Racing: Chief forced to wait for the official accolade: The experts are withholding recognition of Henry Cecil's dual-Derby winner as a true champion until he has competed against older horses

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The Independent Online
FIVE races, five wins, but still the experts do not have enough ammunition to hail Commander In Chief as an outstanding champion. Bring on the older horses and see how he deals with them is the message from those whose ratings confirm the pecking order of each year's crop.

Commander In Chief is likely to get that opportunity to prove himself in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on 24 July, but until then he will continue to be rated considerably inferior to the two horses who preceded him as Irish Derby victors, St Jovite and Generous.

'At this stage we have put Commander In Chief on a mark of 133 (an expression in lbs of a horse's ability),' Chris Williams, the senior handicapper for the authoritative Timeform publications said. 'That places him 6lb behind St Jovite's final figure and 10lb behind Generous.' At a rate of around 2lb for a length, Commander In Chief is not even on the heels of that pair yet.

However the belief at Timeform is that they witnessed a high-quality performance in Commander In Chief's defeat of Hernando at The Curragh on Sunday and that the runner-up is unlikely to reverse placings if they meet again. 'Commander In Chief looks open to more improvement, whereas Hernando lacks the same physical scope,' Williams said.

'He should be able to win the King George and we make the German-trained Platini the closest of the older horses to him on our ratings.'

Britain's official handicapper for middle-distance horses, Anthony Arkwright, confirms Timeform's assessment of Commander In Chief and hopes that the Michael Stoute-trained Opera House will run in the King George to provide a valuable yardstick by which to judge the Derby winner. 'Opera House is a very reliable horse over 10 or 12 furlongs,' he said.

In truth, there seems to be little standing between Commander In Chief and victory in the King George. Shahrastani in 1986 and Snow Knight in 1974 are the only Derby winners to have been beaten in the Ascot race in the last 20 years and the real test for Henry Cecil's colt will come if he tries to add the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to his Derby crown.

The list of failures in the Arc is long and painful. From Dr Devious, through Generous, Kahyasi, Reference Point and Troy, it is necessary to stretch back to Mill Reef in 1971 to find a horse that has triumphed at Epsom and Longchamp.

Ian Balding, the trainer who succeeded in keeping Mill Reef at his peak despite an arduous early-season campaign, chose to keep his horse away from competition after his win in the King George until the day of the Arc - a route adopted by only Generous among the subsequent failures. 'He had a good four- to five-week break followed by a six-week build-up for the Arc,' Balding said. 'The only time he went to the course was for a gallop three weeks before.

'The French train specifically for the Arc. They're not tempted by York or the September Stakes.

'The pacemaker and the very stiff course suited Commander in Chief on Sunday. Longchamp would suit a speed horse better and I'd be frightened of Hernando there.'

Most worryingly of all for those in the Commander's camp, Balding is sceptical about the quality of this Classic generation. 'Commander In Chief looked a really good horse on Sunday, but this year's crop of middle-distance three-year-olds is not very good. We've a lot still to find out.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- RECORD OF DERBY WINNERS IN THE MAIN RACES OF SUMMER AND AUTUMN ----------------------------------------------------------------- Year Winner Irish Eclipse King Arc de Derby Stakes George Triomphe 1993 Commander In Chief 1st - - - 1992 Dr Devious 2nd to St Jovite - - 6th to Subotica 1991 Generous 1st - 1st 8th to Suave Dancer 1990 Quest for Fame 5th - - - 1989 Nashwan - 1st 1st - 1988 Kahyasi 1st - - 6th to Tony Bin 1987 Reference Point - 2nd to Mtoto 1st 8th to Trempolino 1986 Shahrastani 1st 4th to Dancing 4th to Dancing Brave Brave 1986 Dancing Brave - 1st 1st 1st (2nd to Shahrastani) -----------------------------------------------------------------

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