Racing: Armiger toils and Tenby's odds tumble: Prospects of a 'one-horse' Derby are increasing after one of his most potent rivals loses an unbeaten record in France

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The Independent Online
THE hope that Armiger might summon up a performance that would make his presence at Epsom imperative and thus save the Derby from becoming a pushover for his stable-companion Tenby has finally fizzled out. Armiger's defeat in the Prix Lupin at Longchamp yesterday makes his participation uncertain in even the French equivalent, the Prix du Jockey Club.

Not that the colt, unbeaten until yesterday, was beaten far in the Group One event that is France's principal trial for the middle-distance Classics. After trying to make all the running, and then battling on bravely, he went under by only a neck to the Francois Boutin-trained Hernando.

However, the win was a decisive one and so were the words of Armiger's rider, Pat Eddery, after the defeat. 'If I had been riding Regency I would have won 15 lengths,' Eddery said, referring to the Criquette Head-trained colt on whom he won last Sunday's Prix Hocquart and who is now likely to carry him and the first colours of Khalid Abdullah in the Prix du Jockey Club.

The defeat kills those dreams of winter that pictured Armiger developing into the leader of his generation during his second season on the track; developing his impressive physique and improving past the diminutive Tenby; stretching for home in the Derby, the King George, the Arc.

The first of those races would certainly seem the least likely occasion for Armiger to restore his reputation. Unable to act properly on ground that was no faster than good at Longchamp, he is unlikely to take kindly to Epsom's fast-drying undulations. 'The horse continually changed legs, which is abnormal for a horse who is not under pressure,' Eddery said. 'He also did it at Chester (where he won the Vase) but never did it as a two-year-old.'

Since then, however, Armiger has suffered with his back, a factor which was played down at the time by his trainer, Henry Cecil, but which may now emerge as a factor in his failure to progress. 'It was possibly too fast for Armiger,' Cecil said at Longchamp. 'But it is unusual for a horse to keep switching legs like that, so perhaps there was something wrong with him.'

There is certainly something wrong with the Derby which is looking limp and pallid with no serious rival emerging to challenge Tenby.

With Armiger now deleted from the betting and Barathea failing to make an impression in winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Saturday, Tenby is the shortest-priced Derby favourite of the post-War era at 2-5. Tudor Minstrel, the beaten favourite of 1947, started at odds of 4-7, but had a brilliant victory in the 2,000 Guineas to his credit. Tenby has nothing nearly so remarkable in the book and his position is simply due to the paucity of opposition.

This time last week, remember, Tenby was still on offer at odds of 2-1 against. On Monday, Bin Ajwaad, second in those lists, was removed by injury and Tenby went to 13-8. Victory in Wednesday's Dante Stakes brought him to odds-on at 4-5 and eliminated Taos as a serious rival, while the narrowness of Commander In Chief's success on Thursday caused a trim to 4-6.

Had Barathea run away with his race at The Curragh, the picture would be different, but he looked far from convincing in scraping home by a head from Lester Piggott on the fast-finishing Fatherland and no decision has been made about Epsom participation.

'Barathea came there very easily but then seemed lazy,' Luca Cumani, his trainer, said. 'It is very difficult to say whether he will stay a mile and a half. His pedigree says he will not get it.'

Fatherland's performance brought him into Derby consideration and, with Piggott likely to ride, the bookmakers make him third best at 10-1.

DERBY (Epsom, 2 June), Coral: 2-5 Tenby, 6-1 Barathea, 10-1 Fatherland, 20-1 Bobs Return & Planetary Aspect, 25-1 others; William Hill: 1-2 Tenby, 8-1 Barathea, 10-1 Commander In Chief & Fatherland, 20-1 others; Ladbrokes: 2-5 Tenby, 7-1 Barathea, 10-1 Fatherland, 14-1 Planetary Aspect, 16-1 Shaiba, 20-1 others.

(Table omitted)