Racing: Derby winner quits the track: Erhaab, flawed but fast, will be remembered for his surge of speed at Epsom

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The Independent Online
FOUR wins in 11 starts is not generally a racing record which merits enormous respect or gratitude. Yet the case of Erhaab, retired yesterday with a knee injury, is an exception, for while his strike-rate was not that of a true champion, John Dunlop's colt was the crucial figure in one of the finest finishes to the Derby in recent memory.

The turn of foot which caught and beat King's Theatre, the subsequent King George winner, in the final strides at Epsom will stick in the mind long after the colt's subsequent disappointing efforts in the Eclipse and King George have been forgotten. At least a reason for those poor runs has now become clear, following an examination of Erhaab by Mike Hauser, a leading American vet, at Dunlop's Arundel yard on Tuesday.

'Ultrasound examination revealed significant structural damage to the fibres of the deep-seated suspensory ligament behind both knees,' a spokesman for the Shadwell Stud said on behalf of Hamdan al Maktoum, Erhaab's owner. 'Even with rest there is no guarantee that the horse will ever be able to train and race to the best of his ability in future. No decision has yet been made about the horse's stud career, details of which will be announced at a later date.'

For Dunlop and Willie Carson, Erhaab's regular partner, the news prompted bitter disappointment but possibly little surprise. 'It is very unfortunate but we had to take the advice we were given,' Dunlop said. 'The damage is to a vital part of the machinery and the overwhelming advice was that Erhaab had only a 30 per cent chance of recovery even after six or nine months' rest.'

For Carson, who won his fourth Derby on Erhaab, there were thoughts of a contest which has so far eluded him. 'He would definitely have been the horse for the job in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe,' he said. 'He was the only horse this season of the three-year-olds who showed a turn of foot. Even a blind man could see he wasn't right in his last two races. It's very sad for me and for the horse.'

Erhaab becomes the first Derby winner since Slip Anchor, in 1985, to fail to add to his Epsom success (though the much-derided Quest For Fame did so only after emigrating to the United States). The season has lost one of its principal characters before even the Ebor meeting, though anyone who suffers prolonged regret is probably following the wrong sport. Injuries are an inevitable part of racing, and Erhaab did, at least, get the chance to prove his merit at the highest level.

Attempts to assess Erhaab's true worth - a slightly futile exercise, but hard to avoid - must now be second-hand, in particular via King's Theatre, a runner in the International Stakes at York next week. The ifs and whens of each colt's best performance will be much debated by fans of both in the coming months (King's Theatre finished ahead of Erhaab twice in four meetings, if the maiden in which both made their racecourse debuts is included).

Neither can be expected to end the season as top-rated British three-year-old if Turtle Island can take the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville on Sunday. Rain at the French track prompted support for the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner yesterday, and at 3-1 from 7-2, he is closing in on 5-2 favourite East Of The Moon in Ladbrokes' book.

As for Erhaab, those poor runs at Sandown and Ascot will no doubt count against him when the international handicappers haggle over the official classifications later this year. But the ratings cannot reflect the emotion or exhilaration of a big-race success, and as a winning favourite in the Derby who snatched victory on the line, Erhaab's racing career has one certain epitaph. He kept the punters happy.