Racing: Three grey heirs to a ghostly tale

Sue Montgomery on the colts trying to end a bleak run for the bleached
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The Independent Online
Three horses, Cloudings, Silver Patriarch and The Fly, today have the chance of becoming only the fifth of their kind in Turf history. Their distinction lies in their silvery coat colour; only four greys have previously won the Derby in 217 runnings.

The first of them was Gustavus in 1821, followed by the filly Tagalie in 1912, Mahmoud in 1936 and Airborne 10 years later. Since Airborne's win, just five of his colour have been placed, most recently Terimon, second to Nashwan eight years ago.

Grey racehorses, for all the visions of Pegasus that they provoke, are hugely outnumbered by their less strikingly-coloured brethren, the bays, browns and chestnuts. This is because, firstly, grey is not a hue that can lie dormant through the generations and, secondly, there is only one surviving source of greyness in the thoroughbred.

All grey racehorses trace to an Arab stallion, foaled in 1704 and imported, via Constanintople, by one Sir Robert Sutton. Known as the Alcock Arabian, this horse had a son, Crab, who was three times champion sire and did much for the promulgation of greyness at the time. Two different lines of descent from him met in the grey mare Bab, foaled in 1787. And on one of her grand-daughters, by a thread, hung the future of the smokey jacket.

This grey mare had nine foals, but only the first, Master Robert, took after her. He was a runner and sire of little account, but from two of his sons came the two strands of grey that are around today. One developed in Britain and Ireland, with the 1891-foaled stallion Grey Leg its most prominent member, and the other, the most influential thanks to a horse called Roi Herode, in France.

The Fly belongs to Grey Leg's branch, having the long-dead horse as one of his 10 greats grandfathers on his mother's side. Airborne was the only one of 17 grey individual Classic winners this century to belong to this tribe.

For it was Roi Herode's brilliant son The Tetrarch, born in 1911, whose influence has been responsible for the modern grey. Cloudings' dam is an eight-greats grand-daughter; Silver Patriarch's mother is not only a five-greats, but numbers Mahmoud among her great-grandparents. Other descendants of The Tetrarch running with honour this season include Silver Charm, going for the US Triple Crown today; the French Guineas winner Daylami and the French Derby fourth Fragrant Mix.

The esoteric science of genetics, with its dominant and recessive qualities of pairs of genes, governs the way the colour of a horse is transmitted from generation to generation. Greyness is not actually a true colour but a bleaching `mask' overlaid on one of the two basic thoroughbred shades, bay (of which brown and black are variations) and chestnut. If greyness is passed on from a parent, it is expressed in coat colour. If it is not passed on, it dies out of that line at that point.

When it comes down to it, the colour of a horse makes virtually no difference to its ability, but the way it can be traced as it skips through successive generations from male to female at random shows how qualities that do contribute to athletic excellence can behave.

From Airborne's year, 69 per cent of Derby winners (35 from 51) have been bay or brown, but then 69 per cent of runners (742 from 1,075) have been bay or brown too. There is a slight weighting towards chestnuts (29.5 per cent winners from 27 per cent runners) and against greys, but in time- honoured statistical fashion, that can be read either for or against our being due a grey winner.

During the last century greys had become so rare on the racecourse that the 1881 Lincoln winner, Buchanan, is reputed to have terrified the opposition into submission with his ghostly coat. It is to be hoped that Entrepreneur is made of sterner stuff than those rivals.

10-YEAR-TALE

1987 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96

Fate of the favourites: 1 4 1 14 6/9 9 10 1 11 2

Winner's place in betting: 1 0 1 0 0 2 2 1 0 0

Starting-prices: 6-4 11-1 5-4 7-1 9-1 8-1 15-2 7-2 14-1 12-1

Winning draw/runners: 10/19 13/14 10/12 10/18 10/13 4/18 6/16 15/25 7/15 9/20

Profit or loss to pounds 1 stake: Favourites -pounds 0.75 Second Favourites +pounds 7.50

Percentage of winners placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in last race: 70%

Shortest-priced winner: Nashwan 5-4 (1989)

Longest-priced winner: Lammtarra 14-1 (1995)

Top trainer: H Cecil -Reference Point (1987), Commander In Chief (1993)

Top jockey: W Carson -Nashwan (1989), Erhaab (1994)

Fastest winning time: 2min 32.31sec Lammtarra (1995) firm going

Slowest winning time: 2min 37.26sec Quest For Fame (1990) soft going

WILLIAM HILL'S FIELD BOOK

Horse Current odds Longest odds (1997) Biggest bet (pounds ) Takeout (pounds )

Entrepreneur 4-5 33-1 60,000-12,000 530,600

Silver Patriarch 11-2 66-1 21,000-3,000 193,750

Benny The Dip 7-1 33-1 100,000-10,000 288,750

Cloudings 11-1 33-1 33,000-1,000 247,700

Fahris 12-1 66-1 40,000-2,000 257,500

Bold Demand 20-1 66-1 66,000-1,000 215,600

The Fly 22-1 100-1 50,000-1,000 156,000

Romanov 28-1 50-1 20,000-400 182,500

Symonds Inn 28-1 150-1 25,000-750 164,750

Musalsal 33-1 50-1 16,500-500 204,500

Single Empire 33-1 50-1 50,000-1,000 102,000

Crystal Hearted 66-1 100-1 50,000-500 148,700

Tanaasa doubtful 66-1 20,000-500 52,850

Papua 200-1 200-1 30,000-200 44,500

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