Racing: Collins takes command

Heavy ground proves no barrier to success for the big-race favourite

COMMANDER Collins sloshed to Derby favouritism here yesterday with a seven-length victory in the Racing Post Trophy. And the sky above Town Moor, which had been dumping down rain all day with a relentlessness that seemed to border on malice, lightened just long enough for the colt's rider, Jimmy Fortune, to enjoy what may be the first of many moments in the sun.

It was the 26-year-old Irishman's first winner for his new boss Robert Sangster. "Nice way to start, a Group One winner," he beamed, with masterly understatement, as he stood mud-spattered and soaking in the unsaddling enclosure.

Commander Collins' win was also a lifting of the clouds for his trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam, who has had, by his high standards, a rotten year. His woes began when Sangster sold the stable's best Classic prospects - among them the subsequent 1,000 Guineas heroine Cape Verdi and Derby runner-up City Honours - to Sheikh Mohammed's all-acquisitive Godolphin operation.

But the label on Commander Collins reads "you can look - but you can't touch". His future at Manton should be assured, for a few hours before yesterday's victory, John Magnier, one of the few in the sport able to take on the Maktoums head to head, availed himself of a significant share of the son of Sadler's Wells to join Sangster and Tony Collins as a part- owner.

Yesterday's performance, even allowing for the fact that Commander Collins was the one least inconvenienced by the bog underfoot, was brimful of promise, even if it was not in the spectacular Celtic Swing league. Fortune sat just off the pace as Magno took the field of six along and then, as Tumbleweed Quartet and Timahs began to throw out distress signals, sent the bay about his business approaching the final eighth.

Commander Collins responded well, lengthening clear of the game, plugging- on Magno, Housemaster and Timahs (on whom Frankie Dettori was not hard once his chance had gone) in the final furlong. He is still rather weak and unfurnished and under the conditions was perhaps entitled to flag his tail and hang to his left. "It was a long, long way up the straight", said Chapple-Hyam afterwards, "and I was worried about running him when I saw the state of the course. He is still green, still learning, and can only get better.

"OK, so he could go on the ground and some of the others could not. But I've always thought the world of him and this makes the season look considerably better." Commander Collins is now a best-priced 14-1 with the Tote for the 1999 Derby and 16-1 with the same firm for the 2,000 Guineas.

Fortune, who took over from John Reid as Sangster's number one last month and whose previous career highs had been handicaps, said: "It is just wonderful to have been given the opportunity to ride horses of this calibre. Commander Collins has such a high cruising speed that the 2,000 should be an option and he will truly stay a mile and a half as well."

Commander Collins' dam, Kanmary, has already produced a Classic performer in Colonel Collins, third in the 2,000 Guineas and Derby four years ago. Another half-brother, Lit De Justice, won the 1966 Breeders' Cup Sprint and a third, Captain Collins, a minor race at Santa Anita late on Friday night. Yesterday's hero's baby sister was, at 425,000gns, the joint top- priced filly at the Houghton yearling sale earlier this month.

The 1998 Racing Post Trophy was the 134th Pattern win for offspring of Sadler's Wells; Commander Collins was his 34th individual Group or Grade One winner - and his fifth this year after King of Kings, Dream Well, Kayf Tara and Leggera - and gave the king of Coolmore the remarkable record of having sired at least one top-level winner from each of his 11 crops to race since 1988 Dewhurst dead-heaters Scenic and Prince of Dance set his golden ball rolling. Oddly, though, the Derby has as yet eluded him.

Commander Collins may have been an uneasy 2-1 favourite but his victory kept the Tote jackpot - which had been running since 9 October at Ascot and had accumulated the second-biggest pool in its 32-year history - alive to the tune of pounds 48.37-worth of tickets. Robin Lane, at 11-2, killed the hopes of all bar pounds 6.54 and only pounds 1.89 remained after Two Clubs squeaked home in the sixth race to share a record dividend of pounds 362,203.80. The biggest winner was a punter who did just one 50p line and scooped pounds 181,101.

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