On a day when his Tenby captured the Dante Stakes with a sinuous and speedy display which hardly reminded of the trainer's tie, the Newmarket man should perhaps have been dressed in black as the Derby betting market effectively died. Tenby is now 4-5 for Epsom, and with doubts surrounding those immediately behind him in the list, he may set off the shortest priced favourite for decades on 2 June.
Tenby also simplified the Classic permutation at Warren Place. Now firmly pencilled in for the Derby, he will be joined by either Commander In Chief or Armiger at Epsom, with the absentee joining Regency, yet another colt owned by Khalid Abdullah, in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly next month.
The murmurs yesterday suggested that Armiger, who has been supplemented at a cost of 50,000 francs (pounds 6,000) for the Prix Lupin at Longchamp on Sunday, may be the one marked for export. 'We will see whether Commander In Chief is ready to run in the Derby when he runs tomorrow (in the Glasgow Stakes),' Cecil said. 'I'm sure there is nothing Prince Khalid would like to see more than a Dancing Brave colt who is related to Warning running in the Derby.
'Armiger runs in the Lupin because we are virtually guaranteed good ground there and that might not be the case in the Predominate (Stakes, at Goodwood, an alternative race). And that's a Listed race whereas it's a Group One in France.'
Group Four may be needed to guard Tenby in the run-up to the Derby, especially as a telephone call to the racecourse yesterday alleged that the horse had been doped. As the colt lolled around the parade ring, this did not look an idle claim, but as soon as the stalls slapped back the hoax was exposed.
Pat Eddery, Tenby's jockey, instantly took his mount into the lead in an effort to avert the dawdle of his last race. 'We said we were not going to have a fiasco like Newmarket, when it was a sprint,' Cecil said afterwards.
Sweeping around the rail like a greyhound, Tenby was gradually cranked through the ratchets before forging three lengths clear of Planetary Aspect in the straight.
'Pat said he wanted to give him an easy race and that when he gave him a slap he absolutely flew,' Cecil said. 'He actually took off with him.' Eddery himself reported that his horse would have enjoyed more company to wring out his fighting qualities. 'He wasn't doing very much in front, but in the last two furlongs I just asked him to do a little bit,' the jockey said. 'Really he just had a nice piece of work and that will bring him on for the Derby.'
The Irishman felt finally relieved of the thorny selection process that has presented itself this spring: whether he should prefer Tenby or Armiger for Epsom. 'They're two really good animals but in the mornings you can't get a line on them because they're so lazy,' he said. 'But I have to go for this horse now. He's done nothing wrong, he's got a lovely temperament, he's well balanced and he will act around Epsom. He's the ideal horse for a jockey and I have to ride this fellow.'
Eddery has already drawn up a rudimentary race-riding plan for the Derby, and is prepared for a repetition of yesterday's victory. 'If I was up there I wouldn't be afraid to commit and let him go on,' he said. 'Reference Point and Slip Anchor did it that way.'
Despite Tenby's impregnable position at the head of the market, there is some ammunition for the nit-pickers, however. The colt has actually beaten only six horses this year, his time yesterday was adequate at best and the Dante has not produced a Derby winner since 1987, when Reference Point followed up at Epsom.
Whatever Henry Cecil chooses to wear on the Surrey Downs in three weeks' time, he may still be advised to attach a sprig of white heather.
THE DERBY (Epsom, 2 June): Coral: 4-5 Tenby, 6-1 Barathea, 8-1 Commander In Chief, 10-1 Armiger. Hills: 4-5 Tenby, 7-1 Armiger, Barathea & Commander In Chief.
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