Racing: Motivator to switch on power and defy Derby doubts

Michael Bell's unbeaten colt has the proven class for Epsom supremacy
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The Independent Online

There are many reasons to back Motivator, the favourite for this afternoon's 226th Derby. Michael Bell's colt is unbeaten, has yet to see another horse in the final furlong of his races and has already won at Group One level. It looks simple.

There are many reasons to back Motivator, the favourite for this afternoon's 226th Derby. Michael Bell's colt is unbeaten, has yet to see another horse in the final furlong of his races and has already won at Group One level. It looks simple.

Yet there are also caveats crowding round in similar numbers. Motivator has never raced on going as firm as he will encounter today, has yet to race over a mile and a half and is in possession of a combustible temperament which could be horribly exposed in the unique bustle of a Derby. A phrase exists for this dilemma: you pay your money and take your choice.

It must be said, though, that while Motivator's attributes are proven, the black marks are as yet theoretical. He may not stay, he may not perform on firm going and mental volatility may be his undoing, but none of those eventualities have occurred thus far.

Motivator won the Racing Post Trophy last year, perhaps the most informative of the juvenile trials, and further collected the established three-year-old audition, York's Dante Stakes. On both occasions he swerved right in the closing stages and only the horse knows why.

Certainly there has been no repetition of that deviation, at home at least, as Motivator has continued to skip up the Warren Hill gallops in Newmarket. "In an ideal world he'd be a little less fizzy," Bell says. "He's a coiled spring. The key has been underworking him because he's a natural athlete. There's a temptation to look at the jewel every morning but you have to resist it.

"The horse is in good form and most people would say he is the one to beat, but, the more I think about it, I can see Gypsy King being a big threat. There is the negative that it's taken so long for his yard to announce he was the Derby horse, but the plus factor is that the form of his win at Chester is looking much better than it did originally. The extra quarter of a mile will definitely be to his benefit. He did everything he could to get beat that day at Chester, but he still managed to get up and win. He's the big danger."

Gypsy King, too, carries the cachet of being unbeaten, albeit after just two outings. If the well-named horse for a Derby succeeds he would be the ninth colt to carry the Blue Riband back to the Irish racing temple of Ballydoyle.

The oddity in Co Tipperary this year has been that it took until Thursday for the premier Classic horse, the choice of Kieren Fallon, to be unveiled. Usually, something has stepped forward out of the echelon long before this. Trainer Aidan O'Brien has three others in the race, most notably the Classic-placed Oratorio, who suddenly seems to have been reinvented as a horse with staying propensity.

A little imagination has to go into reading Gypsy King's form. It was thought at the time he was beating a handicapper when he scrambled home from Im Spartacus on the Roodeye. In fact, he was beating a future Group-winning horse. The big question for the son of Sadler's Wells is whether this race comes too early in his racing education. He was horribly callow at Chester and connections must hope he pulls himself together today before the cavalry have disappeared.

Gypsy King does at least have the right man on his back for the occasion. Fallon is becoming as advantageous as Lester Piggott used to be over the Surrey contours and goes for a third consecutive Derby after Kris Kin and North Light.

Lesser fortunes have attached themselves to the Irishman's great rival, Frankie Dettori, now a Derby failure on 12 occasions. Dubawi's jockey was recently banned for the whole of Royal Ascot and it may be fair to assume a lot of agitation is waiting to burst out of an Italian body should it be first across the line today.

Like others in the race, Dubawi comes into the Derby almost as an afterthought. The 2,000 Guineas was always his race over the winter. Victory in the Irish version confirmed he was a colt of some merit, but now he must play a hand which must also include stamina. If he gets the trip he is a threat to all, but this is an "if" writ in the lettering of the Hollywood hillside. Even connections, it seems, are not convinced. "He is a very good horse," Sheikh Mohammed said yesterday, "but I am not sure if he stays."

These then are the top three and it pays not to look too far down in the Derby, as 26 of the last 39 runnings have gone to either the first or second favourite. There are, however, others to consider.

The Geezer is not the sort of romantic name we associate with a race which has fallen to the likes of Nijinsky, Golden Fleece and The Minstrel. David Elsworth's blue-collar horse was purchased for 21,000gns and ran on the all-weather as a two-year-old. His is not the traditional Blue Riband package, yet we must remember he was not that far behind Motivator in the Dante and performed as though today's journey would play to his strengths.

Unfurled would provide a statistical nicety as no horse beginning with U has ever won a Derby. The only other unfulfilled letters are X and Z. More realistic credentials are offered by another unbeaten colt in Fracas, who has collected two conspicuous Epsom rehearsals, including the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, the notable audition of the modern era.

Yet for the winner we must accentuate the positives of the one horse who has shown pretensions to greatness. This is almost a jumps race for MOTIVATOR (nap 4.20) such are the many obstacles he has to overcome. Those closest to the horse, and they include another Derby specialist in jockey Johnny Murtagh, who won on Sinndar in 2000 and High Chaparral in 2002, believe he is up to it.

"Johnny rode him the other day and he was very sweet on him," Bell says. "And he has ridden a lot of good horses. He's won a couple of Derbys, so he knows what it takes. He's as bullish as he lets himself be because he's not a person that shouts off from the rooftops. The vibe I get is that he's very hopeful. So, so am I."

The Experts' View

Richard Edmondson

1. Motivator

2. Gypsy King

3. The Geezer

Best Outsider Fracas

Sue Montgomery

1. Dubawi

2. Oratorio

3. Motivator

Best Outsider Walk In The Park


1. Walk In The Park

2. Fracas

3. The Geezer

Best Outsider Unfurled