Racing: Walk takes Derby rehearsal in his stride

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The Independent Online

Just as there are two schools of thought as to whether or not to practise penalty shoot-outs, the jury is split as to the benefits of giving a horse a test run over this Surrey race track's most famous landmarks. The home of the Derby opened its doors yesterday to any trainer who wished to bring a big-race runner along to have a go down Tattenham Hill and round Tattenham Corner but only one, John Hammond, took up the offer.

For him, Walk In The Park's trip from France and two smooth spins round these idiosyncratic downland contours - a canter on Tuesday, a speedier effort second time under the man who will be in the saddle on Saturday week, Alan Munro - were an entirely worthwhile exercise. "I was wondering if I was doing something wrong in bringing him here when I found out that none of the old pros were going to do the same," said the Chantilly-based Englishman, "but with this colt, the more you expose him to something, the better he tends to behave."

It is a case of know your horse. Walk In The Park is a son of that high-mettled racer Montjeu, whom Hammond trained to win six Group Ones in the same Michael Tabor colours. Many of the Arc and King George hero's offspring show their sire's feisty temperament and it is perhaps no coincidence that another of them, the Derby favourite Motivator, was brought by his trainer Michael Bell to the course last month for a similar familiarisation outing.

And it was fascinating to note yesterday that Walk In The Park initially behaved just as had his paternal half-brother, stamping his personality on the notion of cantering to the start by ducking in a circle. But he went sweetly thereafter, and much more settled than when a neck runner-up to Kong in Lingfield's trial 19 days ago. "Like Montjeu, this is a horse who has a lot of nervous energy," said Hammond. "And though he can get a bit uptight on the big day, he can be controlled. He switches off at home; he is very good at sleeping."

The powerful bay, a 20-1 shot, will be a first Derby runner for Rugby-educated Hammond, who set up in the Chemin des Aigles 18 years ago. "I'm excited," he said. "He's an improving horse who deserves the chance. There is a question mark over his stamina, though, and I'm not so sure that a 10-furlong horse can win a Derby. I think you need one that stays a mile and three-quarters."

Clive Brittain was among those trainers present at yesterday's promotional gathering, but had left his 33-1 Derby contender Hattan, winner of the Chester Vase, at home. He adheres to the devil-you-don't-know theory. "My old guv'nor [Noel Murless, trainer of three Derby and five Oaks winners] always said that he'd never trained a horse that wouldn't go round Epsom once," he said. "But the second time, they might think about it. If they get sore after galloping downhill, they'll remember it."

Irish trainer David Wachman confirmed 16-1 Fracas, three for three including the Leopardstown and San-down trials, a runner after seeing the course for the first time. "It's interesting," he said after walking round, "very steep. It will depend how he handles it and you don't know until you try." Jamie Spencer will ride.

At Ballydoyle, whence eight Derby heroes have emerged, there is a Tattenham Corner replica on the training gallops. Aidan O'Brien, trainer of the most recent two from Co Tipperary, Galileo and High Chaparral, could throw no new light on which of his seven entries, who include the joint second-favourite Gypsy King, would be lining up. But he did issue a plea to the Epsom authorities. "Mine are all good-to-fast ground horses," he said, "I know Motivator and Dubawi [the other joint second-favourite] like softer ground, but I hope it will be left to the natural elements to decide what it will be."

At least Kieren Fallon knows he will have a ride. Johnny Murtagh has until 5pm today to decide whether to appeal against a three-day ban, picked up for careless riding on Tuesday, that rules him out of the mount on 5-2 market leader Motivator.

Darryll Holland was the man placed on stand-by yesterday for the chance ride of a lifetime. But his acceptance of the call-up is a gamble. Murtagh's appeal may not be heard until early today week - final Derby declaration day - and if it is successful, Holland could be left without a mount.

* William Hill and Ladbrokes made a sharp cut in the Derby odds of the O'Brien-trained Oratorio yesterday evening. Both firms now have him at 6-1.

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