Racing: Cumani takes the High road to Epsom

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The Independent Online
ONE piece of what is becoming a fascinating Derby puzzle fell face up into the box lid here yesterday as another was removed. High-Rise booked his ticket for the party at Epsom, but Xaar, off-colour in France after his 2,000 Guineas flop, sent his regrets.

A rewind of history would not go amiss for Luca Cumani. Ten years ago he brought Kahyasi to this once-leafy Surrey track to take the Derby Trial en route to the greater prize at Epsom. His charge High-Rise, who yesterday took his unbeaten sequence to three with a defeat of Sadian, has thus far followed the same trail.

The bay son of High Estate, ridden by Frankie Dettori, was left in front earlier than had been bargained for as the stamina of the front-running favourite, Alboostan, ran out approaching the two-furlong marker. "The race was not set up as we had expected," Cumani said. "We thought the pace would last longer; this horse, who has a real turn of foot, is best when he sits behind and pounces. As it was, it was more of a stayers' run to the line."

High-Rise, who runs in the colours of one of Sheikh Mohammed's associates, came here off a good win in a minor race at Pontefract and is clearly going the right way.

He was balanced all the way down the Epsom-lookalike hill and covered the extended mile and three furlongs four and a half seconds faster than the winner of the Oaks Trial, though it has yet to be confirmed whether he runs in the Derby.

Cumani said: "He has always looked a very nice horse. He had an easy, confidence-boosting race at Pontefract and a tougher one here and will now be a proper man. I hope he goes to Epsom, but it will be up to the owners to decide after the other trials have been run."

The Lingfield Trial produced last year's narrow Derby runner-up Silver Patriarch but the bookmakers were less impressed with yesterday's victor, who is a best-priced 25-1 with Ladbrokes and Coral.

Khalid Abdullah's racing manager, Grant Pritchard- Gordon, issued Xaar's sicknote after Bristol Channel had held on to beat Trigger Happy by a fast- diminishing head in the Oaks Trial. "I saw him on Thursday, and he was visibly out of sorts," he said. "He is sound, but I could see he was not right in himself. But we are in no hurry with him. He is too good a horse for that, and he will tell us when he is right."

Bristol Channel, a daughter of Generous, ran a decent race for an inexperienced filly, but - unsurprisingly, as her owner and her trainer Barry Hills (for whom she was the third leg of a 267-1 treble) have a much better candidate in last week's Cheshire Oaks victress High And Low - remains among the outsiders for the real thing.

Trigger Happy, doing much her best work at the finish, has the St Leger as her long-term target, but is likely to take in the Oaks on the way to Doncaster.

The Epsom picture will be clearer after this week's three-day York meeting. No clear-cut marker emerged from the 2,000 Guineas, often the best trial, and since the first Classic there has been a wide divergence of market opinion.

One of the favourites, Border Arrow, puts his credentials on the line in Wednesday's Dante Stakes - won last year by subsequent Derby hero Benny The Dip - and will need to pass the test with flying colours to maintain his position in the betting. The Ian Balding-trained colt finished with a flourish to pip Xaar for third place in the Guineas but, as a son of the miler Selkirk, may find his stamina tested fully even over 10 furlongs.

The 1,000 Guineas winner, Cape Verdi, is favourite with the "with a run" contingency in some lists, although she is a possible rather than a probable; her stablemate City Honours, reputedly Godolphin's best colt, was backed significantly for the York race yesterday. Michael Stoute's likeable maiden winner Greek Dance has the option of the Glasgow Stakes on Thursday.

Sadian is still on Henry Cecil's Derby short-list after yesterday's effort - although the French version at Chantilly is a more likely option - but the trainer was bullish about Dr Fong's Dante chances after the Kris S colt worked exceptionally well on the gallops at Newmarket yesterday. "What beats him will win", he said.

His star filly, Midnight Line, by the same sire, is likely to face only a handful of opponents in the Musidora Stakes on Tuesday.