Racing: Murtagh waits on appeal as Derby field shrinks

To its organisers it remains the most significant race in the world, but when the 226th Derby occurs on Saturday it will certainly not be the most populated Blue Riband.

To its organisers it remains the most significant race in the world, but when the 226th Derby occurs on Saturday it will certainly not be the most populated Blue Riband.

There were no supplementaries at yesterday's declaration stage and just 15 runners remain. The actual field will not be that crowded. The modern era low-runner mark of 12 - which happened both in 2001 and the following year, when Galileo and High Chaparral were successful - is under threat.

There were few shocks as the big two, Motivator and Dubawi, were left in. Both their camps have been making plaintive noises about the state of the ground on the Surrey Downs and will not have been displeased when Andrew Cooper, the clerk of the course, recommenced watering yesterday. The ground is currently good, good to firm in places, which is where Cooper would like to be at 4.20 on Saturday.

It is a big day tomorrow for Team Motivator as Michael Bell, the colt's trainer, will walk the track at about the same time as Johnny Murtagh, Motivator's partner in victory in York's Dante Stakes, tries to wriggle out of a riding ban at the Jockey Club. Darryll Holland is on stand-by.

In addition to Dubawi, Godolphin have declared Shamardal, but that is only a precaution. The latter's principal target remains Sunday's Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly. The numbers game on Saturday will inevitably be won by Aidan O'Brien. They have been playing Ten Little Indians at Ballydoyle recently, but four colts still remain for the premier Classic in the shape of Oratorio, Gypsy King, Grand Central and Almighty. Whichever Kieren Fallon selects will automatically become a shortened third favourite.

After a spluttering start to their campaign, Godolphin appear to be coming round. The Dubai team's resurgence continued yesterday when Fight Your Corner was the 20-1 winner of the most renowned trial for the Ascot Gold Cup, the Henry II Stakes at Sandown. The last two Sandown winners have gone on to success in the staying championship, Godolphin's own Papineau following on from Mr Dinos. Papineau is now second favourite behind France's Westerner for the rerouted race at York next month, while Fight Your Corner is still available at 14-1.

Kerrin McEvoy's mount had a gentle run round for much of the race yesterday and only joined in as others began to fall back gasping around him. After that Fight Your Corner slogged away from a field which included his better fancied stablemate, Duke Of Venice.

"Duke Of Venice, our other horse, was disappointing today, but Kerrin McEvoy was asked to look after the winner and he got him nice and relaxed," Saeed Bin Suroor, the trainer, said. "When everyone died in front, he did as he was asked and we will see how we get on with him, see how he comes out of the race, but the Gold Cup, over four furlongs more, is a possibility. " With a Derby present looming there is also a reminder of a Blue Riband past this evening, when North Light, the Epsom victor 12 months ago, reappears on the track for Sandown's Brigadier Gerard Stakes. Among the opposition is Godolphin's Punctilious and Mubtaker.

It will be Mubtaker's first outing over 10 furlongs for some time, a first run since he finished fourth in the Canadian International last October, but Marcus Tregoning reports him to remain in good heart.

"He is in very good form and seems fresh and well," the trainer said yesterday. "He is running over a mile and a quarter because he tends to run very fresh first time out, but he is very effective over this trip - he won over it a couple of years ago and he has plenty of pace." On the same card, the Prix de l'Abbaye winner Var takes in the Temple Stakes at what is the beginning of a busy period at the office. "He has done all of the work I have wanted him to do as he will have three very close races coming up," Clive Brittain, the trainer, said.

"It will be the start of a three-race series for him which begins at Sandown and then goes on to York for the King's Stand and finishes in the Golden Jubilee at the same meeting. If there is any ring-rustiness in him he will be get rid of it at Sandown."

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