Racing: Bob's Return promises little as an Epsom arriviste: Paul Hayward watches a Derby Trial at Lingfield yesterday which left Tenby unchallenged as the big race favourite

Click to follow
The Independent Online
YELTSIN was the popular choice but his limitations were exposed in difficult conditions and now he faces an uncertain future. It's all right. It was only a horse race, as the animal of that name skidded down Lingfield's hill like a novice ice-skater to eliminate himself from the Derby.

The winner was the less historically resonant Bob's Return, and if you follow the theory that Lingfield's undulating course is the best guide to Epsom form then you can have 33-1 or even

40-1 about this arriviste on the Derby scene. 'He only cost pounds 14,000 so he's not a bad buy, is he?' Mark Tompkins, the trainer, said. No. But he is a lousy Derby bet even at those big odds, because he has about as much chance as one of the police horses.

It was another unrevealing trial that gave vent to the usual complaints about the inconclusiveness of Classic prep races. Yeltsin, the 5-4 favourite, never looked comfortable as he sought to join his more illustrious stable companions at the front of the Derby betting. 'Soon led, made rest,' would be the form book's boiled down entry for Bob's Return, and in truth this was a victory for Philip Robinson's tactical acumen in the saddle as much as the cause of cheaply bought horses and long shots.

For now all form-lines lead to Tenby. The Derby favourite contests the Dante Stakes at York on Wednesday and could be as short as 6-4 for Epsom if he disposes of a disappointingly small field that is unlikely to include Taos from the John Gosden stable.

The Prix Lupin at Longchamp next Sunday is a more likely target for Sheikh Mohammed's No 2 Derby candidate, who is hardly flattered by Ladbrokes's assessment of him as a 14-1 shot. Rumours from Newmarket - and you take your chance with these stories - suggest that Taos is not the most compliant of home workers and that he is proving difficult to get fit. One argument in favour of Longchamp over York is that the French have little in the way of talented middle-distance colts, so Taos would face no Tenby there next weekend.

The concern over the York race is that the Dante will be run at a rambler's pace and so yield no new information about Tenby's chance in the Derby. But then, how much more data should we need about a horse who is perfectly bred and constructed for the demands of Epsom, and who, like the 2,000 Guineas winner, Zafonic, was at the top of his generation last season? This has been a profitable spring for those who follow the top-class two-year-olds in the early Classics. Zafonic and Sayyedati (the 1,000 Guineas winner) were both the best of their type last season.

You have only to scan Henry Cecil's weekly column in the Racing Post to see that genuine stable confidence is sustaining Tenby's position at the head of the market.

It reads delightfully like the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, but after he has told us how pleased he was to have bought a tie with butterflies on in Chester, Cecil does impart a credible assessment of his best hope of winning the Derby since Reference Point in 1987. 'I now believe I have a serious Derby horse on my hands after watching him win the other day,' Cecil writes. 'He has all the qualities - speed, stamina, a turn of foot and, most importantly, a will to win.'

So he does, but nobody is going to get too rich taking 2-1 or 6-4. Where else should we look? Not to Khalid Abdullah's other two emissaries. Commander In Chief, who runs at York on Thursday, is a first-rate prospect but will find Epsom rising in his sights much too soon, while Armiger is almost certain to be sent to Chantilly for the Prix du Jockey Club rather than Epsom, a course that will ill- suit him.

There are those who bemoan the fact that because Tenby, Armiger and Commander In Chief are all in the same ownership, British racegoers are being deprived of seeing them meet in the original and foremost Derby - at Epsom.

But on the evidence of Chester, Armiger could be owned by a brake-fitter from Bradford and still be prepared for Chantilly rather than Surrey because he clearly requires a flat (probably right-handed) galloping track as opposed to the mountain trek of Epsom.

Besides, how many of us, with three Derby colts, would run them all in the same race and so condemn two of them to certain defeat? Each of the first six in the Derby betting is owned either by Abdullah or the Maktoum family, which is both a vision of the future and a warning to punters who ignore the politics of which horse goes where.

At least we know Bob's Return definitely runs in the Derby. Tompkins's only previous Group race win was with a horse called Debach's Delight in Germany, so the potential for a romantic ending is there.

Pity it's a 40-1 shot.