Racing: Derby plunge is left high and dry: Defeat for the Epsom favourite underlines the dangers of wading too deeply into the market

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The Independent Online
IF ONLY all races were as predictable as the Thresher Classic Trial. At Sandown on Saturday, the season's first Derby trial served up a workmanlike winner with no obvious Classic potential for the fourth time in as many years. With equal inevitability, 20 lengths behind the winner Linney Head, the first ante-post Derby gamble of the year was going belly up.

The colt in question was The Deep, trained by Barry Hills, who was supported from 20-1 down to 10-1 on Saturday morning for the premier Classic. He was rushed back out to 25-1 (and is underpriced at that) following his feeble display a few hours later, but those who backed him will doubtless overcome their embarrassment in time to do it all again (and again) in the coming weeks.

Ante-post betting has always been hazardous, but modern, cotton-wool training regimes ensure that, for the Epsom Classics in particular, it is nothing short of insane. With little or no worthwhile form to call upon, punters must rely on guesswork and rumour, and there are precious few whispers which do not reach the bookies' ears first.

What value exists is snapped up by the owner, trainer or stable lads, and everyone else must make do with the scraps. Even if the animal goes to post, there will be a final humiliation, as on-course layers with no liabilities cheerfully push it out. And then it finishes 15th.

At least Linney Head is unlikely to provide the bookies with bandwagon material. John Gosden, his trainer, appears to believe that Epsom's gradients would not suit the colt, which would make the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly a more logical target. Gosden has three more potential Derby colts at home - Airport, Darnay and Dover Straits - but he was making few predictions on Saturday. 'As Noel Murless used to say,' Gosden pointed out, 'when you think you've got several Derby horses, you haven't got one.'

With barely five weeks left before the season's most important race, the Derby market is astonishingly open. The best prices are now 12-1 King's Theatre (Ladbrokes, Hills), 14-1 Colonel Collins (Ladbrokes), 16-1 Golden Nashwan (Hills, Coral), 20-1 Linney Head (Ladbrokes), 25-1 bar.

If ante-post markets have any benefit for punters, it must be to indicate when confidence is ebbing from a runner. Thus the most significant move of the weekend was surely Ladbrokes' one-point extension, from 3-1 to 4-1, of Turtle Island, favourite for Saturday's 2,000 Guineas.

Peter Chapple-Hyam, his trainer, has stated that Turtle Island will be re-routed to the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) if the ground at Newmarket rides firm. Though Nick Lees, the clerk of the course, insisted yesterday that he hopes the going will be no faster than good, Ladbrokes think otherwise, but averted a run on King's Theatre, the second favourite, by cutting him to 5-1 from 7-1.

Chapple-Hyam's Golden Nashwan, to be ridden by Brent Thomson, is 10-1 from 16-1 while the same firm also reacted to the confirmation that Lester Piggott will partner Suplizi in the Classic - and now offer 9-1 from 8-1. How times change.

Neville Callaghan has booked Willie Ryan for Fairy Heights in Thursday's 1,000 Guineas, in the expectation that Cash Asmussen will be committed elsewhere. Asmussen is expected to ride the French challenger, Coup De Genie, but her claims were not strengthened when Hasili, runner-up to Francois Boutin's filly in the Prix Imprudence three weeks ago, was unplaced in the Prix de la Grotte at Longchamp yesterday.

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