No safety in Derby numbers

RACING: With 30 horses declared for the premier Classic there are plenty of potential hazards to block Pennekamp's finishing drive
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The Independent Online
Thirty names remain in the Derby after the latest declaration stage yesterday, including all the ones which matter, but while the ante-post market was thoroughly unmoved, some might argue that the odds against Pennekamp, the favourite, should have edged out by a fraction of a point. He is, remember, a horse who delivers his challenge at the last moment, and the straight at Epsom is a fiendishly difficult place to do that when the no-hopers and non-stayers begin to roll down the camber towards the far rail.

Even if only half of yesterday's declarations actually make it to Epsom, there will surely be plenty of exhausted obstacles careering into the path of any horse coming from off the pace. It didn't stop Erhaab last year, of course, but after the potentially lethal fall of Foyer on the descent to Tattenham Corner, Willie Carson, Erhaab's rider, complained that too many no-hopers were taking part in the Derby and that some sort of quality threshold should be enforced in future.

Unfortunately, he did not explain quite how this might be achieved, and since a fair method for rooting out vanity entries remains elusive, a big field may again go to post on 10 June. Carson, who is expected to ride Munwar, should not be too inconvenienced as Peter Walwyn's colt made the running at Lingfield last time, but the Epsom unsaddling enclosure will, as ever, be knee-deep in hard-luck stories after the race, even if some of them are taller than the smart new grandstand. It is, at least, something to consider before supporting the favourite at short odds.

The Derby was the only Classic worth pondering here yesterday, after a Lupe Stakes which demonstrated only that John Dunlop's horses are in excellent form as his Aqaarid enters the final phase of her preparation for the Oaks. Of the nine runners in yesterday's Lupe, in theory the last recognised Oaks trial, only one, Snowtown, was entered for the Classic, although any of the others could be added at the supplementary stage.

Snowtown, however, was soundly beaten, and after Dunlop's Subya had fought off Tillandsia and Yarn it was clear that a late entry for any of them would be the grandest folly. "She's not in the French Oaks either," the winning trainer said, "so maybe we'll think about the Ribblesdale." A point worth recalling before that 12-furlong event at Royal Ascot, though, is that Dunlop was mildly surprised yesterday that Subya's stamina had lasted even 10.

A more convincing stayer was Clive Brittain's Mercadier, who took the 14-furlong handicap under an expertly judged ride by Brett Doyle. Having kicked clear as they ran downhill towards the home turn, Mercadier's neck advantage over Wishing at the post would not have survived another stride, and it is a memory that should ease Doyle's frustration as he starts a six-day suspension today.

His holiday could have been timed rather better, though, as Michael Roberts, the former champion jockey and a long-standing employee of Brittain, returns to British racing today after a three-month stint in Japan. The next few days could prove highly rewarding for Brittain, with his 1993 1,000 Guineas winner, Sayyedati, contesting a valuable event at Longchamp this afternoon, and fancied runners in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Italian Derby at the weekend.

Mercadier is a feisty horse to train, but avoided a gelding operation over the winter since Brittain believes that "when a horse has that much fire, if you cut them you take the fire away, and it never comes back".

Mercadier's gratitude should become further apparent in the top stayers' handicaps this summer.

DERBY ACCEPTORS: Annus Mirabilis (M Stoute), Balliol Boy (H Cecil), Bulletin Rose (J Beguigne), Celtic Swing (Lady Herries), Court Of Honour (P Chapple- Hyam), Daffaq (P Walwyn), Diamond Mix (A Fabre), Fahal (D Morley), Flemensfirth (J Gosden), Humbel (D Weld), Istidaad (A Stewart), Juyush (B Hills), Korambi (C Brittain), Lamatarra (Saeed bin Suroor), Maralinga (M Bell), Munwar (P Walwyn), Oslo Connection (J de Roualle), Pennekamp (A Fabre), Poly Amanshaa (-), Presenting (J Gosden), Riyadian (P Cole), Salmon Ladder (P Cole), Sebastian (H Cecil), Shockadelica (-), Spectrum (P Chapple-Hyam), Stelvio (H Cecil), Tamure (J Gosden), Traikey (J Banks), Vettori (Saeed bin Suroor), Welsh Run (-).