Racing: North Light fails to show Classic brilliance

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The Independent Online

As North Light pumped his way down the long Knavesmire straight yesterday in the Dante Stakes, there was much to admire about his protracted winning run. This performance involved the stalwart qualities of durability and, rather appropriately considering his trainer, stoutheartedness.

Yet there was no chemical thrill to this most important of Derby trials in Britain, no thrilling shot through the body to suggest the Epsom victor had been on view. It was hard to go home and shout from the upstairs window that you had just seen the Blue Riband winner. It was just all too functional.

There were, of course, others happy to be swept away by the theatre of the Group Two contest. From a morning 33-1, North Light ended the day on a best-priced 9-1 for 5 June.

Connections, too, expressed their satisfaction, but if you are not stimulated at the prospect of having a Derby runner at this stage of the campaign then your emotions have been shut down. "We always thought he was a horse brimful of promise," Sir Michael Stoute, his trainer, said. "Ideally you would have wanted a better surface for his initial race. Lingfield was my first choice and, when that didn't work out, we were left with this.

"What I liked about him was that once Kieren [Fallon] asked him to change gear he got them all struggling. That was a solid performance and we'll go there with a shot. You have to say he has an each-way chance. I can't tell you he's going to piss up."

The Dante is the leading domestic Derby trial of the last 20 years but of fading contemporary significance. Shahrastani (1986), Reference Point (1987), Erhaab (1994) and Benny The Dip (1997) are the recent winners to go on to Epsom victory.

Those who believe North Light gave illumination to the premier Classic yesterday can at least identify that all the leading yards were represented.

Rule Of Law was there for Godolphin, dressed in a tongue strap. He looked horribly healthy, as though he had been on holiday all winter, which was partially true. The Ballydoyle runner, Moscow Ballet, jig-jogged and snorted his way round the parade ring, a lightning bolt of a blaze down his face. There are internal combustible elements as well it seems, as he had to be chaperoned on either side and sent to post early.

Barbajuan and the rather wayward Oman Gulf made the running, but when the latter made a hash of the turn-in, Fallon decided to dispense with the funny stuff. He eased into the lead four furlongs out and applied the squeeze a furlong later. North Light hurt himself but, in behind, he had punished the rest more.

Rule Of Law was the only colt to make a fist of it. He crept to within half a length of the winner at the line, so effectively that Fallon did not detect the presence of Frankie Dettori's mount. A desperate last flick of the reins bore witness to that.

"I didn't know Frankie was there," the champion jockey said. "He surprised me. I only saw the two on the outside. So I've sat up haven't I? We've nearly done a Ballinger Ridge.

"The other horse [Oman Gulf] wasn't going round the turn so I had to kick on a long way from home. For the first run of the season it was a tough ask. He didn't half lengthen and stretch, but, after that, he was only going through the motions.

"I like this horse. He's got everything that you would like going into a Derby. He's got toe, a great attitude and you can't see any reason why he wouldn't stay. He's going the right way and peaking at the right time."

Rule Of Law had been short of work going into this assignment and the Godolphin team, with the exception of Dettori, were happy with the race. The jockey, though, received a four-day ban for using his whip with excessive frequency, out of stride pattern and without giving Rule Of Law time to respond. He will miss the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Tattersalls Gold Cup, in which Sulamani could make his reappearance.

More pleasing for Team Dubai was the line this race gave to another in their battalion, the 2,000 Guineas runner-up. "This gives confidence for Snow Ridge," Crisford added, "because obviously he is the No1 hope from the stable."