Racing: Admiral rises above Holland slip

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The Independent Online
COMPTON ADMIRAL, the 20-1 outsider of the eight-strong field, bounced back from two Classic defeats to take the 102nd Eclipse Stakes here at Sandown yesterday in a tight finish from Xaar and Fantastic Light. But the little bay colt entirely justified the faith that his trainer, Gerard Butler, and owner, Erik Penser, retained in his ability despite, rather than because of, his jockey Darryll Holland.

In a fumbling display that would have shamed an apprentice on his debut ride, let alone a senior jockey in a Group One race, Holland managed to drop his reins as he changed his hands a furlong from the finish and then, having regained control, dropped his hands close home to allow Xaar to reduce the winning margin to a neck.

Whether Holland, who was riding Compton Admiral for the first time yesterday, is invited back to his saddle remains to be seen. But in the aftermath of the race Butler, in only his second full season with a licence, was enjoying his greatest moment. His Suave Dancer colt had promised so much when he won the Craven Stakes in the spring but then disappointed when 13th in the Guineas and 8th in the Derby.

"He is a horse who has always gone from A to B in a most professional manner," Butler said, "and we never lost faith. Our heads were down after the Guineas, but we thought the ground was probably too firm for him. In the Derby he travelled well for a long way and he did get home over the distance, but not effectively in that company. I would think that this 10 furlongs would suit him best."

From having Compton Admiral close to the moderate early pace produced as Xaar led Running Stag down the back, Holland managed to shuffle back to nearly last. In the straight luck was on the jockey's side as he found a clear passage next to the rails and was poised to pounce on Xaar when the reins slipped from his hands. To the credit of Compton Admiral, who is small, handy and balanced, he maintained his impetus and the tricky moment passed.

If not the most stylish win of Holland's career, it was the most prestigious. "The reins just slipped from my hands," he said, "but the horse buckled down. He's like a little rabbit going through the gaps, and really gutsy."

Croco Rouge, the favourite, was the 31st French-trained challenger since the last Gallic winner, Javelot in 1960, but failed to buck the trend. He finished second last after a troubled passage in the straight.

Compton Admiral was the first three-year-old to win the Eclipse, the first middle-distance inter-generation elite clash of the season, since Environment Friend eight years ago and with his contemporary Fantastic Light in third the indications are that the 1999 Classic crop is well up to standard.

There was nothing to disabuse the notion at Haydock, where Noushkey paid a huge compliment to her Oaks conqueror, Ramruma, due out in the Irish Oaks next weekend, with a stunning eight-length demolition of her six rivals in the Lancashire version.

Her trainer, Michael Jarvis, was understandably pleased. "She is becoming very special," he said, "she has put on so much condition since Epsom. She is progressive, revels in going with cut, quickens and stays a mile and a half well." Those sound like perfect credentials for Arc contenders and Jarvis should know, with one winner of the autumn showpiece, Carroll House, to his credit. Noushkey is owned by Sheikh Ahmed, whose Mtoto was narrowly beaten in Paris and after yesterday's eye-opening performance the filly may yet emerge as an equally credible candidate.

"We will now have to sit down and discuss it," Jarvis said. "There are some valuable fillies-only races, like the Yorkshire Oaks, and she is in the St Leger, as is Ramruma, and although Ramruma has beaten us twice we won't duck her for ever."

An indication of the open nature of the sprint division came yesterday when 23 were declared for Thursday's July Cup at Newmarket. Open, of course, can be a euphemism for moderate, and the fact that a horse who has not yet run in a specialist sprint is favourite, at 6-1, in the ante-post exchanges would not be a contra-indication. The one with the burden of expectation is Wannabe Grand, dropping back to six furlongs after finishing runner-up in the 1,000 Guineas and third in the Coronation Stakes.

Today's Group One encounter is in France where Dream Well stakes his claim as the best 12-furlong four-year-old in the Grand Prix de Saint- Cloud. His rivals include last year's Arc winner Sagamix, high-class Japanese performer El Condor Pasa and German crack Tiger Hill. The British raider is the Michael Stoute-trained Greek Dance.