Racing: Xaar's status at stake

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The Independent Online
TODAY IS a day for mighty reputations to be redeemed. At the close of play last season one widely-held view was that if Xaar and Second Empire were not certainties for Classic glory this year then each would do until one came along. But oh frailty, thy name is horse! The Prix Guillaume d'Ornano at Deauville marks the first public sighting of Xaar since his lacklustre fourth place as favourite for the 2,000 Guineas 104 days ago. And Second Empire, only eighth in the Derby, slinks back to action in the Desmond Stakes at the Curragh.

This afternoon's French Group Two contest will be Xaar's first try at 10 furlongs, a distance which is expected to suit him well, but it will not be a pushover, even if the former wonder horse is back to his best. His five opponents include the progressive Groom Dancer colt Kabool who is unbeaten in three runs - most lately in the Group Three Prix Daphnis - and has tempted Frankie Dettori to cross the Channel to ride just him.

Second Empire, who had the option of running in tomorrow's Group One Deauville feature, the Prix Jacques le Marois (featuring Among Men, Cape Cross and Lend A Hand from Britain and Japanese ace Taiki Shuttle), drops back to a mile and down to Group Three company after pulling hard in the Derby. He may have an easier task than Xaar; the chief of his six opponents should be the genuine, but not top-class, Centre Stalls and Burden Of Proof.

The trainers of Xaar and Second Empire, Andre Fabre and Aidan O'Brien, rank among Europe's best and though they may be disappointed that their best-laid schemes have gone a-gley, they are old enough hands at the game to be philosophical. The same applies to John Dunlop, whose charge Silver Patriarch will be on a retrieval mission of his own in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at the principal meeting in Britain, Newbury.

Last year's Derby runner-up and St Leger winner has disappointed in his two runs since he beat Swain in the Coronation Cup in June, particularly when a scratchy sixth, beaten a long way out, to his Epsom victim in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

The points in his favour are that he is the class act at his best and is stepping back up to nearly the distance of his Doncaster triumph, but he gives weight all round and it may be worth siding with Single Empire (3.00). The four-year-old (not to be confused with his near-namesake in Ireland) won last year's Italian Derby and ran creditably under a penalty on his reappearance at Newmarket. His ability to see out the trip must be taken on trust but he is bred to do so.

Half an hour before he steps out his young stablemate at Peter Chapple- Hyam's, Crystal Charm (2.30), will make her debut in front of a grandstand full of critical eyes. The well-bred daughter of Danehill is the season's latest talking two-year-old and has already been backed for next year's 1,000 Guineas, but the Manton juveniles have a habit of winning at Newbury (witness Circle Of Gold yesterday) whatever may happen at Newmarket nine months hence.

The betting race of the day is the (inevitably) bookie-sponsored Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon, which has attracted 22 regulars from the six-furlong division. Best of David Nicholls's trio is Double Oscar, ridden by Michael Richardson, a mucker of the trainer's who has spent six years in Scandinavia, while Gaelic Storm makes his third successive Saturday appearance. But it may be the turn of Stand Tall (4.15) to stand proud this week.

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