Racing: Is Entrepreneur the real deal?

Greg Wood finds the professionals unable to fault the Derby favourite
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The Independent Online
John Gosden is not a pessimist by nature, so it says a great deal about the impression which Entrepreneur has made in his brief, four-race career that the man who will take him on with Benny The Dip in the Derby on Saturday struggles to find anything positive to say about his runner's prospects. "There is," he points out finally, "plenty of prize-money for the places.''

So there you have it. There will be two processions at Epsom this weekend, the one which takes the Queen to the foot of the new grandstand, and the one which Entrepreneur will lead past the double-deckers. And yet, as any punter knows, favourites - and far hotter ones than Entrepreneur at that - are beaten on our race-tracks on almost a daily basis. Can Michael Stoute's colt really be the certainty that backers, bookies and even the trainers of his rivals appear to think he is?

In a sense, of course, it is a meaningless question, like asking whether a football team has what it takes to win the Premiership shortly before, rather than immediately after, they have played Manchester United. We will only know for sure at 3.50 on Saturday afternoon, by which time, whatever the verdict, millions will have changed hands.

Spend just a few minutes listening to some smart judges, though, and it becomes clear just why it is that many punters will look at the annual five per cent or so interest that they are getting on their savings account on Saturday morning, and decide that an apparently copper-bottomed return of 95 per cent in two and a half minutes is far more attractive.

"At the moment, he's the best there is," says John Reid, who got as close to Entrepreneur as anyone in the 2,000 Guineas, when he finished second on Revoque. "Even as a two-year-old he was the best of Michael Stoute's, and now he's proved himself and won well at a mile. We don't know if he'll improve with another four furlongs to run, but there's no reason why he shouldn't. He's got a good temperament, he travels well and relaxes in a race, there's no kinks in him."

Gosden cannot help but agree. "I can only see plusses," he says. "He was a very attractive yearling, well balanced and proportioned, and he has a very good pedigree, by a champion sire out of a mare who's produced Group winners at a mile and a half. He was always greatly liked as a two- year-old, but wasn't highly tried with this season in mind, and now he's won the Guineas, which is the Derby trial, and won it well. I think he's shown himself on form to be a class above anything else.

"The other thing is that he's got a neat action, he's not a big, long- striding horse, and he'll probably be ideal for Epsom. The rest of us are the ones with flaws, I'm afraid. Benny The Dip has them in stamina and pedigree and the second favourite [Silver Patriarch] in terms of speed. We'll turn up and have a go, but I think as much as you can be sure of anything in this business, it looks fairly set."

Even those most dispassionate of judges, the handicappers at Timeform, struggle to predict anything but a win for the favourite. "He's got the form to win it," Chris Williams, who assesses the Classic generation, says, "and we think he's going to prove at least as effective over a mile and a half. He's currently rated 126p, and you'd have to go back to Nashwan (1989) to find a horse with a better rating going into the race.

"The average Derby winner these days is rated about 127 or 128, but if he's going to be outstanding, we'd like to see him run to a much higher mark than that. It all depends on the quality of the opposition, how high he can be pushed."

While the numbers in the Timeform black book are persuasive, however, there is a second set of statistics which counsels caution. Most bookmakers expect Entrepreneur to set off as the sixth odds-on Derby favourite since the War, but backers were paid out over just three. Two of the three losers, Tudor Minstrel (4-7 favourite in 1947) and El Gran Senor (8-11 in 1984) arrived at Epsom, like Entrepreneur, fresh from success in the 2,000 Guineas, while in all, nine winners of the Newmarket Classic have been beaten at odds-on for the Derby.

Eleven other Guineas winners, however, have justified short odds at Epsom, and it is another point in Entrepreneur's favour that unlike many top milers whose stamina will always be suspect over an extra four furlongs, pedigree experts believe him to have that hallmark of brilliance, impeccable middle-distance bloodlines but with the speed to beat the best at a mile.

As Gosden says, "Before the Guineas, a lot of people said the horse had too much stamina to win, and of course afterwards they said he had too much speed for the Derby. You can't make people like that happy.

"I'm inclined to believe that we're going to see a real racehorse win well. The type that doesn't come along too often."

HOW 2,000 GUINEAS WINNERS AND FAVOURITES HAVE FARED IN THE DERBY

Year Winner Favourite 2,000 Guineas winner

1996 Shaamit (12-1) Dushyantor (9-2, 2nd) Mark Of Esteem (NR)

1995 Lammtarra (14-1) Pennekamp (11-8, 11th Pennekamp (11-8, 11th)

1994 Erhaab (7-2) Erhaab (7-2, 1st) Mister Baileys (14-1, 4th)

1993 Commander In Chief (15-2) Tenby (4-5, 10th) Zafonic (NR)

1992 Dr Devious (8-1) Rodrigo De Triano (13-2, 9th) Rodrigo De Triano (13-2, 9th)

1991 Generous (9-1) Corrupt (4-1, 6th) Mystiko (5-1, 10th)

Toulon (4-1, 9th)

1990 Quest For Fame (7-1) Razeen (9-2, 14th) Tirol (NR)

1989 Nashwan (5-4) Nashwan (5-4, 1st) Nashwan (5-4, 1st)

1988 Kahyasi (11-1) Red Glow (5-2, 4th) Doyoun (9-1, 3rd)

1987 Reference Point (6-4) Reference Point (6-4, 1st) Don't Forget Me (NR)

1986 Shahrastani (11-2) Dancing Brave (2-1, 2nd) Dancing Brave (2-1, 2nd)

1985 Slip Anchor (9-4) Slip Anchor (9-4, 1st) Shadeed (7-2, 13th)

1984 Secreto (14-1) El Gran Senor (8-11, 2nd) El Gran Senor (8-11, 2nd)

1983 Teenoso (9-2) Teenoso (9-2, 1st) Lomond (9-1, 16th)

1982 Golden Fleece (3-1) Golden Fleece (3-1, 1st) Zino (NR)

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