Racing: Looks deceive as filly gets dolled up for nothing

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WHEN the 15-strong field paraded in bright sunshine most eyes were on the only distaff representative and she looked a picture. As well groomed as an expensive filly can be, her gleaming brown coat set off by Godolphin's royal blue, Cape Verdi looked around disdainfully until prodded into a canter by Frankie Dettori.

Widespread interest in Cape Verdi's chance of becoming the first girl to beat the boys in English racing's premier Classic for 82 years, plus Dettori's popularity, and doubtless support from the stable, installed her as the 11-4 favourite but some good judges suspected that she was all dolled up for nothing.

Of particular concern to some who had ventured an interest was how well Cape Verdi would handle the going - officially "good" - and whether she was up to a mile and a half on Epsom's contours. "Always the two big questions," somebody said, a remark that could also be applied to the personal fancy, Greek Dance, who had drifted in the betting.

From a vantage point high in the stands the Derby appeared to have regained some of its old appeal, the infield humming with activity, the attendance projected at around 70,000 and plenty to keep modest punters occupied between races.

If the controversial move from Wednesday to Saturday did more than anything else to cause a dwindling of public interest the absence of high-profile contenders didn't help either.

Now the sun burned off a lingering haze, business at the betting locations looked brisk and there was a general air of excitement added to by the late arrival of the Irish contingent due to problems at Shannon airport. "All we need now is a cracking race," a colleague said.

There seemed to be enough class in the field to make this a likely prospect but questions were about to be asked, not only of Cape Verdi but two participants from Tipperary, the well backed Second Empire and the 2,000 Guineas winner, King Of Kings, who on the day was in to 11-2 from 10-l after a big gamble by wealthy Irish supporters.

As it turned out only Greek Dance, in fifth place, of the most strongly fancied runners avoided the embarrassment of being completely wiped out by High-Rise. The winner's chances, at 20-1, had been sneered at in most quarters, but not by Peter O'Sullevan, whose retirement from the microphone is incidental to his judgement.

In any case things were clearly not going well for Cape Verdi as Dettori took her up the climb from the starting gate. "Never in the race," was one of the comments passed, and confirmed by Dettori when he came to speak outside the weighing room between races.

In Dettori's view the filly would not have fared any better in the Oaks on Friday, which is some consolation for those whose Oaks ante-post bets went out of the window when Sheikh Mohammed coughed up pounds 75,000 to supplement Cape Verdi for the Derby. "There was never a time in the race when I thought we were going anywhere," Dettori said. "We got bumped a couple of times coming down the hill into Tattenham Corner but that wasn't the reason why she didn't do better. I think it was the track, she didn't act on the going. A shame, but that's racing."

Finishing in ninth place Cape Verdi fared no better than members of the deadlier sex whose stamina had been doubted.

None of this mattered to the people who celebrated High-Rise's victory, his owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, his trainer Luca Cumani and Olivier Peslier, whose horsemanship is of such a high order that many rank him ahead of Dettori and Michael Kinane.

The first French jockey to take the great prize since Yves Saint-Martin brought Relko home in 1963, Peslier was as excited as anyone by his victory, crying "C'est magnifique," before dismounting Dettori fashion.

Leaning over a balcony rail afterwards a veteran pundit expressed some disenchantment with the proceedings. "Great day, the Derby back to something like it used to be," he said. "Shame about the race though. Just didn't come up to expectations."

Maybe not, but it was won in a tight finish by the only horse to set off unbeaten, including a victory in the Derby Trial at Lingfield. Most people simply didn't take enough notice.