Racing: Intikhab can prove might

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IT IS ALMOST a year since the first day of last season's Royal meeting at Ascot, and by rights, all that has happened since could have wiped it from the memory entirely. One image, though, refuses to budge. It is the sight of Intikhab in the meeting's first race, the Queen Anne Stakes, speeding away from a strong field as if every last one of them had been tethered to the furlong pole. Eight lengths was the winning margin, and it was enough to earn him official recognition as the finest racehorse in Europe, of any age or over any distance.

Best of all, this was only mid-June, Intikhab was still improving, and a whole summer of valuable races stretched ahead. But that was the last anyone but his closest connections saw of him. While he recovered from an injury, it was left to Among Men, who finished second at Ascot, to hint at just how good Intikhab might be when he won the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood six weeks later.

The wait is finally over, though, and Intikhab (2.30) makes his return in the Group One Lockinge Stakes at Newbury this afternoon. He will surely win, too, since according to most people's ratings, Intikhab has at least a stone in hand of most of his five rivals. It is not going to be something to bet on, unless you are willing to take a return only marginally higher than the local building society is offering. This should be a moment, though, to savour a great racehorse and imagine what the rest of the summer may hold.

Bets should be kept small anyway today, as there are a series of difficult races at both Newbury and Newmarket. At Newbury, Secret Archive (next best 2.00) could be the one in the Aston Park Stakes, since he needed his first run of the season and Richard Hannon is now running into form, while SHAKIEYL (nap 1.30) must go well in the London Gold Cup Handicap after a solid run in a conditions race last time out.

At Newmarket, the two main events are both restricted to three-year-olds, who can improve rapidly at this time of year and do not lend themselves to serious bets. That said, Arctic Char (3.40) has every chance in the King Charles II Stakes, and Princely Dream (4.15) could go well at a decent price in the sprint handicap. He made a quiet but promising start to the season at Thirsk two weeks ago, and his trainer has an excellent record with sprinters.

For the second time in a fortnight, Godolphin will be hoping for a Group One double across two continents today, as Worldly Manner contests the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the second leg of the US Triple Crown, just a few hours after Intikhab's run at Newbury. "He came out of the Kentucky Derby in great shape and we're confident," Tom Albertrani, Godolphin's assistant trainer, said yesterday. "The Derby tuned him up a little. Worldly Manner ran a creditable race, he came out of it good and he will improve for it."

It is a Classic day in France tomorrow, with Mujahid, third in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, leading the English challenge in the French equivalent, the Poule d'Essai des Poulains. Bertolini, the Free Handicap winner, is also in the field of 15, along with Aidan O'Brien's Lavery. There is a strong overseas challenge too for the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas), headed by Godolphin's Valentine Waltz, who was third to Wince at Newmarket.

A horse who may be heading the other way is the centre of attention in the Prix Lupin. Montjeu, a possible Derby contender, faces four rivals, including Godolphin's Al Waffi and O'Brien's Festival Hall.