Racing: Irish deceived by late thrust from Devious

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FOR 300 yards at the end of the Irish Champion Stakes here yesterday the Derby winners, Dr Devious and St Jovite, brushed earlobes in a struggle that will be recalled long after the two are underground. Dr Devious won it to go 2-1 up in their series, and now the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris in three weeks becomes the season's unmissable event.

Dublin's pubs and living rooms emptied in the expectation that St Jovite would repeat the hiding he gave an ailing Dr Devious in the Irish Derby and so promise this horse-revering nation its first Arc winner since Alleged in 1978. St Jovite remains the favourite for racing's European Cup but he travels to France with his winning march broken by one of the toughest little runners ever to have borne a saddle.

To utilise the power of his gallop over a trip (a mile and a quarter) at least two furlongs short of his optimum, Christy Roche had sent St Jovite to the front well before the turn. This time, though, Dr Devious was not floundering in sand and when his thin chestnut frame slipped upsides the big bay machine of St Jovite you knew it would take a magnifying glass to divide them in the judge's room.

Most thought St Jovite had won. John Reid, Dr Devious's jockey, was among them, and when Peter Chapple-Hyam, the horse's trainer, advised his team to occupy neutral ground while the photo-finish was examined, Reid ignored the call and guided Dr Devious into second place. 'I thought I'd got him,' Reid said, sadly. On Leopardstown's photo-finish board, later, it looked like a dead-heat.

At Epsom, remember, Dr Devious had sprinted away from St Jovite with seemingly irreversible authority. Then the two met again at The Curragh and St Jovite opened up a runway between himself and his diminutive pursuer. St Jovite strolled home in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (his great rival was on the sick list), and everybody said Dr Devious would need to be equipped with binoculars ever to see his later-developing adversary again.

Hence the starting prices yesterday: 7-2 Dr Devious, 4-7 St Jovite. And yet, even with the scorecard favouring Dr Devious, St Jovite is 7-4 with Ladbrokes for the Arc while his conqueror here is a 3-1 chance (User Friendly, the St Leger winner, is 4-1, and it is then 8-1 bar the three).

The bookies believe that, with a faster pace, firmer ground and the extra expanse of turf, St Jovite will reassert his dominance. The statistics also show that yesterday's loser is a better horse travelling right-handed, because he leads with that leg. There were even those who thought that St Jovite would have held off Dr Devious had he not hung in towards his challenger and Roche not stopped riding near the post.

Chapple-Hyam disputes these theories, as well he might (not least because he has backed his horse for the big one at 10-1). 'Why shouldn't he (Dr Devious) be favourite?' he said. 'He came back from The Curragh a sick horse and needed the run badly when he was fourth at York. I thought he was 99 per cent straight today, but I am still hoping he could be just a fraction fitter for Paris. He'll take all the beating.'

This was vindication, yet again, for Chapple-Hyam's assertiveness. He had said Dr Devious was coming back (a temperature of 105 was recorded after the Irish Derby) and had dismissed the notion that St Jovite would inflict another shrivelling defeat.

Both trainers rejected the idea that this was merely a public warm-up for France. 'Today wasn't a prep-race for anything,' Jim Bolger, who saddled the runner-up, said. 'This was the first time a Derby winner, an Irish Derby winner and an Eclipse winner (Kooyonga, who was a distant and disappointing fourth) have met in Ireland. St Jovite was as well as I could have him and he has lost out by a fraction. It was a super race. '

That, at least, was not open to interpretation.