Racing: Gentlewave can conquer the Curragh

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The Independent Online

Initial hopes that all four colts entangled in that bewildering finish for the Derby would resolve their differences at the Curragh tomorrow have evaporated into a merciless summer haze.

Sir Percy will not be seen until the autumn, having stiffened up after his win. He did much the same after the 2,000 Guineas, of course, but this time there is no need to hasten back. Meanwhile Hala Bek, barely a stride back in fourth, is also being given more time after apparently recoiling from that abnormal effort at Epsom, where he ran so furiously on only his second start.

A callow jink inside the final furlong may well have cost Hala Bek the prize, though it must be said that Sir Percy did well to pounce so far off a quickening pace. Either way, it is certainly valid to wonder whether the two colts who joined them in the photo - that monstrous jumble of limbs and heads - can competently represent their merit in the Budweiser Irish Derby.

Both Dragon Dancer and Dylan Thomas owed their involvement to the opportunism of their riders, who slackened the pace in front before sweeping out of Tattenham Corner. Though still a maiden, Dragon Dancer is clearly no impostor, but the fact is that he had been squarely out-pointed by both Hala Bek and Papal Bull on the way to Epsom. The suspicion persists that he will remain an admirable gauge for his generation, and no more.

There were considerable reservations about the stamina of Dylan Thomas when he sampled this distance for the first time at Epsom, and ultimately it was his exhausted roll from the rail that allowed Sir Percy to scuttle through. A stronger tempo and long, galloping straight will permit him no hiding place at the Curragh.

The Epsom form, which has stood up well to lesser examinations so far, may instead find its most persuasive advocate in Best Alibi, who excelled to finish sixth after getting behind and then losing his bearings on the hill. His work since apparently confirms him capable of further progress.

It is now 12 years since a British colt won this race and the home team will again reserve at least as much respect for the French, who have meanwhile come here with such formidable colts as Hurricane Run, Montjeu and Dream Well.

Their challenge includes the first two in the Prix du Jockey-Club, Darsi and Best Name, though the recent abbreviation of that race to 10 and a half furlongs rather disqualifies its claims as the French Derby. In fairness to Darsi, he has already won over this trip and further progress is now expected. Yet the strong-finishing runner-up, Best Name, is out of an Old Vic mare and may well thrive for the extra distance himself.

The bottom line is that Chantilly was even more congested than Epsom, in terms of numbers, and the market makes some generous assumptions about their collective merit. The author of much the most emphatic Derby display to date is instead the third French runner, Johnny Murtagh's mount Gentlewave. Nobody should underestimate what is needed to win the biggest prize in Italy - the land that successively gave us Falbrav, Rakti and Electrocutionist - by four lengths and three and a half.

Gentlewave's only defeat was in a slowly-run race in heavy ground in the spring, when his jockey dropped his whip, but his genes are saturated with stamina and he proved a revelation stepped up in trip in Italy. His trainer has the strongest team of middle-distance horses in Europe and it is instructive that this colt was supplemented for €100,000.

The same gamble draws attention to Cougar Bay. His accomplished young trainer believes that his horses are in better form than when this colt tried this distance for the only time, back in the spring, and considers him to be improving smartly. As it happens, precisely the same can be said of Puerto Rico, who appeals as best of the Ballydoyle trio even though Kieren Fallon favours Dylan Thomas.

This colt produced the most visually impressive performance of the weekend during the last big meeting at the Curragh. Lightly raced and stoutly bred, he could prove hardest to breach among the home defence.

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