The mission which has so far proved impossible for some of the country's most respected trainers is to saddle a Derby winner for Sheikh Mohammed. An investment of many hundreds of millions of pounds by the Sheikh has failed to produce even a placed horse in the Epsom Classic, which must be a source of deep annoyance to the world's leading owner. When, or if, the curse is laid, the rewards for the successful trainer will surely be substantial.
At present, according to the ante-post Derby betting, Loder has as much chance as any of the established names of fulfilling the Sheikh's greatest ambition. Overbury, who makes his seasonal debut in the Thresher Classic Trial at Sandown on Saturday, is a 33-1 chance for Epsom. In the current market, though, which is structured as if Derby day were six months away rather than six weeks, 33-1 is close to favouritism.
By Saturday evening, Overbury could stand alone at the head of the market. Or he might be missing from it completely. 'He's a bit of an unknown quantity,' his trainer said yesterday. 'He's always been a horse that in theory was going to be better at three than he was at two. He showed progressive form last year and his work's been pleasing this spring, but you don't know until you pitch in. He may show us he's only good enough for the Austrian Derby.'
Loder's heart-rate will have little chance to return to normal after the Classic Trial. Prince Of Andros, who gave the trainer his first Pattern race success in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes last autumn, is due to make his seasonal debut 35 minutes later in the Gordon Richards Stakes. 'It will be quite a nerve-wracking day,' Loder said. 'When you've only got two shots to fire you hope you're accurate with them. Prince Of Andros seems to have improved again over the winter, but we've won our easier races with him and now we've got to take on the big boys.'
One of the biggest, John Gosden, unveiled an unexpected challenger yesterday for the 1,000 Guineas. Mytilene, seventh to Fairy Heights in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot last September on only her second appearance, has been working well enough to persuade Gosden to keep her in the Classic at yesterday's forfeit stage. The full list of acceptors will be made public today.
Mytilene's presence at Newmarket would solve Lanfranco Dettori's problems in finding a ride in the race. Dettori is now certain to have a mount in the 2,000 Guineas, however. Henry Cecil decided yesterday that Distant View, second in a maiden at the Craven meeting, will take his chance in the Classic, with Pat Eddery in the saddle. Dettori will now take over from the Irishman on Grand Lodge, the winter Guineas favourite who ran so poorly behind Cecil's King's Theatre in last Thursday's Craven Stakes.
Betting on the season's first Classics was light yesterday, but Fairy Heights was cut to 14-1 from 16-1 for the 1,000 Guineas by Ladbrokes. Her form in the Nell Gwyn Stakes, when fifth to Mehthaaf, was hardly cause for encouragement, but it has since come to light that the Neville Callaghan-trained filly was in season at the time.
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