Horse racing: Spotlight thrown on dark horse Mutamam

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The Independent Online
IT IS always a fair sign that punters are not happy with the leading names in the Derby betting when a horse is backed for the Classic without so much as seeing a starting stall. It is little surprise, then, that at a time when three of the first four horses in most bookies' lists are offered "with a run", a run of a different sort has started on one of the outsiders, Mutamam, whose chance of leaping from relative obscurity to immortality in a little under three weeks will be put to the test at Goodwood today.

Mutamam was freely available at 33-1 for the Derby just 72 hours ago, but is now a 16-1 chance with two of the leading bookmakers and will be closing on single figures if he wins today's Predominate Stakes with sufficient authority. Those who have backed him, clearly, are taking a stab in the dark, but they may also feel that they have a better chance than usual of drawing blood, for Mutamam's credentials are not, as is often the case, based solely on excited accounts of his work on the gallops.

That is not to say that Alec Stewart has not been convinced since fairly on in Mutamam's juvenile career that the colt was his best Classic prospect for some time. There is also solid form to back up his opinion, however, in the shape of Mutamam's third place to Saratoga Springs in last year's Racing Post Trophy, when Michael Hills, his jockey, was sufficiently upset about interference in the home straight to lodge an unsuccessful objection to the first two home.

Following the success of Saratoga Springs in the Dante Stakes last week, that performance looks better still. For those optimistic souls who prefer breeding to form, meanwhile, there is encouragement in Mutamam's pedigree, since he is a son of Darshaan and closely related to Stewart's brilliant performer of a decade ago, Mtoto, who has already sired a Derby winner himself in Shaamit.

The really fancy prices about Mutamam winning at Epsom on 6 June have gone, and he may be even shorter this morning following the confirmation yesterday that Dr Fong, among the ante-post favourites until his poor run in the Dante Stakes, will run in the Prix Jean Prat over nine furlongs on 31 May rather than the Derby. It will be no surprise, though, to see Stewart's runner justify very short odds this afternoon to confirm that if nothing else, he certainly deserves to be in the field for next month's Classic.

The remaining televised races from Goodwood should provide winners at something more of a working person's price, with Adjutant (next best 2.40) the one to back in the seven-furlong handicap which precedes the Predominate. A hour later, NO EXTRAS (nap 3.40) can demonstrate yet again that, like any sensible racegoer, he is particularly fond of Goodwood.

Very much at the other end of most people's list of favourite courses is the Rowley Mile at Newmarket, but it may move up a few places at least following the completion of a new development project, which the course unveiled yesterday.

The "Millennium Grandstand", which will cost pounds 16m to build, will replace the current grandstand, which was built in 1875. Building work will begin after the season ends on the Rowley Mile in October, and as a result, all Newmarket's fixtures for 1999, including the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, will be staged on the July course. This will also mean the Cambridgeshire Handicap being run over a mile and quarter rather than the traditional nine furlongs, while the Cesarewitch will be reduced from two and a quarter miles to two miles and 24 yards.

The development runs somewhat counter to much of the accepted wisdom in racing, which seems to hold that the sport is down to its last 50p piece. Features of the new stand, which is designed to hold up to 10,000 people, will include a panoramic restaurant, private boxes and the latest in betting technology. Cynics who are sick of watching races which start in a different county, however, may still complain that the only thing left for the management to do afterwards will be to build a proper racecourse outside.