For yesterday morning came the shock and disappointing news that Shamardal, unbeaten in six runs on turf and winner of the French 2,000 Guineas, French Derby and St James's Palace Stakes on his three most recent, had suffered a career-ending injury and will race no more. The Godolphin colourbearer had taken routine exercise the previous day, but was lame in the evening and X-rays revealed a chipped right fore ankle bone.
One of the first to express regret was Harry Herbert, manager of the syndicate which owns the Epsom hero Motivator. "It is a reminder that with racehorses, anything can happen," he said. "It has robbed the public of a wonderful horse, one of the best three-year-olds around. Everyone was looking forward to a fantastic contest. I am desperately sorry for Sheikh Mohammed and his team."
The injury to Shamardal, the champion juvenile of last year after his Dewhurst Stakes win when with Mark Johnston, was correctable with surgery but a view was taken that the son of Giant's Causeway had done enough with his four Group One victories, and a position at stud now beckons. "It seems likely that the injury happened during his last piece of work," the Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said. "He had come out of the York race incredibly well. It was only at evening stables on Thursday night when he came out of his box he took just one lame step."
The Australian import Starcraft, winner of his local Derby at Randwick in April last year, has supplanted Shamardal as the second favourite for today's £232,000 Group One prize. Motivator has contracted to 2-5 favourite with the sponsors Coral, with Starcraft, in the charge of Luca Cumani on his Northern Hemisphere tour, at 7-2.
Motivator's five-length romp at Epsom was one of the most visually impressive of recent years and the re-emergence of the Derby winner is always an occasion of note. Hwfa Williams will be spinning in his grave in delight that the latest one is to turn up at Sandown.
The Welshman was the sport's first impresario, the man who invented the pay-at-the-gate enclosed racecourse in an effort to keep out Victorian yobs. Sandown, opened in 1875 in a natural amphitheatre close to London, was an instant success and 11 years later Williams had another brainwave, the country's first £10,000 race, specifically designed to bring the best of the generations together over the mid-distance of 10 furlongs.
The 1903 running was close to perfection; four-year-old Ard Patrick, winner of the Derby, beat the legendary filly Sceptre, who had won the other four Classics the previous year, a neck, with the hitherto undefeated three-year-old Rock Sand, who was to go on to win the Triple Crown, back in third.
Motivator will be trying to join an élite club this afternoon. Just eight Derby winners have followed up at Sandown: Flying Fox (1899), Diamond Jubilee (1900), Lemberg (1910), Coronach (1926), Blue Peter (1939), Tulyar (1952), Mill Reef (1971) and Nashwan (1989). Since its prize-money was boosted in 1962, the Irish Derby has become a powerful counter-attraction for Derby heroes en route to the "King George" at the end of this month. Since then, apart from Mill Reef and Nashwan, only Sir Ivor (third), Reference Point (second), Erhaab (third) and Benny The Dip (second) have tried their luck in the shorter race.
Overall, older horses hold the call over the Classic generation. The race has gone to three-year-olds on 45 occasions, to four-year-olds 50 times, to five-year-olds 11 times, and to a six-year-old, the inaugural winner Bendigo, once. Just six opponents remain for Motivator in a cosmopolitan field: his contemporary Oratorio, for Ireland; the four-year-olds Diamond Green, for France, and Hazyview; the five-year-olds Starcraft and Hurricane Alan; and seven-year-old Altieri, for Italy.
Starcraft has won most at the top level, thrice Down Under, and ran an eyecatching third in the Queen Anne Stakes at York on his European debut. "Even without Shamardal, it will be a tough call," Herbert added. "We are taking on older horses for the first time. Starcraft, for instance, has magnificent form in Australia, and we assume we will have a ding-dong battle." Herbert may not be counting chickens, but it will be a huge disappointment and major anticlimax if Motivator (3.15) is beaten. Oratorio is the one for the forecast.Reuse content