Racing: Saffron adds to Classic flavour

Aidan O'Brien's colt storms into Derby contention with brilliant Guineas win at the Curragh
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SAFFRON WALDON, one of the talking horses from the powerful Aidan O'Brien stable, made a bold Derby statement as he won the Irish 2,000 Guineas by a convincing three lengths. The French rider Olivier Peslier brought the colt, who is almost named after the Essex market town, with a powerful late surge down the centre of the course to thwart the Henry Cecil-trained Enrique, also runner-up in the the original version of the Classic three weeks ago.

The winner's better-fancied stablemate Orpen snatched third place from Mus-If. But the Newmarket Guineas winner, Island Sands, favourite to complete the double, was a disappointing fifth. The Godolphin colt was never travelling and found repeated traffic problems in the final quarter-mile.

It was a second successive Irish Guineas for Peslier, who scored on Desert Prince last year, and a second in three years for O'Brien, whose Desert King took the honours in 1997. Desert King went on to win the Irish Derby, but for Saffron Waldon the greater glory of Epsom lies ahead. The handsome bay colt is now 7-1 second favourite with Ladbrokes, behind the 6-1 market leader Beat All and in front of three on 8-1, Oath, Dubai Millennium and Adair.

Saffron Waldon had one educational run last season and two low-profile, but progressive, victories this year before yesterday's triumph. But he was born with a silver bit in his mouth; he is a Sadler's Wells half-brother to the top sprinter Dolphin Street and commanded the highest auction price tag - 1,120,000 Irish guineas - of any yearling in Europe in 1997. He runs in the colours of Sue Magnier, but his breeders, the Niarchos family - the owners of Enrique - have retained a stake.

O'Brien was delighted with promise fulfilled. "He's a lovely horse and I think the Derby is next," he said. "We were worried about his stamina, being a half-brother to a very fast horse, and today was a bit of a test." Peslier confirmed there would be no worries in that department. "He was only getting going at the end," he said, "if there had been further to run, he would have won further."

No filly has ever taken both the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas, so Wince, the stablemate of Enrique, could make history at the Curragh today when she faces 16 rivals. But the big bay daughter of Selkirk has a less daunting task than it might sound for she was impressive at Newmarket and has reportedly thrived since.

That victory, by half a length from Wannabe Grand, was given a boost when the third-placed Valentine Waltz ran away with the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (the French 1,000 Guineas) a week ago. Five who finished behind Wince at Newmarket reoppose today: Capistrano Day (fourth), Hula Angel (sixth), Golden Silca (seventh), Fear And Greed (13th) and Sunspangled (15th). The Godolphin candidate is Mythical Girl, lucky to win at Goodwood 15 days ago.

O'Brien launched his Classic career in the race with Classic Park two years ago, the day before he followed up in the colts' race with Desert King. As well as Sunspangled, he fields three others today, Carambola, Pink Coral and Crystal Downs. The quartet still hold entries for the Oaks, for which another of today's runners,Edabiya, is the shortest-priced Irish contender.

Yesterday's domestic fare was routine stuff, but one with a future is Yaralino, a superbly-bred three-year-old (by Caerleon out of the Irish Oaks winner Wemyss Bight) from the Cecil yard who was whispered as a Derby prospect during the close season and made his debut in a ten-furlong maiden at Lingfield. His performance in beating Red Guard, a five-year-old gelding novice hurdle winner, was satisfactory rather than spectacular, but Yaralino can progress only one way and holds some fancy entries, including the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

His star stablemate, Royal Anthem, the winner of the first-named race last year, works at Newbury on Wednesday evening as part of the build- up to his return to action this season. His first top-level target is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The Group One spotlight is also on the continent today, where El Condor Pasa, the darling of Japanese racing, makes his first European appearance in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp. El Condor Pasa, the Japan Cup winner , is likely to face sternest opposition from Croco Rouge, fourth in the Prix de l'Arce de Triopmhe last term.

British challengers in the nine-furlong race are Handsome Ridge (John Gosden) and Kabool (Godolphin). Earlier in the day Peter Chapple-Hyam's charge Mother Of Pearl, who chased home the Oaks favourite Zahrat Dubai in the Musidora Stakes at York, takes on nine French fillies in the Prix Saint-Alary. And in Italy four British-trained fillies, John Dunlop's Barafamy and Signorina Cattiva, Nicely (John Hills) and Ruacana Falls (Chapple-Hyam) go to Milan for the Italian Oaks.