Racing: Tenby set for Derby short cut: The Dante Stakes can confirm Henry Cecil's colt as the hottest Epsom favourite of recent years

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D-DAY in the Dante Stakes for Tenby this afternoon when victory for Henry Cecil's colt may make him the shortest priced favourite for the Derby for a decade.

If Tenby maintains an unbeaten record by defeating his four rivals, the bookmakers expect to cut him to about even money, and with doubts surrounding others in the Classic list, the colt may go off the first odds-on shot at Epsom since 1984, when El Gran Senor succumbed to Secreto.

The only pretenders that are expected to trouble Tenby, in the betting market at least, are Barathea, one of 14 horses declared yesterday for Saturday's Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh, and his stablemate Armiger.

The latter 'delighted' Cecil with his most purposeful piece of work this year on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning, and was cut to 7-1 (from 8-1) by Ladbrokes when one of his pursuers in last week's Chester Vase, Persian Brave, bolted in by seven lengths on the Knavesmire in the afternoon.

A contraction in Tenby's price today appears almost inevitable as his main opponent, Taos, has been bedevilled by setbacks this spring as he builds up to a Classic campaign. 'He ripped the side of his foot away when his shoe came off recently and that had to be built back up by the farrier,' John Gosden, Taos's trainer, said yesterday. 'He missed two pieces of work because of that and he was coughing a month ago so he couldn't work at all then, period.

'At this stage he has done nothing to show he is in the same class as Tenby, who I think is just the perfect horse for a track like Epsom. He'll go round there like a hoop round a barrel.'

However, a warning that equine crowns are easily tilted was available here yesterday when the Oaks ante-post favourite, Sueboog, was comprehensively dismantled by Gosden's Marillette.

Marillette immediately took high order in the Classic market, while Wemyss Bright, Andre Fabre's filly, graduated to the top spot. Her owner, Khalid Abdullah, who also pays the bills for Tenby, Armiger and another Derby aspirant, Commander In Chief, may now be in danger of being referred to the Monopolies Commission.

Marillette is an entry in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) at Chantilly next month, but is more likely to go to Epsom. Hers would hardly be a victory for tradition, as the filly enjoyed an unusually busy first season, running nine times. 'We had to race her a lot last year because she has always been difficult to handle, very lively,' Gosden said. 'She dropped Walter Swinburn twice here last year and I had to walk her down the course for three furlongs.'

Swinburn was again reduced to the role of spectator yesterday, watching helplessly from the favourite's saddle as Marillette took charge. The rider believes that something was amiss with Sueboog, saying: 'One minute she was on the bridle, the next she was out on her feet. She went from one extreme to the other.'

The evidence that Marillette could be a Classic filly came on her penultimate start, an unlucky fifth in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp. 'Pat (Eddery) said she was an Oaks filly as soon as he got off,' Gosden said. 'And I always think that the first thing a jockey says when he comes in is the most important. Once they have had a night to think about it they might wrap the whole thing up and start making excuses.'

Seven months on, Marillette's skittish behaviour remains and she continues to ensure that washing machines in Newmarket are stuffed with work riders' breeches. 'She's still difficult and she's also pretty clever and idle at home,' the trainer said.

Marillette is no more compliant on the racecourse and needs the ego massage of passing by beaten horses to unearth her true worth. 'If you produce her on the outside she simply gets bored,' Gosden said. 'She's a filly you have to cover up and who loves to run through horses, to make her own way through.' If this modus operandum is effected by the diminutive Marillette on Oaks day, the Classic will have the ring of a bicycle threading its way through the heavier vehicles of a rush-hour traffic jam.

'She shows that you don't have to be big to be good doesn't she?' Gosden said. 'Tenby will show you the same thing when he turns up tomorrow.'

THE OAKS (Epsom, 5 June): Coral: 5-1 Wemyss Bight, 7-1 Marillette & Yawl, 8-1 Criquette, 10-1 Bashayer & Sueboog, 16-1 Iviza; Ladbrokes: 5-1 Marillette & Wemyss Bight, 8-1 Criquette, 10-1 Intrepidity, Sueboog & Yawl, 14-1 Bashayer & Iviza.

(Photograph omitted)

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