Racing: Empire is claimed by Desert

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The Independent Online
DESERT PRINCE, trained by David Loder, and Fa-Eq, the Godolphin representative, made it a surprise one-two for the British raiders in yesterday's 78th Irish 2,000 Guineas. But the talking point of the race was the performance of the 4-5 favourite Second Empire, one of the market leaders for the Derby in 13 days time, in third place.

Making his eagerly awaited seasonal debut after recovering from recent muscular problems, the colt, spearheading a three-strong challenge from the powerful Aidan O'Brien team, finished on the heels of the runner-up under apparently tender handling from Christy Roche.

The Curragh stewards were among the observers less than impressed with the veteran jockey's riding. And after hearing his version of events they noted, rather than accepted, his explanation that his horse became tired in the closing stages.

The performance of Olivier Peslier on the winner, however, was a first- class piece of tactical horsemanship. The French champion quickly grasped that the early pace, set by the outsider Untold Story on behalf of his stablemate Two-Twenty-Two, was pedestrian, and hustled Desert Prince up to keep tabs on him.

When the predictable sprint finish materialised, Peslier, who had won the Free Handicap on the son of Green Desert earlier in the year, held the call. When he launched for home the only one able to respond was Fa- Eq, but Desert Prince, third in the French version of the race 13 days previously, had plenty of speed in hand and strode away to score by an emphatic three lengths.

His victory gave Loder a first Irish Classic in his last season training for the colt's owner, Edward St George, before he moves to France next year to take over the Godolphin two-year-olds. The trainer, currently based in Newmarket, is convinced that Desert Prince's trip to Longchamp turned him from a boy to a man.

He said: "After the French race I felt that, although it's difficult when you have only got a fortnight between races, the horse had at last grown up and knew what the game was about, whereas before that he had always been very babyish."

Loder had intended to save the colt for Royal Ascot's St James's Palace Stakes rather than run yesterday but had been convinced by St George, whose horses race under his Lucayan Stud banner, that a challenge for the Classic was viable. He added: "I have to take my hat off to Mr St George for persuading me it was a good idea to come to Ireland in the meantime."

The Godolphin team were delighted with Fa-Eq, who was stepping up considerably in class from a win in a Newmarket maiden, and confirmed that the son of Indian Ridge would take up the option of a re-match with Desert Prince at Royal Ascot.

O'Brien, though, admitted that he was disappointed with the showing of Second Empire, unbeaten in three runs as a juvenile. The big, handsome Fairy King colt had fought for his head in the early stages before being anchored in rear by Roche. Oddly, his pacemaker Coconut Creek made no effort to help him by ensuring a stronger early gallop.

Second Empire made ground towards the leaders in the straight but Roche asked for little thereafter, giving just one smack of encouragement before passing the line, ears pricked, a length behind Fa-Eq. He was followed in by his stablemates Bianconi and Coconut Creek, with the two Dermot Weld runners whipping-in.

The reaction of some bookmakers was that Second Empire had run a satisfactory trial for Epsom, where he is likely to benefit from more vigorous handling. He has been withdrawn from the Ladbrokes lists but quoted as favourite by Hills (7-4) and Corals (2-1), both with the "with a run" contingency.

O'Brien, who confirmed the 2,000 Guineas winner, King Of Kings, as the Ballydoyle team's No 1 Derby candidate yesterday, would not be drawn on Second Empire's participation. He said: "We will see how he comes out of the race. Obviously I am a bit disappointed. He was a bit keen early but you would have to say he was staying on well at the finish. All options are still open."

Desert Prince made a winning career debut a year ago yesterday in the Zetland Maiden Stakes at Doncaster. The latest winner of the six-furlong contest, Be The Chief, is likely to follow in his illustrious predecessor's hoofprints at least to Royal Ascot, where he will attempt to go one better by actually winning the Coventry Stakes.

The richest race of the afternoon in Britain, the pounds 21,000 Tote Credit Silver Bowl at Haydock, went to the Jack Berry-trained outsider French Connection, who led six strides from the post to thwart a significant ante-post gamble on Lucayan Indian, in the black-and-white St George colours. Connections, though, should be consoled by their pounds 118,700 earnings at the Curragh.

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