Racing: Mutahayya ready to enter Derby reckoning

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The Independent Online

A quarter of a century has now passed since the winner of today's Predominate Stakes went on to occupy the same position in the Derby. Troy romped home by seven lengths at Goodwood in 1979 before repeating the feat at Epsom and although he was not the last high-class horse to win the contest on the Sussex Downs - Pentire did so in 1995 and Dubai Millennium five years ago - the race stands low in the pecking order of the so-called trials.

A quarter of a century has now passed since the winner of today's Predominate Stakes went on to occupy the same position in the Derby. Troy romped home by seven lengths at Goodwood in 1979 before repeating the feat at Epsom and although he was not the last high-class horse to win the contest on the Sussex Downs - Pentire did so in 1995 and Dubai Millennium five years ago - the race stands low in the pecking order of the so-called trials.

The reasons are not difficult to fathom. As a race in its own right, it carries only Listed rank, as opposed to, say, the Group 2 status of the Dante Stakes. It is also the last of the recognised domestic dress rehearsals, only 18 days before the real thing, which minimises the window of recovery in the event of minor injury. In its favour, the undulating track can give a horse a valuable lesson in how to handle Tattenham Hill.

Although Dubai Millennium made a certain impact at Epsom by starting favourite before he boiled over into seventh place, the only Predominate Stakes runners to feature in the Derby finish since Troy have been Rankin (second, then third), Touching Wood (second in both), Elmaamul (second and third), Fahal (third and fourth) and, grimly, Coshocton, the winner at Goodwood two years ago and running fourth at Epsom when breaking a leg close home.

Only one of this afternoon's seven runners can bring a change in the 11-furlong contest's fortunes. Mutahayya is the sole Derby entry; the likely favourite, Red Lancer, is actually a gelding, a type of horse banned from contesting the Blue Riband since 1904.

Should Red Lancer prevail it would not be inappropriate, as the race, now in its 34th renewal, commemorates a smart unsexed competitor of the past, the 1961 Goodwood Cup winner. Red Lancer has been one of the season's rags-to-relative-riches stories; last September he won a seller on the sand at Wolverhampton and earlier this month trotted up by five lengths in the Chester Vase. He is clearly progressive and may not yet have reached the limit of his improvement, but three points niggle against him: he is stepping back in distance (after today, his sights are set on the two-mile Queen's Vase), he must carry a 3lb penalty for his Group 3 win on the Roodeye, and conditions may be sharper than ideal.

On the book, Mutahayya (3.45), who missed Chester's other Derby trial, the Dee Stakes, with a bruised foot, has something to find with Red Lancer. On his first run this term, the son of Peintre Celebre (a high-ranking middle-distance sire in the making) went under by a length to Privy Seal in the Easter Stakes at Kempton, and it was Privy Seal who was second in the Vase. But Mutahayya is entitled to improve for both the run under his girth and the step up in distance and also has positive experience of the idiosyncratic track in the form of a second place last year.

His owner-breeder Hamdan Al Maktoum already has one Classic in the bag this year, the 2,000 Guineas courtesy of Haafhd, and it would take a performance of some authority from Mutahayya to give cause for belief that he may net another. The colt, one of 10 bearing the blue and white silks still remaining in the Derby (the final forfeit stage is tomorrow), is currently a 100-1 shot. But still, today's events should not be treated with derision, at least in advance. Changing views is, after all, what Classic trials - and indeed Classics, which are standard-setters for a generation rather than championships - are all about. The 1979 three-year-old crop was not regarded as being much cop until Troy put himself among the greats with his performance at Epsom. Nothing can be taken for granted until the afternoon of 5 June.

Gatwick, third to useful African Dream when Red Lancer was second at Newbury last month, will put that thread of form to the test in the three-year-old nine-furlong handicap. But preference is for Desert Dreamer (3.15), who made a satisfactory seasonal debut under an apprentice at Chester and has been allotted today's task rather than an apparently easier one tomorrow.

The next Guineas on the European circuit are the weekend's Irish editions at the Curragh. Haafhd misses the colt's version on Saturday but Azamour, who finished third on the Rowley Mile, Grey Swallow (fourth), Whipper (fifth) and beaten favourite One Cool Cat were among 25 left in the Group 1 race at yesterday's penultimate declaration stage.

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