Racing: Blurred mechanics of Tenby's Derby failure: The excuses wear thin for Epsom's beaten favourite as the Eclipse promises a moment of truth

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The Independent Online
AN EXPENSIVE run-out followed by a myriad of dubious explanations, Tenby's failure in the Derby has had all the hallmarks of a car breakdown.

'Your sprotchet's gone there, mate,' or 'nasty, looks like a dodgy tamping wopple' have become tales of colic, breathing problems and narcotics as excuses for the defeated odds-on favourite.

For most, the starting point in analysing Tenby's demise is the attack of colic he suffered in the run-up to the Classic. But it is worth looking at what the colt, who aims to resurrect his reputation in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday, had achieved to that point.

Unbeaten as a two-year-old, including victory in the Group One Grand Criterium at Longchamp, Tenby's two victories this season, at Newmarket and in York's Dante Stakes, appeared to convince that he was as good as ever. However, of the horses he has beaten this year, only one, Star Manager, who picked up just over pounds 1,000 at Thirsk, has gone on to register a win. The evidence then that Tenby remains a top-class animal can be judged only by words, from his faithful trainer Henry Cecil, rather than deeds.

Cecil considered the stomach attack that afflicted the colt in his Derby preparation to be of little account, even though Tenby had a tube down his throat in the course of treatment and a stable lad stayed in his box all night. 'Just because he had a tummy-ache for half an hour three weeks before a race, it isn't going to make any difference,' Cecil said at the time.

Something, though, did happen to Tenby in the Derby. By the time he had navigated Tattenham Corner, the horse was a sorry creature, his tongue flapping wearily from the side of the mouth as he faded into 10th.

In these circumstances, there was an odd suggestion from Pat Eddery that his mount had failed through lack of stamina. Eddery's evidence has been less than persuasive this year, none more so than at York when he dismounted from the subsequent dual Derby winner, Commander In Chief, and spoke of a horse not up to Epsom and more suited to the less stressful forum of Royal Ascot.

As Tenby was a spent force in the Blue Riband before he had covered a mile, and previous outings had seen a horse putting in his best work at the end of 10-furlong races, to question his stamina appears imprudent. According to the inexact science of breeding, he should be at his best at a minimum of 12 furlongs, yet the stigma remains, and when Tenby runs on Saturday, it will be back over his winning distance.

The horse's rapid surrender was proof of a problem in the Derby, and the easiest answer for his display was that he had been doped. Immediately after the race, however, when Cecil said there must be an excuse for this run, Tenby appeared normal and a urine test taken on him later proved negative.

It took the Newmarket trainer 12 days to supply the mitigation, and that of a type hardly bursting with conviction. 'Tenby's tongue was hanging out and there is a possibility that it may have got over his bit,' he said. 'When this happens it can stop the oxygen supply and this may have been the reason for his poor showing.'

To avoid a repetition, the horse will be wearing modified headgear when he walks into the parade ring at Sandown, though this will not involve a tongue- strap, which is not part of the Warren Place armoury.

'We might tighten up his bit, but it was quite tight for the Derby, or we could use a slightly different one, which is kind on his mouth,' Cecil said.

'Let's just hope we don't have to make excuses for him again.'

The after-effects of the colic will no longer be an excuse for Tenby, though either that attack or a breathing problem is the most probable reason for his collapse on the Surrey Downs.

The Eclipse should tell us whether Tenby in full working order is a dragster or a Land Rover.

(Photograph omitted)

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