Racing: Focus is on Derby starter

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The Independent Online
KEITH BROWN, the starter who wore a bowler hat and a bemused look as National Hunt racing's showpiece, the Grand National, ended in farce in April, is back on the rostrum for the Flat's biggest day, the Derby, at Epsom this afternoon.

Captain Brown, who will be officiating for the last time at the Derby, will at least have technology on his side this time; the electrically operated stalls are more floppy disc than the floppy tape which let him down at Aintree.

While the inquiry into the void National continues, Epsom officials are happy their day will not be clouded by human error. 'We have a different situation to Aintree,' Andrew Cooper, the course manager, said yesterday. 'Technically the stalls might not open but they are rigorously tested before every race.' One William Hill doomster, however, has staked pounds 10 at 100-1 that the event fails to take place.

Brown, 64, is joined by Lester Piggott, 57, as perhaps the central figures of the 214th Derby. Piggott will be having his 162nd ride in a Classic and 35th in the Derby, a race he has won nine times, most recently on Teenoso in 1983.

Piggott's mount, Fatherland, is supplied by another giant of racing, the Irish trainer Vincent O'Brien, who has already helped the jockey to four Derbys, including the 1970 win on Nijinsky.

Fatherland's connections mean he will be a shorter price than he deserves, though the colt will not threaten Tenby at the head of the market. Trained at Newmarket by Henry Cecil, Tenby is unbeaten in five races and is likely to start the shortest-priced favourite since Tudor Minstrel in 1947. And he lost. Tenby's stable-mate Commander In Chief will also have his supporters, as will a third horse trained at Newmarket, the 2,000 Guineas runner-up, Barathea.

Among those on reconnaissance missions at Epsom yesterday were Planetary Aspect, Cairo Prince and Zind, who give Peter Chapple-Hyam a three-pronged attack as he attempts to follow up last year's training triumph with Dr Devious.

The lone American challenger, Wolf Prince, who is owned by three wildcatters from the Lone Star State, was also tested over the cambers. The roan colt, who is only the third horse from the United States this century to compete in the Derby, struggled to cope with the course's contours and finished the gallop wide of his work- partners.

'We changed his bit this morning and that must have been the problem,' Michael Dickinson, Britain's former champion jumps trainer, who is now based in Maryland, said.

Dickinson will be hoping that Wolf Prince copes more successfully this afternoon with Epsom's notorious bend, Tattenham Corner. Keith Brown will be hoping the field gets that far.