Racing: Drums sound out compelling Beat

Sue Montgomery looks at the form lines for today's Irish Derby
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THE MAIN attraction of racing for many is cerebral. And if ever there was a mind game to be played round a race it is with this afternoon's 134th running of the Irish Derby, and not just by the punters. The potential for bluff and counter-bluff behind the scenes would do credit to the corridors of power in 16th Century Florence.

Ten colts, three from Britain, one from France and six locals, are scheduled to contest the 12-furlong race at the Curragh. For the sixth successive year, there will be no deciding clash between the winners of the English and French Derbys. Montjeu, victor at Chantilly, will be there but the absence of Oath means the task of upholding Epsom honour falls on his runner-up, Daliapour, and third-placed Beat All.

The connections of Beat All - he is trained by Sir Michael Stoute and owned by the Dubai businessman Saeed Suhail - think enough of their colt's prospects to have paid a late entry fee of Irpounds 77,500. The third British- based runner, Muta-faweq, was similarly supplemented by the Godolphin team.

And here the manoeuvring begins. As well as Beat All, the Stoute stable contains a decent, but not top-class, colt called Iscan, who runs in Sheikh Mohammed's colours. In his last two outings he has been beaten by carriers of the Sheikh's Godolphin silks - Mukhalif in the Italian Derby in May and by Mutafaweq in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Back in April, Mukhalif was trounced at Newmarket by Beat All, whose racing plates Iscan is not judged fit to polish at home.

But then, Mutafaweq's progress has been such that Mukhalif cannot even consider buffing up the nails in his shoes. "It is all very interesting,' said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford. "Mutafaweq needs to have improved. If there is more to come, as much as we think there might be, then he will play a part. If not, then he cannot win. The race will answer several questions."

Mutafaweq and Beat All seem best suited by conditions that are faster rather than slower, Daliapour and Montjeu vice versa. The ground is in favour of the former pair, but rain was forecast overnight. If the heavens do not open however, Montjeu and Daliapour may not run.

The last British-based raider to take Ireland's premier prize was the Godolphin filly Balanchine, in 1994. The last from across the Channel was Dream Well last year, but Montjeu, the winner of the Prix du Jockey- Club, is French only in terms of where he resides. The Sadler's Wells colt, trained by Englishman John Hammond, is owned by Michael Tabor.

Montjeu would be suited not only by soft ground but also a strong pace, which will be virtually guaranteed by the Ballydoyle quartet. Presumably, at least one will be sacrificed as a hare but probably not Tchaikovsky, who floundered in the mud behind Montjeu at Chantilly, but is the choice of the stable jockey, Mick Kinane. Kieren Fallon has picked up the ride on Genghis Khan, a half brother to Generous, the 1991 Irish Derby winner. Urban Ocean is another progressive type, but one who would appreciate rain.

Though the Irish Derby has a long heritage, it has been a true championship only in the post-war era and entered the top-level circuit as recently as 1962. Bright News, winner of the first level-weights running in 1946, picked up pounds 1,099 for his efforts; Tambourine, winner of that inaugural Irish Sweeps Derby of 1962, won pounds 50,027. Today's victor will take home around pounds 440,000, which would be a fair consolation prize for either of those thwarted at Epsom.

In the past 30 years three Epsom runners-up - El Gran Senor (1984), Law Society (1985) and St Jovite (1992) - have gone one better in Co. Kildare. But, on this occasion, Beat All can follow two earlier Derby thirds, Prince Regent (1969) and Irish Ball (1971). He had an interrupted preparation for the Derby, had to run wide from a bad draw and showed his inexperience on the awkward camber in the straight. He has reportedly thrived since and has enough in his favour to reverse form with the admirable little Daliapour to give Gary Stevens his first European Classic.

Irish Derby card and today's meetings in Britain, page 9