Racing: Erhaab's lap of honour paves way for Return: St Leger winner can take his place behind Derby hero with a little to prove

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The Independent Online
THE major bookmakers have many excellent contacts in high places, but summoning sufficient rain to allow Turtle Island to line up for today's Eclipse Stakes at Sandown may prove beyond even the considerable power of Coral, the race sponsor. Without him, though, the pounds 300,000 contest could be little more than a lap of honour for Erhaab, who won the Derby at nearby Epsom just over a month ago.

Punters and form students too will hope that a combination of overnight rain and Peter Chapple-Hyam's competitive instinct permits Turtle Island to go to post. Following Erhaab's success on the Downs it seemed fair to assess him as an above-average Derby winner, if only because he overcame so many problems before catching and beating King's Theatre with something to spare. Balanchine's defeat of the same horse in last Sunday's Irish Derby, though, has pushed her official rating past that of Erhaab. Suddenly, John Dunlop's colt has something left to prove, but from today's field only his fellow three- year-old Turtle Island seems likely to prise out the truth.

The Classic generation has a fair record in the Eclipse, winning five of the last 10 runnings, and it would be a slur on the current crop if either the part-time stallion Environment Friend or the quirky Ezzoud could defeat the Derby winner today. Bin Ajwaad is returning to Group One company very swiftly after a long absence and may struggle, and punters in search of an each-way bet against the favourite should side with Bob's Return, a 10-1 chance.

The original plan for Bob's Return, last year's St Leger winner, was to contest the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France tomorrow before his main mid-season target, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Close study of the Eclipse entries, though, hardly triggered heart palpitations in Mark Tompkins, his trainer, who decided to forgo the duty frees and stay at home.

'I thought the Eclipse was going to be a better race than it is,' Tompkins said yesterday, 'so you've just go to have a go, haven't you? I don't think Turtle Island will run either, as the ground's fast, and apart from thunderstorms there's no rain forecast.'

The obvious question surrounding Bob's Return is whether he will have sufficient pace for today's 10 furlongs, having made his name in the stayers' Classic. An extra quarter of a mile would certainly suit him ideally, but the pacemaker supplemented earlier this week for Erhaab's benefit should also assist Bob's Return, while the stiff uphill finish will place further emphasis on stamina.

In Bob's Return's absence, Britain's sole representative in tomorrow's Group One Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud will be Muhtarram, winner of the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. John Gosden's colt is expected to start favourite for the 12-furlong contest, which will be his first attempt at the distance since he finished fourth to Dr Devious in the 1992 Derby. Any stamina failings will surely be exposed by such rivals as Apple Tree, who took the Coronation Cup at Epsom last month, and Marildo, the winner of the Prix Ganay.

The German-trained Kornando is another with a chance and the rising quality and value of German racing will be further illustrated after the Deutsches Derby at Hamburg tomorrow, when the winning owner will receive pounds 204,280, the richest purse in the country's history.

Nor will this be a simple afternoon's work for a big trainer from Britain or France. The probable favourite in a 20- runner field is the home- trained Twen, a Group Two winner at Cologne last month, though David Loder, who saddles Overbury, must have a good chance of returning to Newmarket with a suitcase full of marks.

Yesterday's results, page 18