Racing: Indigo Cat too sharp for rivals in Predominate

More than a quarter of a century has now passed since Troy became the only winner of the Predominate Stakes to go on to occupy the same position in the Derby. The Dick Hern-trained colt 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 on the Sussex Downs, today's 11-furlong contest stands low in the pecking order of the so-called Classic trials.

More than a quarter of a century has now passed since Troy became the only winner of the Predominate Stakes to go on to occupy the same position in the Derby. The Dick Hern-trained colt 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 on the Sussex Downs, today's 11-furlong contest stands low in the pecking order of the so-called Classic trials.

Its most recent runner to feature in the Derby finish was the 1990 runner-up Elmaamul, who went on to finish third 14 days later to Quest For Fame. That year, the Goodwood winner Razeen started favourite at Epsom, as did the horse who ultimately became the best and most famous to win the prep. That was Dubai Millennium, six years ago. And this afternoon it falls to his son Belenus to try to carry his torch towards the ultimate prize on a different set of Downs next month.

The Derby was the only defeat of Dubai Millennium's career and is it Sheikh Mohammed's dream that one of his limited-edition offspring should put the record straight. Seven of the ill-fated star's 56-strong sole crop hold the Derby entry, the others being Bahar Shumaal, Descartes, Dubawi, Echo Of Light, Noble Duty and Oude.

Belenus, whose dam Ajhiba won over 10 furlongs and is from the close family of Salsabil and Marju, had only the one run last year, success in a seven-furlong maiden at the Newmarket July meeting. Leg problems ruled him out of the rest of the season, but he was regarded as being near the top of the Godolphin pecking order during the winter. Five of the 14 behind Belenus last year have won since, including the horse that finished stone last, the subsequent 2,000 Guineas third, Kandidate.

All four runners today, in what is the last of the recognised domestic dress rehearsals, hold the Derby engagement, at least until tomorrow's next forfeit stage.

The Ballydoyle representative - one of 24 trained by Aidan O'Brien still in the big race - is Indigo Cat who, like Belenus, has raced just the once, but rather more recently than his rival. Eleven days ago he won the same 10-furlong maiden at Lingfield that Morston took on his debut in 1973, en route to his Derby victory next time out.

There was much to like about Indigo Cat's performance. He ran green for much of the contest but once the penny dropped half-way down the straight he finished to notable and determined effect and, though his margin was only three-quarters of a length, it was an easy victory and he will be a much cannier competitor today.

Unfurled, a son of Unfuwain trained by John Dunlop, has already won over today's idiosyncratic contours, when he broke his maiden by no less than 10 lengths last month. The form of that race has a solid look to it: runner-up Glistening himself got off the mark at Thirsk on Saturday, third-placed Magic Instinct won at Bath on Monday, fifth-placed Wild Savannah bolted in by six lengths at Newbury last Friday and even Royal Jet, tailed-off second-last, has scored since.

So it will be all the more meritorious when Indigo Cat (2.40), a son of Storm Cat and French 1,000 Guineas winner Bluemamba, earns another £20,300 back of the $2.6 million he cost the Coolmore set at auction as a yearling.

None of today's four contenders in the 35th running of the Predominate Stakes (named after the Ted Leader-trained gelding who became the oldest winner of the Goodwood Cup at the age of nine in 1961) are shorter than 25-1 in the Derby betting and it will take a performance of some authority to rattle the forefront of the market.

But changing views is, after all, what Classic trials - and indeed Classics, which are standard-setters for a generation rather than championships - are all about. That 1979 three-year-old crop was not regarded as being much cop until Troy did his thing at Epsom.

Three of the runners in the Lupe Stakes, which spotlighted Oaks heroine Love Divine five years ago, hold the Epsom entry, Hallowed Dream, Silver Highlight and Something Exciting (3.15), who could be just that.

The next Classics on the European circuit are the weekend's Guineas in Ireland and yesterday Dubawi, only fifth behind Footstepsinthesand on the Rowley Mile, has supplanted his drifting O'Brien-trained conqueror at the head of the market for Saturday's colts' race.

By contrast, Footstepsinthesand's stable-mate Virginia Waters is a hot even-money shot to follow up her 1,000 Guineas win in the Irish version, despite the possible presence of last year's top filly Damson, who faces a workout tomorrow to establish whether she has recovered from the setback that ruled her out of Newmarket.

But definitely missing from Sunday's other Group 1 race is last year's Derby hero North Light, who will bypass the Tattersalls Gold Cup in favour of the lesser Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown nine days later. Yesterday's nine possibles for the Co Kildare older-horse showpiece include two other high-class four-year-olds in Bago and Grey Swallow, winners of the Arc and Irish Derby respectively.

* Scorpion, a best-priced 25-1 chance for the Derby, is due to run in the Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday. The Aidan O'Brien-trained colt won a Leopardstown maiden in eyecatching fashion on his racecourse debut last month. John Oxx has entered his once-raced Ehsan, who is as short as 8-1 for the premier Classic after his Curragh maiden success.

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