Racing: Derby date forces the early gallop

RACING COMMENTARY

SOMETHING will win the Derby two weeks on Saturday. Something's career may then be at an end.

The Blue Riband, the Classic of Classics, the ultimate test of a throughbred, should not really be greeted by a triumphal fanfare these days. The last post would be more appropriate.

As the late-season baubles of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Breeders' Cup series attain ever greater status, the Derby winner plays an exponentially smaller role in the final countdown. To win at Epsom you have to be good, tough and versatile, but, most of all, you have to be precocious. By the time encounters with four-year-olds and even more strenuous assignments come along, that final quality has turned from a wand in the hand to an asp.

Derby horses have to be wound up to their maximum in early June and, so often, the spring is never as tight again. Benny The Dip and Shaamit, the last two winners, did not win a single race between them in six efforts after the moment they established themselves as the best three-year-old colts in Europe.

"There is no doubt that you have to put more pressure on a horse than you would like to, to get to a Derby in the time available," John Gosden, Benny The Dip's trainer, said yesterday. "If you've had a nice easy spring it's not such a problem, but when you've had a cold, wet spring, like this one, it cramps it up timewise and it's all a bit of a rush. You have to force the horse.

"You have to start earlier. Take a horse like Tamure [Gosden's Derby second in 1995]. He never raced at two and he had to be trained very early in the year. He won at Newbury, then went on to Newmarket, York and Epsom, and the truth is that he was probably never the same horse after the Derby because that was such a hard education to go through.

"The feeling always is that the Classics are early enough, and I'm sure all trainers would be happier if it could be pushed on a month. It's amusing that by the Saturday of Ascot, the Heath card, we have already run four Classics and officially that is only the beginning of summer racing.''

The Derby, it seems, is almost a race between new-born antelopes recently dropped on to the savannah. We think these animals are the fastest. It is not an opinion shared by the pride in the long grass.

The identity of this year's victor, or indeed victrix, may be heavily influenced by decisions to come. The 1,000 Guineas winner, Cape Verdi, may be supplemented for the Derby at the end of this month, while the colts' equivalent winner, Aidan O'Brien's King Of Kings, may emerge as a runner if he wins the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Sunday.

Other permutations from his Irish stable include Second Empire, who is still having baskets of fruit and flowers brought to his Ballydoyle box, and Saratoga Springs. The latter won a Dante Stakes at York on Wednesday that was not as much use to those who scrutinise the form book as nosey- parkers who enjoy The Sunday Times magazine filthy richest round-up.

The Knavesmire spectators included Saratoga Springs' joint-owner Michael Tabor, Peter Savill, J P McManus and, preparing for when an international stinkingly wealthy brochure is produced, Sheikh Mohammed.

Wafic Said, who earns a place in their company but does not enjoy being referred to as a Syrian arms dealer, is likely to be represented solely at Epsom by Border Arrow. His Croco Rouge is now primed and loaded (puns intended) for the Prix du Jockey Club in preference to the Derby.

The further (flimsy) evidence that remains to be unravelled in this country will come at Goodwood tomorrow. The Predominate Stakes is rather grandly named considering the significance it fosters. It's a bit like calling a game of rounders within one nation the World Series.

It has been a long time since this contest at the base of Trundle Hill has had some bearing on the Derby, but it is recorded that the connection has something to do with Troy, either the horse-wrecked 13th century BC city or a beast of that name that was running in the '70s.

The one to watch out for tomorrow appears to be Alec Stewart's Mutamam, who was a close third to Saratoga Springs in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last season.

Those of us who put ourselves out gravely (and bothered to switch on The Morning Line on Saturday) witnessed a recording of Mutamam's jolly display on the Newmarket Limekilns gallop in company with Dream Of Nurmi and Ghutah. This, we were told, was tremendous work.

To one bleary eye, however, it seemed that Mutamam's march was being barred by his workmates in much the same way as Walter Raleigh delayed the progress of a puddle-bound Elizabeth I.

Bath - 3.30n

Horse L S T

Happy Go Lucky 5-2 11-4 3-1

Limelight 3-1 3-1 3-1

Shalateeno 7-2 7-2 3-1

Cheek To Cheek 7-2 7-2 4-1

Keepsake 7-1 13-2 6-1

Bewitching Lady 14-1 12-1 12-1

Each-way a quarter the odds, places 1, 2

L - Ladbrokes, S - Stanley, T - Tote

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