Racing: Percussionist strikes right chord

Classics countdown: Ballydoyle team keep their powder dry for Epsom as Gosden saddles impressive Trial winner
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The Independent Online

There is a moment in Cy Endfield's fine 1964 film rendition of the siege of Rorke's Drift, Zulu, where Cetewayo's tactics are pointed out to the Stanley Baker and Michael Caine characters. As the front rank of the charging impi stand and take a hail of bullets from the South Wales Borderers without riposte, the local fighter explains. "He's testing your firepower," says Ardendorf, the Afrikaner, "with the lives of his warriors."

There is a moment in Cy Endfield's fine 1964 film rendition of the siege of Rorke's Drift, Zulu, where Cetewayo's tactics are pointed out to the Stanley Baker and Michael Caine characters. As the front rank of the charging impi stand and take a hail of bullets from the South Wales Borderers without riposte, the local fighter explains. "He's testing your firepower," says Ardendorf, the Afrikaner, "with the lives of his warriors."

Aidan O'Brien does not go quite that far but the principal here yesterday was the same. The performances of Five Dynasties and Baraka, the sighters he sent over for the traditionally reasonably informative trials round this Tattenham Corner lookalike were contrasting, but the master of Ballydoyle's best prospects for the Epsom Classics are perceived to be the ones that are still in Ireland.

Yeats, the Derby favourite, puts his reputation on the line at Leopardstown today and as far as the colts are concerned, the sport at the Co Dublin track will probably have more bearing on events up on the Downs 28 days hence than that in soggy Surrey. But Baraka may turn out to be more than cannon fodder; she emerged yesterday as a sound back-up to her stablemate All Too Beautiful in the Oaks.

Percussionist's wide-margin win in the Derby Trial on rain-softened, testing ground caused barely a ripple in the Blue Riband betting - he is still available at 40-1 - despite trainer John Gosden's bullishness afterwards. The race, over nearly the full Derby distance and with similar undulations, has produced five winners of the real thing, most recently High-Rise six years ago. "Horses that win well here are usually difficult to keep out of the first three at Epsom," said Gosden. "This one has done nothing wrong in his life, handled the hill perfectly, is still progressive and is a legitimate contender. But I'll be praying for a good night's rain beforehand."

Victory next month would be poignant, for the son of Sadler's Wells carries the late Robert Sangster's colours, already twice successful at the sport's most famous venue on The Minstrel and Golden Fleece. The wild-eyed, white-faced bay, noticeably on edge in the preliminaries, came in 10 lengths clear of Hazyview, but in the closing stages veered right-handed the full width of the track under Frankie Dettori's urgings. Gosden put the colt's antics down to his being alarmed by the presence of a van-mounted TV camera adjacent all-weather track. On paper, as the trainer pointed out, the form is solid; Hazyview beat Red Lancer, easy winner of one of the Chester trials during the week, last time out.

Five Dynasties was barely spotted in third place, 27 lengths adrift, but it was a bit of a non-event in his trainer's view. "He couldn't walk on the ground, let alone gallop on it," said O'Brien. The deterioration in the underfoot conditions caused the withdrawal of yesterday's putative favourite, North Light, who holds an entry in Wednesday's Dante Stakes at York. Yeats, one of 25 Ballydoyle colts still in the Derby, will defend his unbeaten record against four rivals this afternoon in the eliminator that has become the best recent Epsom guide.

In yesterday's Oaks Trial, which has produced three Epsom winners (User Friendly, Lady Carla and Ramruma) in its dozen previous runnings, Baraka was undeniably impressive, barely off the bridle to coast in by six lengths from Bowstring. In most bookmakers' lists her display promoted her to Oaks second favourite, behind Sundrop, at around 8-1. But the exception was the firm perceived to have a hotter line to the pecking order in Co Tipperary than most. Sure, Ladbrokes shortened Baraka to 16-1, from 40-1, but perhaps more significantly All Too Beautiful to 7-1 second market choice.

Baraka, a rangy bay, had appeared in public only once before yesterday, when she ran unplaced at the Curragh last September. She had, apparently, disappointed then, but lived up to the regard in which she has always been held in no uncertain terms this time. With Jamie Spencer sitting motionless in her saddle in Bowstring's slipstream looking behind for non-existent dangers, she could be called the winner a full half-mile out. "We've always thought she was special," said O'Brien, "but she's a big filly and after that run last year we put her away to give her the time to mature that she needed."

O'Brien would not be drawn on the relative merits of Baraka, a Danehill half-sister to Pilsudski, and All Too Beautiful, Galileo's Sadler's Wells full-sister. The latter (who, like two other high-class Ballydoyle fillies Imagine and Yesterday, owes her name to a song, in this case "Itchycoo Park") has won both her starts after missing her juvenile season.

"They were both working last year like two queens but when Baraka didn't run so well we held back with the other. This year, though, they've both done everything we've asked, and you'd maybe think, with her sire, that Baraka may be better on better ground. They're a pair of beauties."

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