Pearl gleams in the Irish mud

Sue Montgomery looks for Epsom clues on a weekend of Classic action
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RIDGEWOOD Pearl swept to an impressive victory in the Irish 1,000 Guineas at The Curragh yesterday as the hot favourite Harayir floundered in fifth place on the rain-softened ground. The winner, ridden by Christy Roche and trained by John Oxx, quickened past her stablemate Khaytada two furlongs out and strode away to win by four lengths.

Behind her the Clive Brittain-trained Warning Shadows, supplemented to the race last week, stayed on well from off the pace to take second place from Khaytada, with the French raider Ghostly fourth, but Ridgewood Pearl's superiority was absolute. Her next target is the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Willie Carson kept Harayir, the 11-10 favourite to become the first filly to win both the English and Irish Guineas, handy behind the leaders, but there was little response when he asked her for her effort in the straight.

The Classic action switches to Italy today, where events in Rome will decide whether one of the Derby's greatest supporters has a runner at Epsom 13 days hence. Court Of Honour, owned by Robert Sangster, contests the Derby Italiano this afternoon, and a good showing will book his ticket for the real thing.

Sangster's record in the Derby is outstanding, the best of any living English owner. He has won twice, with The Minstrel and Golden Fleece, finished second with Hawaiian Sound, El Gran Senor, Glacial Storm and Blue Stag, and third or fourth with Shearwalk, Salmon Leap, Cairo Prince and Colonel Collins.

And he wholeheartedly defends the race against those critics who declare that it is rapidly losing its status. He said: "It is still the race to win, and I know if Celtic Swing was mine there would be no question of him not running. It is the best test of a three-year-old, and it sets the standard for the rest of the season."

Sangster is not only an owner, but one of the shrewdest dealers and breeders in the industry. He added: "From a commercial point of view a win in the Derby is still extremely important when marketing a stallion. The Derby is the Derby, and needs no other identification. It is the original, and still the best."

The Italian version should be within the compass of Court Of Honour, but even if he passes today's exam Sangster is under no illusions about the task he will face at Epsom. He said: "He's probably a better horse than some I've had placed before, but they would have run in years when there was just one hot-shot, and it was worth taking pot luck.

"This year there are three very good ones, Pennekamp, Celtic Swing and Spectrum, and I think it would be hoping too much for them all to have an off-day. But I love having a runner, and if Court Of Honour wins well in Rome then he will deserve to take his chance."

The big bay colt, trained like Spectrum at Manton by Sangster's son-in- law Peter Chapple-Hyam, is a son of the Derby runner-up Law Society, who had Celtic Swing's sire Damister one place behind him at Epsom. Chapple- Hyam, who won the Italian race with White Muzzle two years ago, said: "Court Of Honour has improved no end since his close second first time out at Chester, he gets every yard of a mile and a half and he is tough and genuine. And whatever happens in his Derbies he will develop into a serious St Leger prospect."

There are five other British-trained colts challenging this afternoon for the pounds 240,000 Group 1 prize, unclaimed by the home side for the past six years: Precede and Royal Scimitar (Paul Cole), Luso (Clive Brittain), Anchor Clever (Paul Kelleway) and Balliol Boy (Henry Cecil), who also still holds the Derby engagement.

The Derby outsider Traikey, from Jack Banks's small Newmarket yard, remains on course for Epsom after going down by less than a length on his seasonal debut at Doncaster.

The colt, having only the second run of his life after missing the 2,000 Guineas with a lung infection, had every chance a furlong out and stayed on gamely behind narrow winner Don Corleone and Minds Music.