Racing: Montjeu has Curragh confrontation in sight

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The Independent Online
MONTJEU IS likely to come face to face with Oath in the Irish Derby at the Curragh after an emphatic success in the Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly (French Derby) yesterday.

The John Hammond-trained colt had been earmarked for Epsom until losing his unbeaten record when beaten by Gracioso in the Prix Lupin last month. Instead he stayed close to his Chantilly base and seized France's premier Classic in a style reminiscent of the Hammond-trained, subsequent Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Suave Dancer in 1991.

The British contenders Nowhere to Exit (supplemented by John Dunlop rather more successfully than his expensive venture with Lucido at Epsom) and Royal Rebel ensured that the race was run at a cracking gallop. But Cash Asmussen, winning the Prix du Jockey-Club for the fourth time, was merely biding his time on Montjeu.

Once Montjeu moved smoothly to the front with two furlongs to travel the race was as good as over. The colt did wander about but was never in any danger and at the line was four lengths clear of Nowhere To Exit. The Godolphin representative, Rhagaas, concluding a rather dismal weekend for the Dubai operation eased only by Daylami's Coronation Cup win, was three lengths away in third. Royal Rebel, owned by Peter Savill, the British Horseracing Board's chairman, dropped away tamely and beat only one of the eight runners home.

Montjeu's owner, the renowned punter and former betting shop owner Michael Tabor, has always dreamed of winning the Epsom original, but said: "We did the right thing coming here with this horse. You're always better off playing at home and there will be other big days for him."

Asked to compare Montjeu with Suave Dancer, English-born Hammond smiled and said only: "This is a terrific start."

Montjeu is almost certain to tread the same path as Suave Dancer, who won the Irish Derby before the Arc. "We would like to take him to the Curragh although I wouldn't want to run him there if it was firm ground," Hammond said.

The trainer insisted that he has no regrets about missing the Derby in favour of staying at home. "We thought about Epsom but I always felt he was more of a horse for Chantilly," he said. "The Derby sometimes ruins horses and they have got to be mature mentally - maybe it wouldn't have been right for him."

Asmussen blamed himself for Montjeu's shock reverse in Prix Lupin. "He has been winning his races with one hand tied behind his back," the jockey said. "I've been bringing him late to win and when he came off the bridle last time he didn't know how to fight. Ten days after the Longchamp race I sat on the horse and I knew he was much more of a man."

Royal Rebel, just behind the subsequent Derby runner-up Daliapour on his last outing, failed to run up to his best. Nevertheless, there is still a chance that he will also be in the field for the Irish Derby.

"If there's one positive thing I can take from this it's that Kieren Fallon came back and told me that the horse might be better on fast ground," his trainer, Mark Johnston, said. "He also thought it's worth trying him without the blinkers."

PRIX DU JOCKEY-CLUB (1m 4f):

1. MONTJEU (C Asmussen); 2. Nowhere To Exit (T Quinn); 3. Rhagaas (L Dettori). 8 ran. 4, 3. (J Hammond). Pari-Mutuel (includes a one franc stake): Win 2.40 (coupled with Tchaikovksy); places 1.60, 2.00, 3.20. Dual Forecast 11.20.

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