Pacemaker can quicken the pulse

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Perhaps it is because so much has happened in between - football has come home, the Olympics are upon us, and England have even won a Test series - but it feels like a great deal more than 49 days since Shaamit burst clear of Dushyantor to win the Derby. Like Lammtarra 12 months before, he had won just once before and was making his seasonal debut at Epsom, and the symmetry will continue this afternoon when Shaamit contests the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. At last we should discover just how good he really is.

The parallels with last year's race do not stop there. Before the 1995 King George, the form of Lammtarra's Derby appeared shaky, and many believed he was a sub-standard winner of the Classic who had simply beaten an even poorer field. The magnitude of this error soon became clear as the chestnut won not only at Ascot, where he beat Pentire by a neck, but also at Longchamp in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

It is as natural as punting to wish to see the Derby winner prove himself a champion, but the merit of Shaamit's race too has been cast into doubt, as only one of the horses he beat at Epsom has managed to win since. This does not seem to bother many backers, though, since Shaamit has been supported past Pentire in the ante-post market this week, and seems likely to start favourite today at around 2-1, with Pentire 5-2.

Pentire's return to the scene of his gallant defeat last year provides more than just a intriguing form line to Lammtarra. As the leading member of the four-year-old generation, his presence is essential to the King George's claim to be a true championship event.

Perhaps because of the growing additional attraction of the Breeders' Cup meeting in November, the best French middle-distance horses seem ever more reluctant to run at Ascot in high summer, and their absence today is very disappointing. The only Irish runner, meanwhile, is not Zagreb, their six-length Derby winner, but Oscar Schindler, who is useful and sturdy but somewhat uninspiring.

From the purists' point of view, Shaamit's performance is all important. Punters, however, must look at things from a different perspective, trying to find the value that can win the battle with the bookmaker, and at such compressed odds, neither Shaamit nor Pentire makes any appeal in what is a more open race that it might appear. Classic Cliche, the Gold Cup winner, would prefer another couple of furlongs, and the same is true of Strategic Choice. Remove these from consideration and suddenly it is 10-1 bar.

Those who took 33-1 about Farasan when Coral opened their book a fortnight ago need go no further, since Henry Cecil's three-year-old is highly talented and still improving. Those who did not should ask themselves: how can it be that Oscar Schindler is 10-1 for today's race when a horse which finished just half a length behind him over course and distance last month is priced up at 80-1?

The reason, it seems, is that Annus Mirabilis is perceived to be simply a pacemaker for Classic Cliche, his Godolphin stablemate. There are good reasons, though, to believe that while Annus Mirabilis is unlikely to win, in an eight-runner race which will pay three places, backing him each-way is a reasonable option.

In fact, Annus Mirabilis wins rarely, but what he does with great regularity is find the frame. Last season, he did so three times in Group One company, and at Ladbrokes' early quote of 80-1, he is all of 16-1 to make the first three. For a colt who was beaten less than a length in last year's Irish Derby, this is a ridiculous price, all the more so when the visor which is fitted for the first time could concentrate his wandering mind and extract a little improvement on his form this year.

"He's running on his merits, and if you look at his form with Oscar Schindler he's very much entitled to be there," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said yesterday. "He's too good to be called a pacemaker. The trip could just find him out, but he's particularly well at the moment."

Quite simply, the value bet in the King George is a little each-way on ANNUS MIRABILIS (nap 3.40) at 80-1. A less speculative choice elsewhere on the card is Russian Music (next best 2.00) in the ladies' race, in which the range of talent, both equine and human, is as wide as ever. Gay Kelleway's runner is one of the few with ability on both sides of the saddle. Imroz (2.35) will be very difficult to beat, but at too short a price to take an interest.