Racing: Beat All can live up to his name

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GROUND CONTROL can be a major bomb but the Curragh course manager, Brian Kavanagh, and his men seem to have got it spot-on. The underfoot preferences of the equine prima donnas who will contest tomorrow's 134th running of the Irish Derby vary widely but all 10 of the expected suspects for the pounds 775,000 12-furlong race were declared yesterday to guarantee a sterling spectacle even in the disappointing absence of the Epsom winner, Oath.

The going at Ireland's premier track is good. A day of sunshine would speed up the drying-out process but about a quarter of an inch of rain is forecast in Co Kildare tonight, which could restore the status quo. Of the three British-based trainers involved tomorrow, Luca Cumani will be the one out on the track with a medicine man dancing in ritual feathers and paint. Every drop that falls from the sky will benefit his charge, Daliapour, the Derby runner-up who has shown himself to his best advantage when the weather is more suited to wellies than flip-flops.

Among the hard men is Beat All, third at Epsom on only his fourth public appearance. Given that the Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt had suffered a bruised foot a week before the big race, had to run wide from a poor draw and lost his balance on the camber in the straight, that was an entirely creditable performance. His connections are keen enough to renew rivalry with Daliapour to have paid a supplementary entry fee of Irpounds 77,000 four days ago.

As did the Godolphin team for the impressive Royal Ascot winner Mutafaweq. Just as there is a precedent for Derby placees - like St Jovite (1992), Law Society (1985), El Gran Senor (1984) and Irish Ball (1971) - to find consolation in the Irish version, so there is for a winner of the King Edward VII Stakes (Shareef Dancer 16 years ago) to make the step up in class.

The last British raider to score was the Godolphin filly Balanchine five years ago. Since then the Irish and French have split the honours, Winged Love and, last year, Dream Well sandwiching the home side's Zagreb and Desert King.

The challenger from France, Montjeu, only lives there. The colt, who warmed up for today with a runaway win in the Prix du Jockey-Club, is owned by the Michael Tabor/John Magnier axis and trained by an Englishman, John Hammond. Like Daliapour, he prefers it soft.

Magnier also has an interest in four of the six Irish-trained runners, including Genghis Khan, a half-brother to the 1991 winner, Generous, and the one who may prove the best of the locals, Urban Ocean, the first foal of Arc winner Urban Sea.

Via the yardstick of Iscan - beaten at Ascot by Mutafaweq and in the Italian Derby by another Godolphin horse, Mukhalif, who was earlier trounced by Beat All, those at Stoute's Beech Hurst should have a fair idea of the state of play in what promises to be a fascinating shakedown of the three-year-old middle-distance pecking order. Assuming no deluge or over- zealous watering, Beat All can live up to his name.

The withdrawal of Godolphin's Dubai Millennium from tomorrow's other, earlier, Group One race, the Grand Prix de Paris, leaves the burden of foreign challenge on another Derby failure, Brancaster. The Peter Chapple- Hyam charge, 10th at Epsom and tried in a visor, will be suited by the soft conditions at Longchamp. With the French Derby also-rans Slickly and Gracioso among his seven rivals his performance may give a preview of the cross-channel order of merit.

The feature at the Curragh today is the Pretty Polly Stakes, a Group Two race over 10 furlongs named after the best racemare of the century. There is nothing of her calibre in the field today and Calando and Sunspangled, both on retrieval missions after Classic flops, may not cope with the sole four-year-old, Lady In Waiting.

In Britain, the accent is on quantity rather than quality, with 10 meetings today and tomorrow. But there is one serious horse on view, Diktat, at Newmarket in the sole Group race of the domestic programme, the Van Geest Criterion Stakes.

For the punter, the most serious event of the day will be the longest of the weekend's trio of Derbys. As well as that Group One affair in Ireland there are - nominally, anyway - two others, this evening's greyhound edition at Wimbledon and this afternoon's pitmen's version - though there are precious few miners to watch it any more - at Newcastle.

The two-mile Northumberland Plate is the second richest two-mile handicap in the world, its value superseded only, albeit considerably, by the Melbourne Cup. Firm ground ruled out James Fanshawe's fancied contender Arctic Owl, but his stablemate Travelmate (3.55), who is progressive and has a smart turn of foot, can prove a perfectly adequate deputy.

Hyperion's selections for tomorrow's cards appear in the Independent on Sunday