While Team Dubai's Slip Stream dribbled away his Derby credentials in the Dante Stakes, old Elzy showed that Whitsbury was no one-horse stable when Salford Express won the Blue Riband's most prestigious trial. He is now a top-priced 14-1 for Epsom.
The Arab team can be excused for not spotting Salford Express. Elsworth himself was largely unaware of the horse until his seasonal debut at Newbury. "He doesn't overtax himself and he's not an overly demonstrative horse in any way," the trainer said.
"I didn't know I had him in the yard until a week or 10 days before Newbury. Then we worked him with a good horse, an old yardstick, and he was better than him. I thought then that the horse had been pulling our legs."
Elsworth was a rather striking figure in the paddock yesterday. As thunder crackled around the Knavesmire and a single, powerful downpour changed the going to soft, the trainer shrouded himself in a horse blanket which he wore as a poncho. Salford Express was uncovered as a rather spindly thing when Elsworth borrowed his clothing.
There was nothing brittle about the chestnut in the race proper though. He was soon testing the biceps of Richard Quinn as he tugged his way to the front. And he continued tugging. Slip Stream, in behind, was similarly headstrong.
Salford Express was an inviting target in the straight but the pursuers started to come under pressure one by one. At the line the winner was actually pulling away and had established a margin of a length and a half. "He ran in snatches a bit because of greenness," Quinn reported. "He's got plenty of pace, which helps around Epsom and I think he'll stay."
Golden Snake, the runner-up, will be sent to the Grand Prix de Paris, while Godolphin had no complex explanation for Slip Stream's demise. They concluded that he simply was not good enough.
That left Elsworth to ponder whether his horse would be good enough for Epsom. "Could be," he said. "His Indian Ridge half-brother called Definite Article just got beaten a short-head in the Irish Derby so he should get the trip. He has a lovely relaxed way of racing and saves a bit for himself. I'd be disappointed if he didn't stay. He's a contender.
"This horse has run only four times and he was an unfurnished, backward two-year-old who I thought might be a horse one day. This was make-up- your-mind day and if he was good enough he had to do it today. He has improved and he can go on now. It's the time of the year when a horse can do well. We're optimistic."
Elsworth has had five runners in the Derby and Salford Express will be by far his most fancied. The previous Whitsbury runners have all started at 66-1 or bigger and Mighty Flutter's third place behind Secreto and El Gran Senor in 1984 is the performance to shoot at.
"I haven't won a Derby, not even the Pitmen's Derby," Elsworth said. "But this horse is improving rapidly and who knows. The dream is on."
THE DERBY (Epsom, 5 June): Coral: 6-1 Beat All, Oath, 8-1 Montjeu, 10- 1 Dubai Millennium, 12-1 Adair, Brancaster, Commander Collins, 14-1 Salford Express; Ladbrokes: 6-1 Beat All, 7-1 Oath, 10-1 Montjeu, 12-1 Dubai Millennium, 14-1 Adair, Salford Express; Tote: 7-1 Beat All, 8-1 Oath, 11-1 Adair, Dubai Millennium, Lucido, Montjeu, Salford Express; William Hill: 6-1 Beat All, 7-1 Oath, 10-1 Adair, Dubai Millennium, Montjeu, 12-1 Commander Collins, Housemaster, 14-1 Salford Express.Reuse content