Racing: York likely next target as Falbrav comes good

Perhaps perversely, given the total eclipse of the Classic generation at Sandown on Saturday, two Derby winners head the market for the next round on the middle-distance circuit, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot on 26 July.

Despite the fact that the first three-year-old home in the 106th Eclipse Stakes, Hold That Tiger, finished an unsighted ninth, seven lengths behind the winner Falbrav, the public's faith remains undiminished. One bookmaking firm, Hills, reported yesterday that Derby third Alamshar, who brought Dalakhani's winning streak to an end in the Irish Derby, had hardened to 3-1 favourite for the Ascot showpiece, with Kris Kin, victor at Epsom, next choice at 4-1.

Falbrav is not yet a certain King George starter, and that and the way the race panned out on Saturday are reflected in his current King George odds of 6-1, compared with his three-quarter length victim Nayef's 5-1. But our hero came out of his tussle in fine fettle. "He's absolutely fine," said trainer Luca Cumani yesterday morning.

"He's eaten up everything, had a walk out and a roll in the sand pit. In the medium term the York International [19 August] is the target and whether we take in Ascot on the way depends on how he is, the likely strength of the field and the going; we don't have to make a decision yet. In the longer term, the Arc, with the likelihood of the soft ground which does not suit him, is probably not an option. But the Breeders Cup Turf could come into the picture."

For Cumani, the five-year-old entire could hardly be more appropriately named. In the Anglophile Italian's local Milanese dialect, Falbrav translates as "be good". At Sandown, he was, and his rather easy triumph - in which he had a dream run, quickened clear the way a high-class operator should, and was always holding Nayef, who had been impeded by one of the pacemakers - marked another notch on the gate at Bedford House, where business has been steadily recovering since a roller-coaster ride with one of his chief patrons, the Aga Khan, during the Nineties.

To be fair to Cumani, 54, he has produced a Group 1 winner every year since the Aga finally removed his custom in 1999. But even he admits that the glory days now are fewer and further between. "They don't come as thick and fast as when we had 200 horses here. We've got only 75 now, and weight of numbers tells."

Cumani, who took over Falbrav from a colleague in Italy after the horse's Japan Cup victory in November, has not relinquished the lease on the overflow accommodation, currently surplus to requirements, that adjoins his main premises on Newmarket's Bury Road. "The best way to attract new owners is through results," he said. "Deeds are more important than words. One problem is that owners often want to go to the new kid on the block; there's the excitement of spotting new talent. But equally, you can't beat experience."

As was manifest on Saturday on the track. Falbrav, a great, handsome bull of a horse with a fighting weight of some 480kg, and equally imposing Nayef are two battle-hardened globetrotters, winners between them of 16 races, eight at Group 1 level, in five countries, and a real advertisement for keeping mature horses in training. The score between them is now one-all and if the season has not yet produced an outstanding champion the Eclipse set up a series of gripping encounters to come.

Apart from Falbrav's earnings, now more than £2.25m, part-owner Luciano Salice has, apparently, made his fortune by being the world's largest manufacturer of hinges for kitchen furniture. Cumani will be happy if the exploits of his admirable horse open a few more doors.

In terms of durability, however, the likes of Falbrav and Nayef pale into insignificance. In numerical terms their aggregate efforts do not come close to those of the horse who rightly earned the biggest ovation on Saturday, and their combined ages only equal his. Persian Punch, at 10, has covered a total of 113 miles in anger.

The Esher Stakes, his 57th race, brought his 17th victory, a short-head one snatched in his usual indomitable style from the jaws of defeat. The existence of the will to win in most members of the equine species, which does not own the human concept of glory, is debatable, but surely not in the case of this ageless veteran.

The Godolphin team remains stuck on 99 top-level winners worldwide after New South Wales flopped in yesterday's German Derby. The winner was Olivier Peslier's mount Dai Jin, who beat former Mark Johnson inmate Ransom O'War. The next Group 1 in Britain is Thursday's July Cup, finale to the eponymous meeting that starts tomorrow on Newmarket's summer course.

* Jamie Spencer has decided not to appeal against the five-day suspension he received for improper riding on Narrative in Saturday's Eclipse.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: No Refuge

(Ripon 7.50)

NB: Knockdoo

(Musselburgh 4.15)

Comments