Racing: Wolfe can set the tone for Ballydoyle quartet

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The Independent Online

Kieren Fallon has not yet decided which horse will bear the responsibility of helping him to be come only the second jockey in history to ride three consecutive Derby winners, but at least he now has only four mounts to chose from. Aidan O'Brien confirmed yesterday that Oratorio, Gypsy King, Grand Central and Almighty will be Ballydoyle's runners in Saturday's 226th running of the Blue Riband; Scorpion, Falstaff and Indigo Cat will be removed at today's penultimate declaration stage.

Kieren Fallon has not yet decided which horse will bear the responsibility of helping him to be come only the second jockey in history to ride three consecutive Derby winners, but at least he now has only four mounts to chose from. Aidan O'Brien confirmed yesterday that Oratorio, Gypsy King, Grand Central and Almighty will be Ballydoyle's runners in Saturday's 226th running of the Blue Riband; Scorpion, Falstaff and Indigo Cat will be removed at today's penultimate declaration stage.

With Kris Kin and North Light in the bag, Fallon is likely to chose between the battle-hardened Oratorio, runner-up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas on his ninth outing, and much rawer Gypsy King, winner of the Dee Stakes on his second, as he tries to emulate Steve Donoghue, successful on Humorist (1921), Captain Cuttle (1922) and Papyrus (1923).

On Friday, Ballydoyle's 1,000 Guineas heroine, Virginia Waters, a supplementary entry to the Oaks, will be accompanied to post by Mona Lisa and Silk And Scarlet. Yeats, favourite for last year's Derby before an eleventh-hour muscle problem ruled him out, will try to set the record straight in the Coronation Cup.

And with only five days to go to the best day of the sporting year, Derby week begins with some not inappropriate action at Sandown. Tomorrow, North Light opens his four-year-old campaign in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes; today there is a trial for the race for which the Blue Riband used to be something of a prep. In days of yore, the Ascot Gold Cup was the ultimate prize, one without which on his cv no self-respecting Derby winner could retire to stud. Events for callow three-year-olds on the Surrey Downs merely established the pecking order before the proper grown-up challenge in Berkshire the following year.

The Gold Cup was once the Arc or King George; in seven of the first 14 years of the 20th century its winner was the champion older horse and in the immediate post-war era top-class middle distance performers like Caracalla and Alycidon were on the roll on honour. Times have changed, of course, and stamina is no longer seen as an essential quality in these days of instant gratification and a quick fix. The last Derby winner to take part in an Ascot Gold Cup was Blakeney, who was beaten half a length by Precipice Wood in 1970, and he was the first since Ocean Swell, who won in 1945.

Happily, though, the caste of stayers has risen since the terrible nadir of 1990, Ashal's year and there has been some smart talent in the division lately; names like Classic Cliche, Kayf Tara, Persian Punch, Westerner, Vinnie Roe. All not only good horses, but good box-office. This afternoon's Henry II Stakes at Sandown is the best recent guide to the marathon crown. In the past 15 years 10 Ascot heroes have used it as a warm-up, with five, including the two most recent, Papineau and Mr Dinos, doubling up.

Ten of today's 16 runners hold the Gold Cup entry at York, though one who does not is dual Ascot winner Royal Rebel, who has not actually won since he beat Vinnie Roe inches for the crown in 2002 and has been plagued since by leg trouble and bouts of moodiness.

With Papineau heading for Friday's Coronation Cup, the Godolphin team rely today on Fight Your Corner and Duke Of Venice, Frankie Dettori's choice and winner of last year's Queen's Vase. Neither horse managed to beat a rival on their latest runs, so have something to prove and of more interest is Wolfe Tone (2.50). The Gold Cup trophy is one of the few not in O'Brien's cabinet and this lightly raced Sadler's Wells four-year-old is having his stamina tested today. He opened his season with a good third to Cairdeas and Yeats at the Curragh four weeks ago and then looked every inch a stayer with a future when he won at Newbury. Cover Up has not run since August 2003 but has been keeping himself fit this spring by leading his half-brother North Light in his work, and will ensure his rival knows he has had a race.

l Gary Tanaka, best-known in Britain as the owner of four-time Group One winner Rakti, is being held without bail after being arrested in America. Tanaka is awaiting a hearing on Friday after federal authorities accused of him of stealing from investors. Tanaka's partner in the New York-based Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc has also been arrested and charged separately with stealing $5m (£2.75m) in client funds. As well as Rakti, recent winner of the Lockinge Stakes, Tanaka has owned top horses such as Dernier Empereur, Epalo, Keltos and Golden Apples.

l Rule Supreme finished a creditable third in the Prix la Barka at Auteuil yesterday. The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old occupied the same placing in the Group Two contest last year before winning the French Champion Hurdle. The race was won by Rock And Palm, who edged out Cyrlight.

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