There must be something in the air in Upper Lambourn. Two days after Noel Chance, the Berkshire racing village's most famous resident, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Jacqui Doyle, his next-door neighbour, took the jewel in the all-weather circuit crown, the Winter Derby. Her charge Zanay justified warm favouritism to repel a dual German challenge for the £55,000 contest, though for much of the ten-furlong trip neither the four-year-old's trainer or jockey thought they had any chance of collecting.
Zanay, notching a hat-trick, was caught flat-footed by the lightning early pace, was off the bridle by the first turn and hating the kickback of sand in his face. Tom McLaughlin, the man in the saddle, said: "After three furlongs I was hitting the panic button. But then he began to run and three out I knew I'd win."
McLaughlin actually showed no signs of flapping, gradually easing his mount out wide to avoid the flying grit, before bringing him with a smooth run to tackle the German six-year-old Widar at the head of the home straight before producing a vigorous finish to hold the late thrust of Widar's compatriot Aljaarif by a length and three-quarters.
If Zanay bounces back quickly, he may tackle Saturday's Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster, for which he remains a 20-1 shot. Les immediately he is unlikely to be asked to follow in the hoofprints of Running Stag, winner of the first Winter Derby two years ago and since a dual Grade Two winner on dirt in the States, but Doyle is convinced that the rangy Forzando colt may reach a similar level of ability on grass.
Tom Ford and Bob Sanso, Zanay's owners, have turned down recent six-figure offers for their rising star. Doyle said: "There has been a lot of talk about this horse going to race in the US and not running again on turf. But I train him and know him best and I disagree. I know he's won three times on sand now, but he's a big individual and hits the ground heavily and if we keep banging him on the dirt we soon wouldn't have a horse.
"His forte will be grass, and he is still improving and I would think he could win a Group race by the end of the year. We will decide about the Lincoln in a day or two. The worry might be that he would be outpaced over a mile in a race where they go flat out from the start."
Running Stag will turn out on a rather more exotic sand track on Saturday as one of two British-trained representatives in the $6m Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, at Nad Al Sheba. The admirable Philip Mitchell-trained horse and Lear Spear (David Elsworth), who finished second and third in the Hong Kong Cup in December, have been acclimatising in Dubai and have both finished second in their prep races earlier in the month.
Dubai Millennium is the 4-6 favourite with Ladbrokes for the World Cup on the strength of two European Group One wins last year - in the Prix Jacques le Marois and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes - and his record-breaking warm-up at Nad Al Sheba, when he became the first horse to break two minutes for the mile and a quarter. Dubai Millennium is poised to fill Daylami's shoes as the next Flat superstar. It is a mantle the four-year-old has had on his shoulders for some time; when he was a yearling he showed such potential Sheikh Mohammed changed his name with the express hope he should develop into an athlete capable of winning World Cup 2000 for the home side.
The mount of Frankie Dettori, Dubai Millennium will be one of three runners from Godolphin's Al Quoz headquarters, accompanied to post by Gracioso (Sylvain Guillot) and Worldly Manner (Jerry Bailey). The six American hopes among the 16 entries include Behrens and Malek, last year's runner-up.
One man who once would have been an automatic choice for a World Cup mount will continue his comeback at Doncaster. Two years ago yesterday Walter Swinburn made his first return to action after injury and health problems, which refused to roll over. He tries again on the week's smaller stage, butthe important thing is not wherehe plays the game, but that he is playing it at all.
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