Racing: Adair impresses as Derby prospect

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FIVE YEARS after it began as an audacious experiment in the Dubai's reclaimed desert, the Godolphin operation has still not lost its capacity to surprise. Two weeks ago, the omens were bad and the prophets were unanimous that Adair, bought for a President's ransom from America last season, did not stand the slightest chance of lining up for the Derby at Epsom in less than a fortnight. Some wondered whether he would ever race in Britain at all. And yet this morning, after a racecourse gallop at Leicester yesterday, Adair is back among the leaders in the ante-post betting.

This may come as a shock to anyone who backed another Godolphin runner, Dubai Millennium, after his win in the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood last week. It seemed then that the royal blue had found its Derby runner, and Frankie Dettori his mount. Now, though, Adair sits almost alongside Dubai Millennium at 9-1 for Epsom, and Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, is stressing that "Frankie is not committed to either horse at the moment."

Since Dubai Millennium has solid racecourse form in the book - he won the Predominate by three and a half lengths - Dettori must have felt something exciting at the other end of his reins yesterday. Adair was probably the most promising two-year-old in the States last season, but while he has not suffered any specific physical problems, he has taken time to acclimatise since arriving in Britain at the start of the month and missed his expected debut in the Dante Stakes at York.

"It's probably a blessing in disguise that he didn't go there as we would have been forced to pull him out because of the soft ground," Crisford said. "What we saw this morning is a colt who is now very much on course for Epsom. He worked very nicely and over the final two furlongs exerted his superiority to finish about a length and a half in front of Rhagaas with Slip Stream [the Dante third] and two lead horses further back. He stays well, handles an undulating track and basically seems to be making the necessary progress at just the right time. What I liked very much about this morning's gallop was that he was doing all his best work at the finish."

Both Saffron Waldon, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, and now Adair have received single-figure quotes for Epsom in the last two days, and at this rate, the Classic on 5 June could be the first ever with more favourites than outsiders. There is certainly nothing to deter anyone with a half- decent three-year-old among the entries from having a stab, and the final field could well be enormous.

One of the more lively outsiders, Housemaster, will have a racecourse gallop of his own tomorrow, this time at Epsom itself. The Chester Vase "winner", who was disqualified for causing interference but was quite obviously the best horse in the race, will be ridden by Willie Ryan, who will be back in the plate on the big day.

"Housemaster is going to familiarise himself with the course," Michael Bell, his trainer, said yesterday. "A bit of match practice can't do him any harm, and it will be the first time that Willie has been able to ride him, but he is the most straightforward ride in the yard, an absolute Christian. Touch wood, all the stable are running out of their skins and as of now, 12 days away from the race, Housemaster is in excellent shape."

Another long-shot with a chance, the 2,000 Guineas fourth Brancaster, will work over 10 furlongs at Manton today. "He will do some serious work over a mile and a quarter, ridden by Jimmy Fortune," Harry Herbert, racing manager to Brancaster's owners, said yesterday. "Brancaster is notoriously lazy at home but he worked well with Jimmy on for the first time last week."

Leggera, the Arc runner-up and half-sister to John Dunlop's Derby hope Lucido, made a disappointing return to action when last of five to the Andre Fabre-trained Public Purse in the Group Two Prix Jean de Chaudenay at Saint-Cloud yesterday. Henry Cecil's Silver Rhapsody weakened into fourth in a disappointing race for the British raiders.

Dunlop cited the drying ground as the cause for the filly's defeat. "She really does need it heavy and we will need to make sure that conditions are right in future," he said

n David Loder, in charge of Godolphin's French two-year-old operation, has his first runners, City On A Hill and Beautiful Canyon in his new role at Chantilly today.