Racing: Roberts' intrepid swoop

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The Independent Online
SHEIKH MOHAMMED is too polite to grind his teeth, but the delight of the world's foremost racehorse owner, as he greeted the Oaks winner, Intrepidity, here yesterday, was surely tempered by frustration. The French-trained filly gave him his fourth Oaks, and seventh English Classic, in nine years, but the Derby itself, the race which he covets above all others, continues to elude him.

Yesterday's Classic had much in common with Wednesday's Derby, in which the Sheikh's Barathea could finish only fourth. Both were won by lightly raced, unbeaten horses, having their fourth outing, and in both races the favourite was treading quicksand a long way from home.

If anything, yesterday's market leader, Yawl, evaporated even more suddenly than Tenby had on Wednesday. As they led the field to the top of the hill, five out, and started the plunge into Tattenham Corner, Yawl and Darryll Holland seemed ready to repel all challengers, while Intrepidity, ridden by Michael Roberts, was last and struggling to improve.

Thirty seconds later Yawl was finished, drifting helplessly backwards as Lanfranco Dettori, head down, chased Oakmead to the front and set off for home. For a moment, as only the 33-1 chance Royal Ballerina was able to go with him, Dettori's move looked likely to be the decisive one, but almost unseen, Roberts had steered Intrepidity into third, and now they really started racing.

'Once I got her running I knew I was going to win,' Roberts said afterwards. It was not quite that simple, and Intrepidity's whirling ears betrayed her immaturity when her jockey asked for a final kick, but she had sufficient determination to stride past her rivals inside the final furlong, and eventually won, going away, by three- quarters of a length. Royal Ballerina beat Oakmead by a head for second, with Sueboog five lengths further away in fourth.

The most certain conclusion after the season's fourth Classic is that there is better to come from the winner. Probably not immediately, though, as the French way with high-class middle-distance horses is a mid-season holiday before a building up again towards the rich prizes of late autumn. 'She could run in the King George,' Intrepidity's trainer, Andre Fabre, said, 'but it would make sense to me to save her for the Prix Vermeille in the autumn with a view to the Arc and Breeders' Cup.

'She has always appeared to be a top-class filly but the question mark was over her stamina, and now she has answered that we know for sure that she is top- class.'

Intrepidity was the first French- trained Oaks winner since Pawneese in 1976, but more significantly the first Classic winner for Roberts in his new career as the retained jockey to Sheikh Mohammed.

The association has taken time to find its stride, but Roberts's confidence is clearly growing as he brings the maroon-and-white silks home first with increasing frequency. His unfamiliarity with the winner - 'the first time I sat on her was in the paddock' - was of no concern, but he did well to overcome a stumble early in the race.

'She was a bit sleepy when she came out of the stalls and she is a bit green and immature, but she is still a complete racehorse,' Roberts said. 'She stumbled over the road but she loves to race and never flinched for a minute. She is a lovely filly and I would like to ride her in all her races.'

If one of those contests is in the Arc against Commander In Chief, who could also arrive in Paris unbeaten, all Britain's punters will want to be there.

The stewards inquired into the running of Yawl, who continued Barry Hills's wretched record in the Oaks, but there was no obvious explanation for her dismal run - even the 200-1 outsider of the field, Grove Daffodil, beat her home. Hills must add his disappointment to those of Dibidale, who looked sure to win before her saddle slipped in the home straight, and Durtal, who was favourite until she threw Lester Piggott on the way to the start and was withdrawn.

The Derby has provided Hills with several similar near-misses. If he needs consolation, Sheikh Mohammed has a shoulder.

(Photograph omitted)