Racing: Balanchine outshines the colts: Irish Derby winner weighs in on Salsabil scale to tip balance of power in Classic generation

FOR THE second time in four years, a filly beat the colts in the Irish Derby at The Curragh yesterday, and the Oaks winner Balanchine's four-and-a-half length defeat of King's Theatre was every bit as impressive as Salsabil's ground-breaking victory in 1991.

Having returned to Britain after wintering in the sunshine of the Middle East, Balanchine has now contested three Classics, winning two and finishing a short-head runner-up in the other. Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai experiment has succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.

That vindication should ease any frustration the Sheikh might feel about seeing his colours finish second in a Derby twice in one month. King's Theatre, runner-up to Erhaab at Epsom, was backed down to even- money favouritism after heavy showers eased the going. Balanchine, who won the Oaks on good to soft ground, was also well-supported at 5-1, and it was clear early in the straight she was the only danger to the favourite.

Three out, Lanfranco Dettori, her jockey, kicked for home past the tiring early leader Khamaseen, with Michael Kinane, on King's Theatre, in pursuit. There was to be no first Irish Derby success for Kinane, however, and his mount was a spent force by the furlong pole as Balanchine galloped on with great purpose. Like Salsabil before her, she may now be rested before an autumn campaign culminating in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, though British punters will need little reminding that Longchamp proved a race too far for John Dunlop's filly.

'I always felt she was a very good filly and she has proved that today,' Sheikh Mohammed said afterwards. 'The plan is to rest her now for a while but we will probably go for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October. It has always been an ambition of mine to win that race.'

Though Sheikh Mohammed had good reason to applaud the sight of his brother Sheikh Maktoum's silks claiming victory, another leading owner will have suffered some regrets. When Balanchine ran out an impressive winner at Newbury last September, she was in the green and blue of Robert Sangster, who included her in a four- horse sale to Sheikh Mohammed shortly afterwards. His place in the record books as the winner's breeder is Sangster's consolation.

Before the race, form students expected to discover if the English Derby (represented by King's Theatre and Colonel Collins) was a superior race to the French (Tikkanen, Alriffa). The answer proved to be yes, but the Oaks was better than both and, at least until Erhaab runs in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday, Balanchine's owners can claim to have the best three-year-old in Europe. Those involved agreed. 'The best horse won, mine ran virtually the same race as he ran at Epsom,' John Reid, third on Colonel Collins, said, while Richard Hannon, trainer of fourth- placed Alriffa, commented: 'He has run pound for pound with Tikkanen, obviously the English form is better.'

That conclusion received further confirmation at Longchamp yesterday, where Celtic Arms, the French Derby winner, was only third behind Millkom in the Grand Prix de Paris.

'I knew at the furlong pole it would take a machine to pass us, we were going so fast,' Dettori said. 'No words can describe her, she was unbelievable, much better than at Epsom.'

The lingering effects of Royal Ascot were apparent elsewhere on The Curragh card, which saw Peter Chapple-Hyam's Helmsman, second in the Chesham Stakes, soundly beaten by Eva Luna in the John Roarty Memorial Railway Stakes. Jim Bolger's filly is a 33-1 chance for next year's 1,000 Guineas.

Vintage Crop, the Melbourne Cup winner and Gold Cup runner-up, was another who seemed to be feeling his recent efforts at the Royal meeting. Dermot Weld's gelding, 4-9 favourite for the Curragh Cup, was only second to Witness Box.

4.00: (1m 4f Irish Derby, 3yo colts & fillies)

1. BALANCHINE chestnut filly Storm Bird - Morning Devotion L Dettori 5-1

2. King's Theatre M J Kinane evens fav

3. Colonel Collins J Reid 11-2

9 ran. won by 4 1/2 lengths, 3 1/2 . Also ran: 7- 2 Alriffa (4th), 10-1 Tikkanen (5th), 25-1 Ionio (6th), 40-1 Cajarian (7th), 14-1 Khamaseen (8th), 200-1 Concept House (9th). Trained by H Ibrahim for Maktoum Al Maktoum. Tote: pounds 4.60; pounds 1.60, pounds 1.30, pounds 1.90. Reverse forecast: pounds 4.90. CSF: pounds 10.98.

(Photograph omitted)