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Racing: Commander proves Curragh overlord: Pat Eddery hails the dual-Derby winner as among the best he has ridden while the French falter again

EXTRAVAGANT billing proved justified here yesterday as Commander In Chief, the Derby winner at Epsom, beat his French counterpart, Hernando, in the Irish equivalent.

Racing's trumpeted showdowns usually provide the potency of a water-pistol fight, but here was a full-bore contest as Commander In Chief bravely choked the speed out of his rival in a courageous display down The Curragh's straight.

The statistics suggested it would be this way. While Hernando joined the four previous French-trained Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) winners to fail here, Commander In Chief became the 12th horse to complete the Epsom-Curragh double.

The pattern of the race was similarly predictable, and as Pat Eddery swung along on Commander In Chief he was as sure as a holidaymaker towing his caravan that another vehicle was in his tracks. 'I knew Cash (Asmussen, Hernando's rider) would be following me all the way,' the Irishman said.

Further ahead though was Regency, like the winner the property of Khalid Abdullah. Criquette Head's colt was said to be running on his merits, but whatever the motive for participation, the searing pace he made had much influence.

Turning into the straight, Eddery, employing full vigour, had taken over, while Asmussen followed him through menacingly, his posture as motionless as a Palace guard's.

But when Hernando's challenge came, it was soon obvious that his power of acceleration had been strangled, and the nearest he got to Commander In Chief was the three-quarters of a length that separated these two great beasts at the finish.

'I was cruising two furlongs out but he met a better horse on the day, he took on a tiger,' Asmussen said. 'Hernando is a star, the first two are both stars, and I guess we will have to take him on one more time in the fall.

'It was race No 6 for him this season and we will have a refresher now. Then I'm sure we'll be back with a good attitude.'

Eddery's attitude to his mounts is often flattering, but there was little to dispute when he assessed the merit of Commander In Chief. 'I would say he is now a top horse and I would have to compare him with all the good ones I've ridden over the years,' he said.

'In all his races he has been very tough and today he just galloped on and took the speed off the other horse.'

Henry Cecil, Commander In Chief's trainer, confirmed the battle plans. 'The idea was to sap Hernando's speed a bit,' he said.

Cecil, though cannot have foreseen the victory celebrations. The decorum of Royal Ascot seemed from another world as The Curragh's clientele swarmed all over the trainer, shaking his hand, extracting autographs and shouldering up to him for impromptu snapshots.

The likelihood is that Commander In Chief will next be before the lenses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot next month, while the distant target is the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

However, the Warren Place system of allowing the horses to have the casting vote on their programmes will not be abandoned. 'It will be a question of how the horse is before the King George,' the trainer said. 'We'll go with the horse and let him decide.'

It may even be that Commander In Chief can get better. Although this was the unbeaten colt's fifth run of the season he is still a greenhorn having not competed as a two-year-old.

'He beat what we think is a very good horse today,' Cecil said. 'But he is a late maturing sort and we like to think the best is yet to come.'

For Khalid Abdullah, who has now won his first Irish Classic, Commander In Chief is an uncommon gift both as a runner and prospective sire. 'He's a beautifully bred horse and he will make a fantastic stallion,' Cecil said.

Yesterday, at The Curragh, as he joined the ranks of dual Derby winners such as Nijinsky, Shergar and Generous, Commander In Chief established himself as a fantastic racehorse.


4.00: (1m 4f Budweiser Irish Derby, 3yo)

1. COMMANDER IN CHIEF bay or brown colt Dancing Brave - Slightly Dangerous

Pat Eddery 4-7 fav

2. Hernando C Asmussen 9-4

3. Foresee J P Murtagh 25-1

Also ran: 10-1 Regency (4th), Massyar (5th), 25-1 Desert Team, Shrewd Idea (6th), 100-1 Lord Bentley, Via Parigi, 150-1 Porterstown Boy, 250-1 Sirsan.

11 ran. 3/4 , 3, 4, 2, hd. (Trained by H Cecil, at Newmarket, for K Abdullah). Tote: pounds 2.30; pounds 1.30, pounds 1.70, pounds 4.10. DF: pounds 1.90. CSF: pounds 2.61.

(Photograph omitted)