Another piece of the Derby jigsaw, the one with Linda's Lad on it, was turned face up on the table here yesterday. If the one flipped over at Saint-Cloud tomorrow bears an image of Visindar, then master French trainer André Fabre will be in the happy position of going to Epsom with two live challengers in his eighth attempt at a first Blue Riband. And stable jockey Christophe Soumillon will have an enviable decision to make.
The two horses are in different ownership - Linda's Lad runs for the Irish businessman Sean Mulryan, Visindar for the Aga Khan - and are, in the view of Soumillon, very different characters. Yesterday's winner is experienced and battle-hardened; tomorrow's Prix Greffulhe contender is unbeaten but as yet untested in any crucible.
Linda's Lad had to dig deep to prevail by a head from Hazeymm, the pair five lengths clear of Baan, and his doughty performance round the switchback track, which bears close resemblance to Epsom's idiosyncratic contours, delighted his connections. "As a test drive, it was perfect," said Hervé Barjot, Mulryan's manager.
The son of Sadler's Wells settled well, came down the hill in perfect balance and hit the straight running in his pursuit of Hazeymm, who took over from Baan two furlongs out. "The other horse did not give up easily," said Soumillon, "and I had to give mine a hard kick in the last 200 metres. But he is a fighter, in fact loves a fight, and I knew he would get there."
Yesterday was Linda's Lad's eighth start, and fourth victory; Visindar will be running for only the third time in the Group Two contest in Paris tomorrow. "He is a more relaxed individual than Linda's Lad, but we will know more about him after this race," said Soumillon. "He has won both his races easily, never seen another horse in a finish, and this step up in class will be an education."
Tactfully, Soumillon would not be drawn on preferences at this stage. "Either could be a champion," added the France-domiciled Belgian "and it is just good that there are two French horses with a chance in the Derby. For me, only the Arc is more important to win."
The last Gallic victor at Epsom was Empery 30 years ago. Visindar, a son of the 2,000 Guineas winner Sinndar, is currently 7-2 favourite in most lists; opinion of the chances of Linda's Lad are much broader, from 12-1 to 33-1. Mick Channon's Hazeymm can be backed at 50-1.
Yesterday's renewal of a trial that has produced eight Derby winners, from April The Fifth in its first running in 1932 to High-Rise nine years ago, was disfigured by a horrific incident inside the final quarter-mile, when Botteen's near foreleg snapped below the knee and Kieren Fallon crashed to the ground. The jockey, much in the wars recently, was shaken, but later drove Echelon to a length success in the fillies' Group Three contest, but poor Botteen lost his life.
Soumillon and Echelon's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, teamed up to take the Oaks Trial with Sindirana in an action replay of the colts' race. The Kalanisi filly, closely related to Sinndar, prevailed by a neck after a late run and a sustained duel with Fusili. She is still available for the Oaks at 16-1; her stablemate Riyalma, in the same Aga Khan colours, is jostling for second favouritism at half that price and, according to Stoute, only one will run.
More clues for both Epsom Classics should emerge today at Leopardstown, where Heliostatic (Jim Bolger) and Rekaab (Kevin Prendergast) take on a trio from Ballydoyle in the Derby prep, and this week at York. Aidan O'Brien's Oaks favourite Alexandrova is scheduled to run in the Musidora Stakes on Wednesday and her stablemate Septimus and Hala Bek, trained by Michael Jarvis, to clash in the Dante Stakes the following day.
This afternoon at Longchamp, O'Brien sends four to the French 2,000 Guineas and a pair to the 1,000 Guineas, with Aussie Rules and Kamarinskaya the choices of Fallon. British interest in the two races revolves round the Channon duo of Yasoodd and Silver Touch, and John Gosden's West Of Amarillo and Dama'a.
BETS OF THE DAY
Rosemauve (2.20) was pulled up in a better race in his British fencing debut and should cope in this company after a break.
Spritual Society (3.20) is often headstrong but settled better last time.