure of the attritional nature of this contest. Certainly it was a long way home for Palace Episode, whose stride halved at the top of the straight, while the winner was plunging ever deeper into his stamina reserves.

Septimus will certainly get the extra distance at Epsom, for which he is now down to 5-1 with Ladbrokes behind Visindar on 6-4. "To go away from that field, on ground he wouldn't really like, and cross the line with his ears pricked - you'd have to be impressed," Fallon said. "I was, anyway - big time. He wasn't doing a tap. He had come on a lot for his run in France, and I think he'll improve again for this."

The jockey expects that O'Brien himself will decide which colt he should ride. "We haven't worked together very long, but it has worked every time so far," he said. "I have always really liked Dylan Thomas and I haven't ridden him or Horatio Nelson this season. There are still a couple of weeks to go and it's a good position to be in. Aidan's horses always improve, they seem to transform from one race to the next."

Palace Episode had beaten Septimus and Best Alibi when winning the Racing Post Trophy for Kevin Ryan last autumn. The desert sun still shimmered on his skin, but the little colt never looked an obvious candidate to progress at three and Simon Crisford declined to make excuses. Equally sensibly, the Godolphin manager also resisted panic. "I'd like us to have a few more runners before we start getting too concerned," he said. "It has been a slow start but there is still a long time to go this season."

There will be many making hastier judgements, but this is a familiar routine. As usual Godolphin will be winning big races from midsummer onwards, chiefly with older horses recruited from elsewhere. Sheikh Mohammed does have legitimate cause for concern in one respect, however. For the Classics are once again exposing an unacceptable gulf in standard between the horses bought and bred for Godolphin and their natural antagonists at Ballydoyle. If he thinks that boycotting the Coolmore stallions is a smart solution, he had better think again.

Hyperion's Selections

AINTREE: 6.10 Muckle Flugga 6.40 Another Club Royal 7.15 Estate 7.45 Jack The Giant 8.20 Lance Toi 8.55 Fight The Feeling

Chris McGrath

Nap: Ingratitude

(Nottingham 4.15)

NB: George The Best

(Hamilton 9.10)