And then there were 22. The field for the 227th Derby, which offers a purse of £1.25m, has taken its penultimate shape, in the form of 18 from the original 648-strong yearling entry, three from last month's second-thought opportunity and one at yesterday's last-chance saloon. Going in at the start will have cost £6,815, the initial cost of £315 plus fees of £1,000, £3,000 and £2,500 at successive forfeit stages; entering in April £13,500, a levy of £8,000 plus two forfeits; and arriving at the party yesterday £75,000.
The one latecomer was Papal Bull, who must finish in the first three to recoup the gamble. The son of Montjeu, winner of the Chester Vase, is trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who already has four Derbys to his credit with Shergar (1981), Shahrastani (1986), Kris Kin (supplemented to win in 2003) and North Light (2004) and runs for the Coolmore partners. He has been introduced towards the top of the betting at 9-1.
Aidan O'Brien, successful with Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002) can chose a team from a squad of five headed by the Dante Stakes victor Septimus, the second favourite. The other Ballydoyle possibles, whittled down from 25, are Dylan Thomas, Horatio Nelson, Mountain and Altius.
And today may be decision day for the stable's jockey. Kieren Fallon, who will give all the Ballydoyle contenders a test-drive on the gallops this morning and has not ruled out Papal Bull either. "It's hard to say which one is best," he said yesterday, "and I don't think the ground will be a worry for any of them. Horatio Nelson has the best form but the others will definitely be suited by the longer distance.
"It may be difficult to get an accurate feel because the ground will be soft at Ballydoyle. Aidan's a good judge and if I leave it to him I can't blame myself. But Papal Bull is a horse I think highly of and he'd have to be an option. It will be a tough one."
Fallon is going for a fourth Derby after Oath (1999), Kris Kin and North Light; Frankie Dettori is trying to break his duck after 13 attempts. He will not meet his mount, the André Fabre-trained Linda's Lad, until he gets the leg-up in the parade ring on Saturday, but that did not stop Edward Hide winning on Morston under the same circumstances. The bay, winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial, will have his final gallop in Chantilly this morning, along with his stablemate Visindar, the favourite.
The size of the Derby field is likely to be reduced by at least one, for the Dee Stakes winner, Art Deco, is to be Dettori's mount in the shorter Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly on Sunday. "I have left him in the Derby but I am favouring France," said his trainer, Charles Egerton. "The trip will suit him better."
Hala Bek's participation will be decided after he has had a spin tomorrow morning. Since winning his only race, Michael Jarvis's charge scoped badly and has been involved in a race against time to fulfil his date with destiny. "He'll do a little bit, but it will be only a blow out," Jarvis said. "He's fit enough."
More than one defection will be bad news for the connections of the no-hoper Noddies Way. The unraced colt, by the poor jump sire Nomadic Way, was left in the race by mistake, but his owner-breeder, Wayne Cox, will retrieve his entry fees should the horse be balloted out, as he will be if the final field exceeds the safety limit of 20. His inclusion thus far is a joke, but it will be a poor one that will reflect badly on the sport if he runs and damages himself or another competitor.
At soggy Sandown yesterday Tungsten Strike, given a canny ride by Ryan Moore, put himself in the picture for the Ascot Gold Cup with a five-length success in the Henry II Stakes. The five-year-old chased Art Eyes into the straight but while the leader stuck to the far rail, Moore, followed by the rest of the pack, steered straight for the stands side and the hedge dividing the Flat and jump tracks.
"I was worried about the soft going," said the winning trainer, Amanda Perrett, "as he's a long-striding horse who prefers better ground. But when I walked the course I was pleasantly surprised how decent it was next to the hedge and Ryan made sure he had the best of it all the way."
Tungsten Strike was cut to 14-1 for Ascot after this Group Three success. Yesterday's favourite, Cover Up, who had beaten him at Lingfield last time, hated the ground and finished last. His Stoute stablemate Distinction is favourite for the stayers' crown.
Sandown's pre-Epsom bonne-bouche continues tonight, when another Freemason Lodge inmate, Notnowcato, takes on five rivals in his attempt to progress up the ladder in the Group Three Brigadier Gerard Stakes, which his trainer has taken in the past with upwardly mobile types such as Stagecraft, Opera House and Pilsudski.
The Group Two Temple Stakes, another step on the road to the sprint championship, has attracted 13 speedsters headed by the mud-loving Reverence.
HEXHAM: 6.30 Timbuktu 7.00 Arctic Echo 7.35 Lord On the Run 8.10 Brooklyn Brownie 8.40 Mooramana 9.15 Hello Baby
Nap: Sunderland Echo (Leicester 4.50)
NB: Zazous (Chepstow 3.00)Reuse content