Racing: Ben Gunn to fire for the old-timers

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RACING PROVIDES an Agincourt in reverse this weekend. England has the numbers, in the shape of nine televised races, while France has the quality, tomorrow's Group One Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville.

And like team Britannia's 15th century longbowmen, a modest band which overcame great opposition, it will be the small field for the French race which will, in all probability, provide the memorable moments.

There are just six runners in Normandy tomorrow, yet it still promises to be a contest of some enlightenment. Sendawar, the St James's Palace Stakes winner from Royal Ascot, is almost surely the best over a mile in Europe at the moment. Certainly no older horse will turn out tomorrow to test the three-year-old's authenticity.

Another French horse, Andre Fabre's Slickly, is no fool either, yet it is Dubai Millennium, Godolphin's Predominate Stakes winner, as well as their Derby disaster, who should provide the most potent challenge to Sendawar. Godolphin had four horses entered for tomorrow's race and now rely on a sole animal who was also a consideration for Tuesday's International Stakes at York. "We decided that this was the right race for him at this point in his career," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said yesterday. "He's got the [easy] ground on his side, which is an important factor. You can't be sure what the going is going to be like at York next week.

"We know he gets a mile and quarter and we know he's very good over that distance. He's beaten Group Two horses over that trip and beaten them comprehensively, and the door remains open for him to race over that trip in the future. But we've always felt that he's got sufficient speed to be competitive in a top race over a mile and this seems the right thing to do.

"It's a very good race with the likes of Sendawar and Slickly in there. The competition is extremely tough. Ours is still an immature horse but we expect him to run well."

The Godolphin blue marauders will also be in evidence at Newmarket this afternoon when Dignify contests the Listed Sweet Solera Stakes. The daughter of Rainbow Quest is trained at Evry by Godolphin's continental agent, David Loder, who supervised the filly to a debut success at Chantilly.

The form of that race has not worked out particularly well, but such is Loder's record in these islands that she will almost certainly start favourite on the July Course today.

"David thinks a lot of her," Crisford says. "She's a nice filly and she's ready for a step up in class. This will tell us more."

Further consideration at Headquarters should be reserved for Mubrik (next best 3.35), who was second to the outstanding Russian Revival, a stablemate from John Gosden's Stanley House stables, at Ascot last Saturday.

The betting patterns suggested he had no chance that day and it will be interesting to see how he fluctuates during the course of today. The message seems to be back big, and back early.

If Mubrik's field of large handicappers appears a draining exercise for punters then the real killer comes in the following Air New Zealand Handicap. There is a vast age range in the contestants for this mile race and the probable winner is one of the greybeards.

Peter Walwyn, like many of us, is not the force of old, but he has a likely aspirant here in BEN GUNN (nap 4.05), a course and distance winner who announced a return to form at Chepstow last time out.

The betting race of the day is the Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon, which can go to Pipalong (3.20) now that the ground has changed in her favour. The posh boys contest the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury, in which there are only five runners but no little amount of intrigue.

It would be nice to imagine victory here for the horse who, along with Dancing Brave, will be remembered as a nearly Derby winner. Silver Patriarch (3.00), who almost caught Benny The Dip at Epsom in 1997, is getting on now for a Classic Flat horse but he is still capable of useful form. There was no disgrace in his King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes fourth to Daylami over a course which has never suited. Today's will, as should the result for the grey's followers.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Ben Gunn

(Newmarket 4.05)

NB: Mubrik

(Newmarket 3.35)

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