Racing: Level playing field for Derby decider: Tomorrow's Irish Derby will help settle cross-Channel Classic rivalries. Clive Hughes reports

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The Independent Online
YOU can't say Wimbledon's prestige suffers because there are no serious home-trained contenders. Likewise tomorrow's Ir pounds 600,000 Irish Derby.

The unlikelihood of a domestic winner would at first glance appear to take the gloss off one of racing's most important events. Far from it. At The Curragh we will learn where the sport's balance of power currently lies: England or France.

It is an annual game, won last year by the hosts with St Jovite, and an exciting one for promoters and racegoers alike. This year the contenders are the English and the French Derby winners, Commander In Chief and Hernando, two horses acquiring increasingly heavy reputations.

The last time the winners of the two Derbys met in Ireland, Generous, the hero of Epsom, ran out an easy winner from Prix du Jockey Club winner Suave Dancer.

The betting this time suggests another rare opportunity for British pride; the vibes from the gallops make it a split decision, a dead-heat.

Both horses are relative babies, neither having raced as two-year-olds. Commander In Chief is unbeaten in four starts, Hernando has one more race under his belt.

It seems hard to believe now that Hernando's jockey Cash Asmussen had doubts about the colt's stamina before the Prix du Jockey Club. But now they have been erased, there should be no need for the exaggerated waiting tactics employed by the Texan at Chantilly, when he bowled along in the middle of the 11 runners before pouncing with just over a furlong to go.

Commander In Chief, a real galloping son of Dancing Brave and the top racemare Slightly Dangerous, benefited from the patience of his Derby jockey Michael Kinane as he eased his way down Tattenham Corner. In contrast to Epsom, this horse will enjoy the flat terrain of The Curragh.

That Derby victory was a far cry from his previous outing, a scrambling win over the talented, but winless Needle Gun at York. 'That taught him how to race,' said his regular work-rider, Tony McGlone, Henry Cecil's new retained jockey. 'He's got better and better since then.'

McGlone, who has ridden the 2,000 Guineas winners Don't Forget Me and Tirol in their homework, compares Commander In Chief to the 1989 French and Irish Derby winner Old Vic, another colt he partnered at exercise.

'He's very similar in that he's got loads of gears,' he said, 'and plenty of speed; a good horse at any distance has got to have speed.' In all probability we will see a two-horse race.

Even if there is a shock it is unlikely to come from an Irish horse. Commander In Chief's owner Khalid Abdullah runs another French-trained colt, Regency, but he was only fifth to Hernando at Chantilly, and is apparently a horse who excels on soft ground.

Still it's no one-horse race and neither is it a one-race meeting. Epsom should note the quality of horses running in the supporting races, both today and tomorrow. They make the backing acts at Epsom on Derby and Oaks day look increasingly unnacceptable.

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