Racing: Epsom take no chances with twin perils

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The Independent Online

Over 250 guests had to abandon plans to attend a pre-Derby "Breakfast with the Stars" at Epsom yesterday when two cases of the highly infectious disease strangles were confirmed at a nearby livery yard. Yet there were trainers who turned up with their Classic hopefuls, adding substance to the official belief that the outbreak would not affect the Blue Riband, due to be run a week on Saturday.

Over 250 guests had to abandon plans to attend a pre-Derby "Breakfast with the Stars" at Epsom yesterday when two cases of the highly infectious disease strangles were confirmed at a nearby livery yard. Yet there were trainers who turned up with their Classic hopefuls, adding substance to the official belief that the outbreak would not affect the Blue Riband, due to be run a week on Saturday.

David Elsworth sent Salford City over the unique Surrey contours, while Marcus Tregoning galloped Elshadi and his Coronation Cup possible, High Accolade. John Gosden's Percussionist visited the track for the gentle stroll of a reconnaissance mission.

Andrew Cooper, the clerk of the course, remained confident that his Classic meeting was not under threat. "All the livery yards around here have shut up and everybody is taking things very seriously," he said. "But it has never been part of the routine of horses stabled there to come this way up the hill, or anywhere near the racecourse stables. In the meantime, all we can do is continue to liaise with the vet who is looking after the situation."

The gala breakfast was first organised and then cancelled on Tuesday by Epsom's managing director, Stephen Wallis. "We had no option but to make a decision early yesterday and we contacted all of the 250 guests we were expecting by the end of the afternoon," he said. "But, happy that every precaution had been taken to minimise any risk of the disease spreading, we were pleased that some trainers still wanted to come to Epsom to work their horses this morning."

Another peril to the smooth running of this year's Derby could yet materialise if a ballot of stalls handlers produces a vote in favour of industrial action when the result is announced today. Wallis indicated that course officials would resort to a flip start if Epsom finds itself in the front line.

The happiest of the visitors yesterday appeared to be Elsworth after the light movements of his Greenham Stakes winner, Salford City. Having survived his piece of work, the colt was cut to 14-1 (from 16-1) by William Hill. Salford City was ridden in his work by Johnny Murtagh and was accompanied by Massif Centrale (Dane O'Neill), who was among the Derby acceptors at the latest forfeit stage but is not a certain runner.

"It was most satisfactory," Elsworth said. "We have trained him since the Guineas so that we could run in Derby if we wanted to and it is looking increasingly likely that he will. He hasn't run since the Guineas and this outing can only have done him good. The owner [Michael Tabor] is quite keen to run and there is only one Derby."

There was a Derby-confirming workout elsewhere, when Pukka completed his morning assignment at Newmarket. Luca Cumani's colt won a Newbury handicap on his return earlier this month to warrant a quote of 66-1 from William Hill to give the Newmarket trainer his third Derby, following wins with Kahyasi in 1988 and High-Rise 10 years later.

"He worked fine this morning and we are happy with him," Sara Cumani, the trainer's wife, said. "He carries on towards the Derby providing he [Cumani] is happy with him after Saturday, when he'll have another spin."

Pukka would have gone to Epsom had the strangles outbreak not occurred, but was nevertheless presented with a Derby-style bend. "He went the wrong way round the Limekilns, which is what we did with Kahyasi," Mrs Cumani continued. "It was a shame not to go to Epsom, but we are happy with what we did.

"He's been round a bend at Lingfield. He's a very handy, well-balanced little horse, so Epsom shouldn't be a problem. He'll definitely stay and has an incredibly good temperament. Whether he's good enough we'll only know by running. There's only one Derby and it looks fairly open, so it's worth a shot."

Bull Run, a course winner in the Blue Riband Trial, will not be supplemented for the race after missing a scheduled piece of work at Newmarket. The grey, who has yet to run for Godolphin after being transferred from David Loder, did not appear for duty "because he was not moving correctly".

Derby (Epsom, 5 June): William Hill: 5-2 Yeats, 3-1 Snow Ridge, 7-2 North Light, 10-1 (with a run) Day Flight, 12-1 American Post, 14-1 Let The Lion Roar, Percussionist, Salford City, 16-1 Rule Of Law, 20-1 Ecomium, 33-1 Cairdeas, Gatwick (to be supplemented), Meath, 40-1 Book Of Kings, 66-1 others.

Coral: 9-4 Yeats, 3-1 Snow Ridge, 4-1 North Light, 10-1 American Post, 12-1 Salford City, 14-1 Rule Of Law, Let The Lion Roar, Percussionist, 16-1 Meath, 25-1 Cairdeas, 33-1 Book Of Kings, Duke Of Venice, Elshadi, Moscow Ballet, 50-1 Pukka, 66-1 others.

Ladbrokes: 9-4 Yeats, 11-4 Snow Ridge, 7-2 North Light, 12-1 American Post, Percussionist, Rule Of Law, 14-1 Salford City, 16-1 Let The Lion Roar, 40-1 Elshadi, Pukka, 100-1 others.

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