Racing: Tikkanen pleases Pease: Theatre nearly misses his entrance in a close call with his understudies for The Curragh

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The Independent Online
FOURTEEN names remain in the Irish Derby after yesterday's forfeit and supplementary stages, but no more than 11 are expected to go to post for the Classic at The Curragh on Sunday. Three colts from Henry Cecil's yard - Opera Score, Bal Harbour and Tom Waller - were left in the race by mistake, but the same trainer's King's Theatre, the hot favourite, will be his only representative.

The owners of Cecil's three unintended entries will be required to pay IR pounds 1,050 each for the mistake, though prior to a recently-introduced Irish forfeit system which assumes horses will run unless they are withdrawn, all four, including King's Theatre, might have been missing from the field this morning.

There were no surprises elsewhere among the declarations, with both Balanchine, the Oaks winner, and Richard Hannon's French Derby third Alriffa supplemented to the line-up at a cost of IR pounds 60,000. Final confirmation that the pair would take part was enough to see Balanchine backed from 7-1 to 5-1 with Ladbrokes, while Alriffa is 6-1 from 7-1 with the same firm. King's Theatre, runner- up to Erhaab in the Derby, drifted slightly to 5-4 from 11- 10, while Colonel Collins, one and a half lengths further back in third at Epsom, is 5-1 from 4-1.

The going at The Curragh yesterday was good, with the conditions overcast and light drizzle falling. Unsettled weather is expected in the run-up to the Derby, but it will be a surprise if the grounds eases significantly and the connections of the also-rans will need to look elsewhere for excuses. Certainly, there will be no complaints from Jonathan Pease, whose French Derby fourth Tikkanen is a solid 6-1 chance for Sunday's race. The son of Cozzene had no luck in running at Chantilly, and in the circumstances did well to finish within three lengths of Celtic Arms.

'He'll go on both grounds,' Pease said yesterday, 'he's run very well on fast ground here in France, but possibly if it's a bit softer his stamina might come into play a little more.'

Stamina is something which Tikkanen has in abundance - a three-parts brother to Pease's Irish St Leger winner Turgeon, his next assignment after Sunday's Classic will be the original St Leger at Doncaster. Tikkanen's jockey on Sunday will be Walter Swinburn, booked yesterday as a replacement for Cash Asmussen, who is claimed to ride for Stavros Niarchos in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp the same afternoon.

There are three Derbys this weekend, the Irish, Greyhound and Pitmen's. The latter event, more formally known as the Northumberland Plate Handicap at Newcastle, has attracted a top- class field of staying handicappers, who will race over two miles for a pounds 100,000 purse.

Unfortunately, the excellent financial health of the Plate is not reflected in the accounts of Newcastle racecourse. While the race has survived the workers who adopted it and gave it its nickname - all the surrounding pits have now closed - it may not do so much longer. Planning permission was recently refused for a development scheme which the course claimed would have secured its future, and this year's Northumberland Plate could be the last.

'The application was turned down and we are exploring other avenues, that's all I can say,' David Parmley, the clerk of the course, said yesterday. The 20,000 racegoers expected at Gosforth Park on Saturday will at least help to keep the accounts liquid, while their personal profits may depend on finding a true stayer after unexpected rain at the course yesterday changed the going to good to soft.

The ante-post gamble on Sir Mark Prescott's Hasten To Add continued unabated however, no doubt to the delight of bookmakers aware that the colt has yet to win beyond 14 furlongs, or on turf softer than good to firm. He is 7-2 from 5-1 with Hills, who also cut Sarawat, last year's Ebor winner, to 6-1 from 14-1, in the face of heavy support.

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