Racing: Kong is king as Epsom beckons

Trials are just that, and even an apparently inconclusive one in the annual search for an Epsom superstar cannot be dismissed until the proving ground on the historic downs 27 days hence. Though the hitherto-unheralded Kong won the eliminator here by only a neck, there were positive points to take from his display, and donkey he ain't.

Trials are just that, and even an apparently inconclusive one in the annual search for an Epsom superstar cannot be dismissed until the proving ground on the historic downs 27 days hence. Though the hitherto-unheralded Kong won the eliminator here by only a neck, there were positive points to take from his display, and donkey he ain't.

The contours of Surrey's lesser track bear more than a passing resemblance to those of its famous neighbour, and for that reason have been a time-honoured test of a horse's balance and manoeuvrability down a hill and round a corner. Only eight horses, though, have passed the first examination and graduated with honours from the second, most recently High-Rise seven years ago. Bookmaker reaction was disparate about Kong becoming the ninth, from Coral's 14-1 to Ladbrokes' 25-1.

All six competitors yesterday held the Derby engagement, and after Melrose Avenue led into the straight at an ordinary gallop, Richard Quinn on Kong took the initiative. The thrice-raced son of Sadler's Wells was the only maiden in the field, but belied his inexperience by battling on well when tackled by the 6-4 favourite, Walk In The Park. In the final furlong the pair put daylight between themselves and Melrose Avenue, a length- and-a-half third.

"Today was all about learning," said Quinn, "and I was really pleased with that. He carried himself well, and the bend here is much more severe than at Epsom. He'd never been in front before and I had to go sooner than I wanted because the pace was so slow, but he coped like an old hand. There is a lot more to come."

Kong, a narrow and rather unlucky loser of his maiden at Newbury last month, is trained by John Dunlop, whose previous winner of the trial, Silver Patriarch, beat all bar Benny The Dip at Epsom in a finish of inches. "I'm not sure what the worth of the form is and we won't know yet," he said, "but this is a nice sort of horse, and one who is progressing. He's amenable and sensible, he came down the hill easily and had no problems with the distance. If he stays sound and healthy I'm sure he'll acquit himself well next month."

The slow pace did not help Walk In The Park, a long-striding son of Montjeu who was rather flat-footed from off the pace as Kong went on but kept on well under Kieren Fallon once he hit his stride. His French connections have not given up on the Derby with the colt, who was making his three-year-old debut. "He is mentally much stronger this year," said Georgina Hammond, the wife of trainer John, "and will be much, much better off a proper gallop."

Walk In The Park, out of Aidan O'Brien's first Classic winner, the Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Classic Park, carries the colours of Michael Tabor, who also has an interest in O'Brien's Storm Cat colt Indigo Cat, winner of the 10-furlong maiden that followed the Derby Trial. This one, too, has a Classic-winning dam, Bluemamba, who took a French 1,000 Guineas, and her son, racing for the first time, beat Gems Of Araby, going away, by three-quarters of a length. "Really good," was Fallon's reaction.

O'Brien was also pleased, according to the Ballydoyle travelling head lad Pat Keating, though Indigo Cat, who will further his experience in the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood next week, is out with the betting washing at this stage at 40-1. The Co Tipperary maestro seems to have a convincing Derby hand this year - his Chester trial winner, Gypsy King, is the current favourite - but the picture is sure to develop and change, starting this afternoon at Leopardstown and continuing at York this week.

Five go for today's Derrinstown Trial, including Grand Central from Ballydoyle; the John Oxx-trained Alayan, who beat him four lengths last month; and Fracas, from David Wachman's yard, whose San-down Trial win was franked by the third-placed Hattan's win at Chester last week. In the Dante Stakes at York on Thursday, Ballydoyle's Albert Hall takes on the Derby second favourite, Motivator.

Yesterday's Oaks Trial produced a double for Dunlop in the compact, athletic shape of Cassydora, a thoroughly convincing six-length winner in a time more than four seconds faster than the colts' contest. "I was delighted with the way she raced," said Dunlop. "In the May Hill last year she went off too fast, but today she settled well and quickened well." Dunlop added that Hesmonds Stud's daughter of Darshaan, whose effort elevated her from 40-1 for the premier fillies' Classic to around 10-1, and Kong will be available for viewing at his Arundel stable's annual open charity day three weeks today.

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