Lammtarra joins legends

The Derby: Sheikh's horse shakes the racing world to repay faith of the trainer who was shot dead

LAMMTARRA, racing for only the second time in his life, won a sensational and poignant 216th Derby - the first held on a Saturday since Coronation year - with a blistering swoop under Walter Swinburn that cut down Tamure and Presenting in the final half-furlong, with the hot favourite Pennekamp nowhere.

Sensational not only for the manner of his victory, which smashed the race record, but because he also achieved the almost unheard-of feat of winning the world's premier race on his seasonal debut. And poignant, because last year Lammtarra was in the stable of the late Alex Scott, shot dead last September.

Lammtarra's remarkable triumph provided a magnificent Classic double, after Moonshell's Oaks victory on Friday, for Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai- based Godolphin stable. But the Sheikh's first words after the race were not for himself. He said: "This is a dream come true, but my thoughts are now of Alex. He made this horse early in his career, and was quite convinced he would win the Derby."

The dead trainer's faith in Lammtarra was such that he placed pounds 1,000 at 33-1 for the Derby after the colt won his sole two-year-old race. Bookmakers are not noted for their generosity, but Ladbrokes, who took the wager, waived the death-cancels-bets rule and will send a cheque to Scott's widow tomorrow.

As Court of Honour led the field into the straight at a tremendous pace, it was clear that both Pennekamp and the second favourite, Spectrum, were in trouble. And when 50-1 shot Fahal took the lead and stretched clear three furlongs out, a shock result looked on the cards.

It took Tamure until well inside the final furlong to catch Fahal, with his John Gosden stablemate, Presenting, on the fast ground he loves, thundering at his heels, but neither had any answer to the speed of Lammtarra. The slightly-built chestnut had only three behind him turning into the straight but once Swinburn asked him the question, the horse belied his inexperience and won going away by a length. A suggestion that he brushed Munwar in passing was dismissed by the stewards.

It was an emotional victory for Swinburn, one of Scott's close friends, and, after he passed the post, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. He said later: "I couldn't stay as close to the pace as I wanted early, and was a long way back at the top of the hill. Turning into the straight I prayed to God - and for Alex - that a gap would come. But the horses in front of me parted like the sea for Moses. I believed in God before, but even more now." It was Swinburn's third Derby victory after Shergar (1981) and Shahrastani (1986).

The statistics tell their own story. Lammtarra's winning time of 2min 32.31sec shattered by a full second-and-a-half Mahmoud's hand-recorded winning time in 1936. The colt is the first product of a Derby winner (Nijinsky) and an Oaks winner (Snow Bride) to win Flat racing's blue riband and was the first since Grand Parade in 1919 to win the Derby on his seasonal debut, and the first since Morston in 1973 to win on his second outing.

After Scott's death, Lammtarra - whose name in Arabic means invisible - was transferred to Sheikh Mohammed's desert base, and the colt's win yesterday was justification of the Sheikh's policy of removing his best horses from Britain to spend their winter in the sun. Lammtarra returned in April to Newmarket, where he is under the care of Saeed bin Suroor, for his European campaign. Lammtarra's seasonal debut was delayed because he contracted a virus in Dubai, and it was always a race against time to get him to the post yesterday.

The records will show that the Sheikh has yet to win the Derby - yesterday Tamure carried his maroon-and-white colours into the runner-up spot for the second successive year - but Lammtarra's magnificent victory, in the green colours of his student nephew Saeed (at 19, the youngest-ever winning owner) was, for him, just as good. The Sheikh, who is crown prince and defence minister of his country as well as the leading racehorse owner in Britain for nine of the past 10 years, said afterwards: "To win with a horse from Dubai has given me as much pleasure as winning four Derbies in my own colours. It has been a marvellous effort by all the Godolphin team, who have worked so hard with an inexperienced horse to win this race."

But there was pain as well as well as pleasure yesterday, as Epsom's switchback course took its toll. Pennekamp (whose disappointed trainer Andre Fabre had some consolation with Sunshack's Coronation Cup victory) and Spectrum both pulled up lame, and Daffaq, who gallantly made the early pace for Munwar and Fahal, broke a knee and had to be put down.

Meanwhile, Peter Savill, who withdrew the winter favourite Celtic Swing from the race, had no regrets about his decision to go for the French Derby: "The ground would have been too fast. I know I was right."

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