Racing: Classic camps weigh Curragh career move: The Irish Derby's offer of pre-eminence in the three-year-old generation may prove to be deceptive when put to the test in Paris

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The Independent Online
THE IRISH Derby on Sunday and the cliff-edge for horses with pretensions to lasting greatness. Commander In Chief, Hernando and Intrepidity, who may provide a convergence of Classic winners at the Curragh, will have to be brought to a standstill after the weekend if they are to reproduce their brilliance later in the season.

It is true, if unfair, that thoroughbreds are remembered for their final runs; Dancing Brave as the horse who boiled over at the Breeders' Cup, Generous the one who failed in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. If any of Sunday's runners are to make an impact in those events and forge lasting names for themselves, history shows they will have to miss Ascot's high- summer highlight, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The participation at the Curragh of Intrepidity, the Oaks winner, depends on whether her owner, Sheikh Mohammed, is prepared to pay a pounds 75,000 supplementary; that of Hernando on how he performs in a piece of work on the Chantilly gallops tomorrow morning. Commander In Chief, the Derby winner, is expected to represent Henry Cecil, who has the contingency of Tenby in the unlikely event that the going in Ireland is fast. Yesterday the ground was yielding.

The mound of statistics suggests that Hernando, the Prix du Jockey Club winner, will not win on Sunday and whoever does has poor prospects in the Arc. No French-trained winner of the French Derby has gone on to win at the Curragh, while no Irish Derby winner has followed up in Paris in the same season.

This suggests the Curragh Classic is becoming a Holbeck Hall of a race itself for horses' careers, though Suave Dancer did finish second two years ago before winning the Arc. Cash Asmussen, Suave Dancer's jockey and the man who rides Hernando, believes Sunday's race is a natural stopping point in a horse's life.

'I think you can only go as far as the Irish Derby, such as Suave Dancer did,' he said. 'He was a horse who didn't take a lot of training and Hernando's the same in that he doesn't need a lot of preparation. You don't need a lot of time to wind him up because he's a very clean horse and that's a great advantage for a trainer coming towards the end of the year. You can keep him up from 1 April to 1 July, give him a summer break and then one race before the Arc.'

The Irish Derby, though, is no longer the cakewalk for the Epsom winner it used to be. Even in the days when the likes of Nijinsky, Grundy, The Minstrel and Shergar trotted round the Curragh for a facile Group One success while their owners thought about the rest of the year's programme, Arc triumph later in the season proved elusive. None of the 10 who have landed the Derby double have gone on to win the French race; Derby winners that win the Arc, like Sea Bird II and Mill Reef, miss out Ireland.

Hernando does not have many precedents of Prix du Jockey Club victors who have gone on to Longchamp glory (Sassafras and Suave Dancer are the only recent ones), and still has much to prove to a wide audience. To one man, though, his achievements have already earned elevation to high rank. 'We have a way to go in his career but he's already up there with the best I've ever ridden,' Asmussen says.

'I'm looking forward to Sunday and taking on the best they have in Europe because that's the only way you're going to be king.' The record books tell us, however, that the summer reign of Sunday's winner may be one to match that of Lady Jane Grey.

(Photograph omitted)

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