Even the monarch's own charger has now quailed before his patriotic duty. Free Agent arrived here yesterday as perhaps the last hope of a home success in the Investec Derby. He has already proved equal to one momentous responsibility, winning the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer, but had not been seen since and a tame surrender in his trial leaves Epsom wholly at the mercy of the Irish.
But the general charge of incompetence against the indigenous three-year-olds should not be extended to the winner of the Cocked Hat Stakes. Alwaary's trainer, John Gosden, is wisely resisting any temptation to hasten this colt towards the Derby, now just a fortnight away on Saturday, but such circumspection should certainly achieve dividends later in the season.
After seeing this handsome colt win at Yarmouth last September, Gosden was in little doubt he was the most eligible Epsom type in his care. Perversely, however, Alwaary proved immune to the infectious vigour that suffused the rest of his stable during the spring and only went to the Lingfield Derby Trial as a way of renewing his appetite. He finished fourth of five, but the outing so transformed him that Gosden was emboldened to break from his usual custom and turn him out here, just 11 days later.
Always moving powerfully under Richard Hills, Alwaary slipped into the lead a furlong out, and was never rolling better than at the post, three lengths clear of Beauchamp Xerxes. "He would have preferred a stronger pace," Gosden assented. "He just wouldn't come to himself in the spring, but Lingfield didn't half turn him round. His coat started to come, he started eating again, his whole metabolism was up."
Having rather hastened here, by his standards, Gosden now proposes waiting for the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. "If you get behind, as he did in the spring, playing catch-up plays hell with them," he said. "To go on to Epsom now would probably knock this horse back, not bring him on."
Gosden still intends to be represented at Epsom with Debussy, already a winner over the course and since third in the Chester Vase. "He's a nice each-way horse to be taking there," he said. "But it'll be hard to stop the Irish, won't it?"
As for Free Agent, who finished fourth, his trainer, Richard Hannon, was not too downhearted. "He has been off a long time, he was rusty and Richard [Hughes] wasn't hard on him in the end," the trainer said. "He came there to win his race, but didn't go through with it and might have needed it. I know he is a decent horse."
Hannon indicated Free Agent may step up to two miles for the Queen's Vase at the royal meeting. Pending Crowded House's participation, the shortest-priced Derby runner trained on British soil is now Kite Wood, and even he can be backed at 25-1.
The Godolphin colt's stablemate, Copperbeech, seeks an Investec Oaks wild card in the Height Of Fashion Stakes here today. This filly was trained last year by André Fabre, winning her first two starts before staying on well for third in the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day. Just in front of her was Elusive Wave, who has since won the French equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas, and the longer trip should suit Copperbeech on pedigree. But her new trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, warned yesterday that she has needed time and would improve for the run.
An Oaks candidate may yet emerge from a highly unusual source at Sandown tonight, when Leocorno – apparently guaranteed to embellish an already outstanding family tree – runs in a handicap off a mark of just 78. She could well prove "thrown in", but the same had seemed true of Kayf Aramis, the Cheltenham Festival winner who hacked up by 13 lengths at York last week. He only had a 6lb penalty here yesterday, but produced a laboured performance to finish only fifth at 4-7.
Evidently the race came too soon, but anyone who can still stomach relatively short odds is commended William Hill's offer of 5-4 against Irish runners filling the first three places in the Derby. Now that really does look like a royal mint.
Nap: Mirrored (6.50 Sandown)
NB: Crimson Fern (4.35 Goodwood)Reuse content