Racing: Carson in control for Derby: Erhaab outstays Mister Baileys in the Dante Stakes to put his veteran rider in line for a fourth victory in the Blue Riband at Epsom

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The Independent Online
WITHOUT dreams, Willie Carson would be retired. Now into his sixth decade, the only spur that drives the Scotsman is that he may accumulate yet more Classic winners. This perseverance may now bring Carson a fourth Derby following the Dante Stakes victory of the new Epsom favourite, Erhaab, on the Knavesmire yesterday.

The vividness of the colt's 3 1/2 length success against the colourless backdrop of this season's Classic trials means that Erhaab is now the 7-2 Derby favourite from a morning 20-1.

As he dismounted, Carson accused John Dunlop, the trainer of his mount, of getting cocky in advance of the Derby. It was easy to see where he got it from.

'My horse is going to get a mile and a half, he acts on firm ground and he is one of the few horses I've seen this season with a turn of foot, and that is all-important at Epsom,' the jockey said.

'I don't visualise any problems with the course and he's got all the credentials to be a Derby winner. Take the price.'

For much of yesterday's race, however, Erhaab looked second best. Mister Baileys, the 2,000 Guineas winner, captivated before the field even set foot on the racecourse, brimming with vitality in the parade ring and collecting yet another best- turned-out award. But there were also worrying portents.

Mark Johnston's colt had the chunkiest look of the runners, and further evidence that speed rather than stamina will be his overriding quality was his snorting and nervousness in the preliminaries. When the stalls opened, Mister Baileys was still charged by exuberance, but after a furlong became a more compliant partner for Jason Weaver.

Turning for home, the northern horse was still travelling powerfully, but then came a sudden short-circuit. 'Three out there was only one horse in it and I was shouting at Jason on the television not to go too soon,' Johnston said. 'Jason felt the same as us that at three furlongs out there was nothing that could beat him. But a furlong later there was nothing left.'

The obvious assumption is that this journey and the even longer one of the Derby are beyond Mister Baileys, who finished third, but his trainer is determined to hunt out an alternative excuse.

'My first impression was that he didn't get home,' Johnston said. 'If we weren't talking Classics we'd have no doubts and be taking him straight back to a mile, but if you're dreaming of the Derby you're looking for any other reason why.

'I'll watch the replay of the race, but I won't be watching it as many times as I've seen the Guineas.'

Ian Balding, the trainer of the runner-up, Weigh Anchor, already has his excuses. He believes there is improvement both in his horse and his string as a whole. 'Ours aren't in tip- top form yet,' he said, 'but they should be by the beginning of June.' Handy, as the Derby is on the first of the month.

Dunlop, though, did not have to mount any defence. 'I wasn't amazed with the result because he's always been a nice horse and he's been longing for decent ground,' he said.

'He's a very strongly built horse but he's not awkward and I can't think that Epsom will worry him at all. His temperament seems good, he's learning all the time and he had a bit of racing as a two-year-old, which is always a plus. He knows what he's doing.'

Erhaab, in fact, ran six times as a juvenile, an unusually busy campaign for a prospective Derby horse, but whatever doubts that remained in the trainer's mind were blasted away by the course record time. 'You'd have to question his stamina purely on pedigree, but the way he won today, and the time suggest otherwise,' Dunlop said. 'This was the Derby trial of the year.'

THE DERBY (Epsom, 1 June): Coral: 7-2 Erhaab, 6-1 Broadway Flyer, 9-1 Bal Harbour, 10-1 Colonel Collins, 14-1 Weigh Anchor; Ladbrokes: 7-2 Erhaab, 7-1 Bal Harbour, Broadway Flyer & Weigh Anchor, 10-1 Colonel Collins, 14-1 State Performer; William Hill: 4-1 Erhaab, 6-1 Bal Harbour & Broadway Flyer, 8-1 Colonel Collins, 10- 1 Weigh Anchor, 14-1 Linney Head, 16-1 King's Theatre.

Results, page 43

(Photograph omitted)