Racing: Valanour in avenger's role

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The Independent Online
Old sins have long shadows, and Valanour will blow away two sets if he wins the Eclipse Stakes on Saturday. Twenty years ago Trepan became the first French-trained horse to pass the post first in Sandown's summer showpiece for 16 seasons, only to have the prize taken away a few weeks later on a doping technicality.

None of the 10 Gallic raiders since then has come closer than Triptych, who was second to Dancing Brave in 1986, but Valanour, trained by Alain Royer-Dupre, must have a bright chance of avenging his compatriot's loss. And as well as Gerald Mosse, the colt's elegant bay shoulders will also bear the burden of becoming the Aga Khan's first winner in Britain since his self-imposed exile after another doping contretemps, the infamous Aliysa affair.

At Royal Ascot, Ashkalani came within a head of being that winner, and giving Royer-Dupre, 52, his first victory in Britain into the bargain. The Chantilly-based horseman, formerly a good-class showjumper and amateur jockey, succeeded the late Francois Mathet 13 years ago as the Aga Khan's trainer and has won most of France's big races with bearers of the red- and-green silks, including three Jockey-Club winners in four years, Darshaan, Mouktar and Natroun.

Valanour, a four-year-old son of Lomond, has already annexed two 10-furlong Group One races, and when at his best his form passes close scrutiny. In last year's Grand Prix de Paris he had a neck to spare over Singspiel, and in the Prix Ganay in April he quickened well to account for Luso and Swain.

Royer-Dupre's main worry is that rain might put paid to the colt's bid for a third top-level victory. He said: ''Valanour has tended to show his best form on a sound surface, and he was forced to bypass the Prix d'Ispahan [won by Halling] when the ground came up very soft at Longchamp in May.

"However, prior to that he had put up two impressive performances to take both the Prix d'Harcourt in April followed by the Prix Ganay, and, in my opinion, he is a better horse than last season.''

Royer-Dupre added: "There is no doubt that the Eclipse will be a very hot event - with the likes of Halling, Pentire, Singspiel, Bijou D'Inde and Definite Article, it couldn't be anything else could it? - and there is no doubting that it will take an excellent horse to win it. But having said that, Valanour is very well.''

The turf at Sandown is currently good to firm, and being watered both artificially and naturally. Any further easing, though bad news for Royer- Dupre's hopes, will suit Dermot Weld, who will decide tomorrow morning whether or not to send over Definite Article from Ireland.

The Tattersalls Gold Cup winner has been one of the gambles of the race - backed from 16-1 to 6-1 - but Weld said yesterday: ''I want to see what the ground is likely to be - he might need a little more give than there is at Sandown. I've got until Friday to decide and I might as well wait until then.''

One definite non-runner is Godolphin's Charnwood Forest. The Queen Anne Stakes winner will wait for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, leaving his stablemate Halling, last year's Eclipse winner, to do duty in the blue colours on Saturday. Pentire has hardened to 2-1 favourite with the pounds 250,000 race's sponsors Corals, who then go 3-1 Halling, 5-1 Valanour, 11-2 Singspiel, 6-1 Definite Article, 7-1 Bijou d'Inde, 20-1 Ela-Aristokrati and 25-1 Beauchamp King.

Looking further ahead, 54 horses - the smallest number since the summer entry stage was introduced in 1994 - have been named for the season's final Classic, the St Leger at Doncaster on 14 September.

The two most notable omissions are Even Top and, sadly, Derby hero Shaamit. The oldest and longest of the five Classics was never on the agenda of the latter, whose trainer has expressed the view that victory would have done nothing for his charge's future stud prospects.

Even Top, who gashed a leg when finishing a disappointing 13th at Epsom, is perhaps a more surprising absentee. But his trainer Mark Tompkins regards the colt, beaten a short-head in the Guineas, as a genuine middle-distance operator, and is eyeing the 10-furlong trip of the Juddmonte International at York next month.

Nine Derby runners are entered, ranging from runner-up Dushyantor to 17th-placed St Mawes, and among the seven fillies are three of the first four in the Oaks, Lady Carla, Pricket and Camporese.