Racing: Benny the tip to prove International standard

YORK EBOR MEETING: An opening day opportunity for the Derby winner to confirm his status in a contender for race of the year
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It is a reminder of the remarkable depth of quality in the middle-distance division at present that the opening day of the Ebor meeting at York presents us with the first candidate for the "race of the decade" for, well, at least three weeks. And while even Max Clifford might think twice before reaching for such a description less than a month after the King George at Ascot, today's International Stakes could easily prove to be the contest by which the 1997 campaign will be remembered.

It is true that just four runners will go to post, the smallest field in the race's 25-year history, but rarely, if ever, can the cast list for a Group One event have consisted entirely of horses with previous Group One victories to their credit. Add to that the fact that, with the arguable exception of Singspiel, all of them are racing over what appears to be their ideal trip, on going which will confer neither favour nor disadvantage, and it is clear that something very special will unfold on the Knavesmire today.

Those with a taste for mischief might point out that the only thing which the International lacks is the presence of Kieren Fallon aboard one of Bosra Sham's rivals. Fallon's desperately ill-judged performance on Henry Cecil's filly in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown last month cost him the ride on the favourite this afternoon, and the possibility that he might exact a little sporting revenge would certainly have added an extra dash of spice.

None the less, the human roll-call today is also of the highest quality, since Frankie Dettori (Singspiel), Fallon's replacement, Pat Eddery, and Michael Kinane, who rides the Irish Derby winner, Desert King, would be most people's choice as the best three riders in Europe.

Joining them is Willie Ryan, whose bold display on Benny The Dip, his mount today, in the Derby at Epsom was itself a performance of which any of today's jockeys would be proud. And it may well be that the deciding factor will be the crucial tactical decisions each will have to take in the early stages of the race.

"It is a high quality field," John Gosden, Benny The Dip's trainer, said yesterday. "You couldn't find two better older horses than Bosra Sham and Singspiel, and the other two are Derby winners. But it is unfortunate when these races cut up to `Mickey Mouse' fields. We had one at Newbury on Saturday and another in the Eclipse, and you get muddling races. I just hope we get a truly-run race.

"The false pace in the Eclipse didn't suit Benny The Dip as he was coming back to them at the end, suggesting he would have been suited by faster, and he is proven over a mile and a half."

Henry Cecil was adamant after the Eclipse Stakes that the lack of a sound pace in the early stages had contributed to his filly's defeat, which makes it a little surprising that Bosra Sham's connections did not supply her with a pacemaker today.

Benny The Dip made all the running to win the Dante Stakes over this course and distance in May, but despite Gosden's comments, it seems unlikely that Ryan will set a fierce gallop today and play into the favourite's hands.

What with those doubts, and Bosra Sham's recent foot problems, it would be folly to back her at odds hovering close to even money. Two of her three rivals, meanwhile, also arrive with serious queries over their ability to produce their best, since Desert King, winner of the 2,000 Guineas and Derby in his native Ireland, has run deplorably on his two previous visits to Britain, and Singspiel could well need rather longer to recover from an exhausting King George on unforgiving ground.

This leaves punters looking squarely at an obvious slice of value. BENNY THE DIP (nap 3.10) may not be the finest Derby winner of the decade, but he is almost certainly better at today's trip, and could well be allowed to set a pace which suits him, rather than his rivals, just as he did in the Dante. A fierce battler, he should prove very difficult to pass as he gallops along the rail inside the final furlong today, and at 5- 1, he is an irresistible bet to hold on all the way to the line.

The International Stakes is the obvious highlight this afternoon, but the supporting card is fascinating too, with a mixture of Classic prospects, potentially top-class juveniles and some of the best stayers in training.

The two-year-old event which opens the card has been won by Revoque and Grand Lodge in recent years, and with five once-raced, unbeaten colts in the field, not to mention Ian Balding's promising Merlin's Ring, this could prove to be a very significant race, albeit one which makes little appeal for punters. Teapot Row (2.05) may come out on top, but more solid betting opportunities will be provided by Double Eclipse (2.35), who gets a vital 9lb from Celeric, the Ascot Gold Cup winner, and Stowaway (next best 3.45), who can secure a place in the St Leger field with victory in the Great Voltigeur Stakes.

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