Racing: Ezzoud ready to outrank Cecil's young pretender: Greg Wood on an intriguing opening to the Ebor meeting

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The Independent Online
'HE HAS done it well and could make up into a nice horse,' Henry Cecil said after Sabrehill's debut at the Newmarket July meeting. 'Should win again, as they say.'

You can read between his lines, you can prise them apart with a crowbar, but even allowing for Cecil's cautious nature it is hard to believe that, little more than a month later, Sabrehill could start favourite for this afternoon's International Stakes. Even in a game where reputations rise and fade with bewildering speed, victory would complete one of the swiftest ascents in memory, with Sabrehill joining Roberto, Dahlia and Triptych on the International's roll of honour. The first difficult question of a meeting which will offer plenty is: can he really be that good?

For backers who prefer hard evidence to rumour, there can be only one answer. Sabrehill is anchored to the top of the betting not by weight of money but by weight of expectation, thanks to the excited bulletins which have followed each appearance on the gallops since his last race at Newbury. The real merit of that smooth four-length defeat of Bobzao was overshadowed by his subsequent demotion to last, a decision which rivals the current whereabouts of Shergar as one of the Turf's great mysteries. Sabrehill looked impressive, but the weights did him a considerable favour, and even Bobzao's mother would struggle to describe him as top class.

The solid form of today's race is held by White Muzzle, runner- up in the King George and winner of the Italian Derby. But here too there are doubts, as White Muzzle is not certain to benefit from today's shorter trip. 'Brave' is the most polite description for the punter who put pounds 40,000 cash on Peter Chapple- Hyam's colt in a London betting shop yesterday, but there are plenty of others.

The answer is to dip into the lower regions of the lop-sided market which these two have created, and back something each-way. It should by now have dawned on even the most stubborn of his supporters that Tenby does his running for the bookies (and, in today's case, to give the race sponsor something to cheer for), so the finger should stop at Ezzoud (3.10).

Michael Stoute's colt has not raced since finishing fourth in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, and so arrives here a fresh horse from a stable which has finally shaken off its slow start to the season. He is a gritty animal with high-class form to his name, and surely better than this morning's odds of 25-1.

It is arguable that the best horse on show runs not in the International, but in the Great Voltigeur Stakes. Khalid Abdullah was so overwhelmed by riches earlier this season that when Armiger lost his unbeaten record to Hernando, he seemed likely to drift into history.

Now, with Zafonic retired, Tenby discredited and Commander In Chief resting, the betting says that he is Abdullah's best chance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Like Ezzoud, Armiger should be a fresh, eager horse, but since his main target is still many weeks away, perhaps not as close to his peak. If so, Foresee (3.45) can benefit.

It seems likely that, as in recent years, a strip of ground close to the far rail will ride fastest. NORDAN RAIDER (nap 4.15), drawn two off the rail, should take advantage, while Lille Hammer (next best 2.35) is improving fast enough to win wherever he races.

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