Racing: Sham causes fear in Ryan's quarter

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The Independent Online
There is an exception to prove any worthwhile rule, and when it comes to the reluctance of bookmakers to sponsor anything but handicaps with a minimum of 25 runners, look no further than the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday. The determination of Coral to bolt their name to the 112- year-old race with a hyphen is a little cheeky - rather like the claim in a recent Epsom racecard that the Vodafone Oaks was first run in 1779, about two centuries before the invention of mobile phones - but there can be no doubt about the exceptional quality of the small field which will line up for the pounds 250,000 main event this weekend.

Bosra Sham, described recently by Henry Cecil as the best racehorse he has trained, Benny The Dip, the Derby winner, and Pilsudski, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine last November, are the most immediately familiar names. But with Sasuru, a Group One winner in France last time out, and Allied Forces, successful in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, also entered, you could ask little more of the first important meeting of the generations.

The early betting from the sponsors suggests that it is a tussle which the older horses will win, with Benny The Dip, the only three-year-old in the field, the 9-2 third-favourite, behind Bosra Sham, odds-on at 4- 6, and Pilsudski on offer at 4-1.

Of the remainder, Sasuru is an 8-1 chance, with Allied Forces rated the least likely winner on 14-1, but the latter colt's presence, expected to be confirmed by the Godolphin operation this afternoon, would none the less hold great significance for Willie Ryan.

The man who rode a brave and intelligent race to win the Derby on Benny The Dip less than a month ago would have been replaced by Lanfranco Dettori, John Gosden's stable jockey, but with Dettori's commitment to Godolphin taking precedence, the way seems clear for Ryan to take the reins once more.

Ryan was reluctant to comment on the prospect in any detail yesterday, since the ride is not even officially available until Allied Forces is declared a definite runner. "The less said about it the better from my point of view at the moment," he said. "We'll see what happens in the next couple of days, but obviously I'd be delighted to keep the ride and I'm sure that Mr Knight [Benny The Dip's owner] and Mr Gosden know that. He'll go there with a big shout, he's a three- year-old gettig the weight allowance and the drop back to 10 furlongs will be no trouble to him even though he got the mile and a half well enough in the Derby."

As for Benny The Dip's most serious rival, Ryan's long attachment to Henry Cecil's yard has given him personal knowledge of Bosra Sham's capabilities, and he is under no illusions about the task facing her rivals on Saturday. "I rode her at work just the other day," he said. "She's a filly we all respect enormously and she's definitely the one we all have to beat.''

With the Irish Derby sitting just six days earlier in the calendar, the Eclipse is not necessarily the most obvious target for an Epsom winner, and those who made the trip in recent years enjoyed mixed fortunes. Nashwan, in 1989, was an easy winner, but Erhaab, in 1994, and the considerably more talented Reference Point, 10 years ago, failed to follow up after winning at Epsom. Reference Point was beaten by Mtoto, who, like Bosra Sham, arrived fresh from victory in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The going at Sandown was officially good to soft yesterday - the rain has clearly not been quite so persistent as that in another part of the London suburbs - though Andrew Cooper, clerk of the course, admitted that "if there is any further rain it will turn soft pretty sharpish".

That might be to the liking of Sasuru, who won the Prix d'Ispahan on good to soft at Longchamp last time out, but even Geoff Wragg's most devoted followers will surely hope that the ground will not play any major part in deciding what may prove to be one of the most exciting and significant races of the season.