Racing: Armiger hands Cecil a Derby dilemma: The Chester Vase falls to a leading Epsom contender but the colt may be redirected to Chantilly

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THE FIRST round of Henry Cecil's Derby interviews were completed at Chester yesterday, but there was still no suggestion as to who would get the

Epsom job.

Armiger, like his stablemates Tenby and Commander In Chief before him, won his trial in the Chester Vase, but all three will probably run again before final arrangements for 2 June are made.

Armiger's detractors will point out that he struggled for some time to beat a poor field; supporters will highlight the tenacity exhibited by the chestnut colt on ground too firm for his liking.

The equation is further complicated by the fact that Warren Place may be two-handed at Epsom. 'I'm not averse to running two and I don't think the Prince (Khalid Abdullah, who owns all three colts) is either,' Cecil said.

The inference here is that the fledgling Commander In Chief will be allowed to show the full breadth of his promise in the Derby, while either Tenby or Armiger will be transported to the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) on 6 June. Logic leads to the latter.

Cecil believes Armiger to be a more potent beast travelling right-handed (like Chantilly but unlike Epsom) and a more comfortable performer on easing ground (usually available at Chantilly but not at Epsom).

But the Newmarket trainer was not about to nail Abdullah's pink and green colours to any mast. 'It depends how they come out of their races and the ground,' he said. 'The horses will tell us which way to go.'

Armiger was, as usual, the most ornate of the paddock paraders, his shining coat, three white socks and blaze a reminder of the four-legged friends usually found beneath television cowboys.

However, unlike in other forays, he was an uneasy figure as he twisted around the Roodeye's tight circuit. But though this horse has the looks of a dilettante, he has none of the manner, and as soon as the flatlands of the straight were reached he pulled clear. 'He dropped the bridle but then I got him back on it and in the last furlong he really lengthened,' Pat Eddery, his rider, reported.

Cecil was no less pleased by Armiger's application. 'Like a lot of good horses he is lazy at home and he'll come on for the race,' he said. 'Did you see him blow afterwards? He could have blown you over.

'He was hating the ground and it was the wrong way round for him really, so I thought it was a very good effort. He has got very good speed and a lot of guts.'

Some thought the effort had a Continental touch about it, and Ladbrokes knocked Armiger out to 10-1 (from 8-1) for the Derby, while cutting Tenby to 2- 1 (from 5-2). The horse's trainer thought this a touch presumptuous. 'I would call the betting a bit of wishful thinking because I think it's too early at this stage,' he said. 'Everyone should sit and watch.'

Spectating resumes next Wednesday when Tenby runs in the Dante Stakes at York, where he is expected to be an improved animal from the one that battled home at Newmarket last week. 'I think you will see a different Tenby at York,' Cecil said. Commander In Chief competes at the Knavesmire the following day, while Armiger's final presentation may be in the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood on 18 May.

Those with the Armiger dockets will at least be comforted by the fact that, despite the intrinsic difficulties the Roodeye presented yesterday, their horse still managed to beat standard time for the race by over a second.

This, though, was not enough to surpass the record mark set in 1989 by another Cecil horse, Old Vic. That colt, intriguingly, went on to win the French Derby in a year when many said he would have given Nashwan a race in the Epsom equivalent. It may yet be that when the Cognacs are swirling at racing tables after this season's Derbys, similar arguments will be conducted.

THE DERBY (Epsom, 2 June): Coral: 5-2 Tenby, 5-1 Armiger, 7-1 Commander In Chief, 10-1 Barathea & Taos, 14-1 Bin Ajwaad; Ladbrokes: 2-1 Tenby, 7-1 Commander In Chief, 10-1 Armiger, 12-1 Barathea, 14-1 Taos, 16-1 Planetary Aspect; William Hill: 2-1 Tenby, 6-1 Armiger, 8-1 Commander In Chief, 12-1 Barathea & Taos, 14-1 Bin Ajwaad, 16-1 Planetary Aspect & Revere.