Racing: Motivator's Derby drill an inspiration for Murtagh

It was more a read-through than a dress rehearsal, but Motivator delivered his lines to perfection here yesterday. The Derby second favourite, partnered by his big-race jockey Johnny Murtagh, had a practice gallop on the idiosyncratic stage he will strut for real on 4 June and coped with Tattenham Hill and Corner like an old trouper.

It was more a read-through than a dress rehearsal, but Motivator delivered his lines to perfection here yesterday. The Derby second favourite, partnered by his big-race jockey Johnny Murtagh, had a practice gallop on the idiosyncratic stage he will strut for real on 4 June and coped with Tattenham Hill and Corner like an old trouper.

Given a lead by the four-year-old handicapper Magic Sting, a horse with experience round similarly-contoured Lingfield, Motivator stretched his legs over 10 of the Derby's 12 furlongs, came down the famous gradient in perfect balance and passed the post upsides his stablemate with Murtagh not having moved a muscle.

The Irishman returned to the weighing room with a broad smile. The reaction of trainer Michael Bell was more of relief that the awayday had gone without a hitch. "Very happy," he said as the puffing son of Montjeu was led round after his spin. "Obviously, they will go a bit quicker than that in the Derby, but he seemed to handle the bend OK, there was nothing negative from Johnny at all. He is very well in himself and this was a great chance to get a blow into him before York."

The Dante Stakes on the Knavesmire three weeks hence will be Motivator's first race of the year after plans to run him in the 2,000 Guineas (in which 29 now remain, with no shock withdrawals, after yesterday's latest confirmation stage) were abandoned. "We felt that to run over a mile in a fast and furious Classic would be the wrong mental preparation," said Bell. "But bringing him here for a taste of the racecourse on a fairly relaxed day was ideal."

The big, handsome bay colt is, apparently, the most laid-back of individuals in his box but he acquires a feistyness under saddle that needs tactful management, and although Epsom on Derby day is the theatre of dreams it can also be a crucible, a theatre of streams of nervous sweat.

Yesterday, Motivator was very much on his toes as he walked round the parade ring before his workout. "Mentally, he is a bit electric," said Bell. "He is one of those horses who is always on the go. But in his stable he is the most relaxed horse you could find. Three weeks ago, six of us went into his box to see him and he just laid down and told us to bugger off. I'd never seen a horse do that before."

Motivator's test-run was the only Derby pointer of the day, despite the presence of the so-called Blue Riband Trial during the afternoon's sport. Despite its name, the race is not one that habitually impacts on the real thing, though Daliapour went on to beat all bar Oath after winning six years ago. But yesterday's running had no relevance; neither Hallhoo, who came late and fast to score in the last stride, nor his victim Elliots World, the even-money favourite, holds the Derby entry.

The importance of familiarity with the track was underlined when Tender Falcon, a 20-1 shot ridden by Sam Hitchcott, edged out Balkan Knight by a short-head in the Great Metropolitan Handicap. "Being able to handle this place makes a hell of a difference," said Ivor Hodges, brother of trainer Ron, "and we knew there would be no problem for him; he won the amateurs' Derby last year."

The City and Suburban Stakes, the other of the two venerable old handicaps that have slipped down the glamour scale in recent years, went to King's Thought (7-1), who held on resolutely to keep Shahzan House at bay.

At Perth, a double for Paul Nicholls, who was £35,473 behind his arch-rival Martin Pipe in the race for the trainers' championship at the start of play, added a total of £22,828 to his challenge. And if naughty Cornish Rebel did not seem to care about what was at stake when he threw away the Scottish Grand National, the same anthropo-morphic charge could not be levelled at his stablemates My Will and Almost Broke yesterday.

My Will, beaten by Pipe's charge Locksmith in a photo four days ago, turned the tables when inching out another Pond House inmate, Joaaci, in a titanic head-to-head struggle up the run-in. Later, Almost Broke, seemingly beaten with rivals closing on both sides, thrust his muzzle in front with one last lunge. Both, of course, abetted by Ruby Walsh.

Hyperion's selections for today's other meetings:

Bath: 5.30 Pokermilliondotcom; 6.00 Fuel Cell; 6.30 Seasons Estates; 7.00 Nietzsche; 7.30 Auwitesweetheart; 8.00 Beejay.

Fontwell: 2.10 Penny Stall; 2.40 Premier Estate; 3.10 Goblet Of Fire; 3.40 Super Road Train; 4.10 Kappelhoff; 4.40 Victree; 5.10 Walcot Lad.

Southwell: 5.15 Muqarrar; 5.45 Norcroft; 6.15 Waterloo Corner; 6.45 Bogaz; 7.15 Lockstock; 7.45 Goose Chase.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Seasons Estates (Bath 6.30)

NB: Tapa

(Bath 8.00)

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