Racing: Intikhab eclipsed by Stars

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NEVER MIND the riches, this is becoming an embarrassment. For the second successive year Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation won the first all-aged Group One prize of the British season with their second string. Twelve months ago in the Lockinge Stakes Cape Cross humbled Kahal; yesterday it was the turn of Fly To The Stars to take the more significant scalp of Intikhab, rated the best horse in Europe last year.

In execution, if not intent, it was very much an action replay. Fly To The Stars, a generous 9-1 in a field of six, jumped out of the stalls with alacrity, set a brisk pace and, after a feeble challenge from his stablemate and a more determined one from Jim And Tonic, lengthened his stride in the last quarter of the straight mile to draw a length and a half clear and give his jockey, Willie Supple, his first top-level success. A neck behind the French raider, the perennial Group-race placee Almushtarak ran with his usual honesty to deprive Intikhab, the 4-7 favourite, of the minor berth.

There had been no more impressive performance last summer than Intikhab's in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, where he thrashed the best milers around by eight lengths and more with a blistering burst of speed. Unfortunately, there was no way of verifying his performance as he missed the remainder of the season through injury and he owed his somewhat controversial status, rare for a miler and rarer for a horse without a top-level victory, to that one run.

The jury is still out. The mitigating circumstances were that the five- year-old did not appear to be suited by the soft conditions ("the ground was far too holding for him and he never felt as if he would pick up off it," reported his jockey, Michael Hills), he had not run for 11 months, having undergone pin-firing surgery on a damaged bone in his foreleg twice during that time. But he had apparently been working with all his old verve both in Dubai during the winter and in Newmarket during the past month, and his showing was disappointing.

Fly To The Stars, his contemporary, though, is no mug. After winning the Group Two Prix du Rond-Point at Longchamp last October from the front, the near-black son of Bluebird took a most creditable fifth place in the Breeders' Cup Mile and yesterday was running on his merits rather than as a sacrificial hare. "He is a horse who is happy in the lead, so one role was to make sure there was a decent pace," Godolphin's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, said. "But he is very good in his own right and had become stronger and more muscular during the winter. I am sure Intikhab can do better on better ground, but I am not surprised Fly To The Stars ran so well."

Yesterday's was the chance ride to end all chance rides for Supple. With many better-known riders, including the Godolphin No 1, Frankie Dettori, unavailable through suspensions, the knock-on sel- ection effect reached as far as Supple. But though the 30-year-old from Co Kerry has hitherto had a low profile in this country, he has been champion for the past two seasons in Dubai, where he caught the eye of Sheikh Mohammed.

"I'd ridden in the Godolphin trials in the spring," he said. "I was delighted to get the chance to ride such a good horse, but then Sheikh Mohammed is very good to the people who work in Dubai. And this is a good horse. He travelled well all the way and quickened up again two furlongs out. I knew Intikhab and the others were closing, but I wasn't going to look round, and mine kept going and finished well."

Fly To the Stars was Godolphin's 41st Group or Grade One winner worldwide. But eight hours later the quest for glory in the United States went badly wrong when Worldly Manner, already a flop in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, finished plumb last in the second leg of the US Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, at Pimlico. Chur-chill Downs hero Charismatic, trained by D Wayne Lukas, powered clear from the home turn to confirm his superiority of Menifee and Badge.

Sheikh Mohammed's attention switches back to Europe this afternoon with a three-pronged Group One attack in Paris and Rome: Calando in the French 1,000 Guineas, Al Waffi in the Prix Lupin, and Central Park in the Premio Presidente della Reppublica.

In the Longchamp 2,000 Guineas Mujahid, third to Island Sands in the Newmarket version, heads the four-strong British challenge, backed up by Bertolini, Indiana Legend and Triple Dash. Alexis and Valentine Waltz join Calando in the raiding party for the fillies' race.

The Prix Lupin is one of France's traditional Derby trials and this afternoon Montjeu, the third favourite for Epsom, will put his credentials on the line.