Racing: Dubai Millennium the class act

The Derby: Sue Montgomery says Godolphin can go one better than last year
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DERBY DAY, the best day of the sporting year, is less than a week away and the 220th running of the great race is shaping up to be a fascinating renewal. When the final line-up is confirmed on Thursday there is the prospect of a decent field with runners from three countries, open betting and the answers to many intriguing questions. Several less fashionable stables are represented and promise to be as competitive as the high- rollers.

The only runner with winning Group One form this year is Saffron Walden, who produced a sharp-looking turn of foot when taking the Irish 2,000 Guineas eight days ago. The Aidan O'Brien-trained colt's class seems established but his ability to stay the trip must be taken on trust; he may have been flattered at the Curragh by his performance against short runners and though he is by Sadler's Wells, sire of numerous middle-distance stars, he is a half-brother to a top sprinter, Dolphin Street. Oddly, Sadler's Wells, the eight-times European champion stallion, has yet to sire a Derby winner, though his 18 representatives to date have produced four runners- up.

On paper Saffron Walden was the most expensive yearling in Europe two years ago, with an auction price tag of 1,120,000 guineas though his breeders, the Niarchos family, still have a stake in him.

Should Saffron Walden, known as Saffron Waldon until two days ago, triumph, he would be the fifth Classic winner to race under two names. But his change of identity (to rectify a typing error) is not so drastic as that of the only one to do so this century. The 1948 2,000 Guineas winner My Babu was called Lerins as a two-year-old.

The Derby is the one Classic to have eluded Sheikh Mohammed. His main contenders will be the unbeaten Godolphin pair, Dubai Millennium (another to have been renamed, but before he ran, presumably with victory in next year's Dubai World Cup in mind) and the ex-American, Adair. Dubai Millennium, though a massive individual, seemed to cope with Goodwood's descents well enough when he won the Predominate Stakes and readily asked the questions Frankie Dettori posed that day. He has thrived since and is considered much classier than the team's Derby runner-up last year, City Honours.

Fourteen trainers have won back-to-back Derbys, most recently Dick Hern, who followed Troy with Henbit in 1980. Luca Cumani, responsible for High- Rise 12 months ago, fields Daliapour, another of the Sadler's Wells tribe. The Aga Khan's bonny little colt, one of the few in the field with a genuine middle distance pedigree, merits serious consideration, particularly if there is any easing of the ground and assuming he is given a more positive ride than when beaten by Lucido in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

The boldest ante-post gamble came yesterday when Hildegarde Focke paid pounds 75,000 for the privilege of reinstating Lucido. The son of Royal Academy had been struck from the entries in March, before he had run this season, because trainer John Dunlop did not consider him up to Epsom standard. But he won both his starts this year, beating Oath in a minor race at Newbury and then Daliapour at Lingfield.

It would be ironic if Val Royal was to become the first French-trained winner since Empery in 1976 for the Royal Academy colt's trainer Andre Fabre, yet to send out a Derby winner, was particularly dismissive about the race's status earlier this year.

The 221st Oaks on Friday seems as open a contest as the colts' race. The Godolphin filly Zahrat Dubai looked a world-beater in the Musidora Stakes at York, but disappointed badly in her work on Friday when she was overshadowed by Kilting. Ramruma and Claxon are both stoutly-bred improvers with preference for the latter whose John Dunlop stablemate, Alabaq, provides a poignant note as the last foal of the 1990 Oaks winner Salsabil. Value may be found in Valentine Girl, a daughter of Rainbow Quest, taken to end Barry Hills' Epsom drought.

Derby card, page 11

Derby latest, page 18