The build-up to the Derby has been waiting for a properly exciting performance in one of the trials. The only drawback is that when it finally came yesterday it was from a horse who is not entered at Epsom. Casual Conquest, racing for the first time this season and for the second time in his life, showed that turn of foot that makes the difference as he streaked clear of the odds-on favourite Washington Irving at Leopardstown.
One bookmaking firm parachuted the son of Hernando into the Blue Riband betting as 7-1 third favourite behind Twice Over and Curtain Call, but trainer Dermot Weld seemed downbeat about the prospect of the £75,000 supplementary subscription being paid. "It's a great pity that the entry fee is too high," he said, "but I will speak to the owners."
The strapping bay colt, whose name exactly described the way he treated his rivals, carries the colours of Walter Haefner's Moyglare Stud Farm. Products of the 97-year-old millionaire's Co Kildare establishment have won many of the world's great races, but never the Derby, though Refuse To Bend – a close relative of yesterday's winner – failed as favourite five years ago.
Casual Conquest does hold entries in the French and Irish Derbys, and the 10 furlongs at Chantilly may be his next mission. "That is the most likely plan," added Weld. "He had a little hold-up earlier in the year but in the past two weeks he's really come to himself."
Pat Smullen released the brakes a furlong and a half from the finish and had six lengths to spare at the line. Washington Irving, slightly squeezed as Seamie Heffernan tried to get past his pacemaker off the home turn, stayed on at one pace to repel Moiqen for the runner-up spot, but he remains a maiden in three runs and must have slipped irretrievably down the Derby pecking order at Ballydoyle.
Unless Kingdom Of Naples can produce something special against Twice Over in the Dante Stakes at York on Thursday, Aidan O'Brien's gaze will now surely intensify on 2,000 Guineas hero Henrythenavigator, whose class is proven but not his stamina, and Saturday's determined Lingfield Trial winner Alessandro Volta, to whom the reverse applies.
Stable jockey Johnny Murtagh had a horrible time on another of the famously-named Ballydoyle inmates, Georgebernardshaw, at Longchamp yesterday. The colt was well fancied to notch a hat-trick for his establishment in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains, the French equivalent of the 2,000 Guineas, but any chance he had disappeared in a scrimmage before the home turn.
With 19 runners, the mile contest had always threatened trouble, but the winner, 20-1 shot Falco, was kept clear of the dodgems as Olivier Peslier followed the almost foolhardy pace set by the Ballydoyle hares Lucifer Sam and One Great Cat. The progressive son of Pivotal, trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias, took the lead two furlongs out and, though understandably tiring close home, had three lengths in hand at the line.
He was followed in by the virtually inseparable Rio De La Plata, for Godolphin, and River Proud, for the Paul Cole stable. Rio De La Plata's performance at last provided the blues with something to smile about this spring; despite being seemingly ill at ease on the fast ground the chestnut stayed on strongly from a long way off the pace for Frankie Dettori, and has been trimmed to around 16-1 for the Derby. "He's run very well," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, "and we'll go home and make some plans. He's in the Derby and all options are open." Thewayyouare, perceived as France's chief challenger for Epsom, finished an encouraging sixth on his seasonal debut.
River Proud's effort was extraordinary. After getting thoroughly upset in stall 14, the colt was removed and placed in the unoccupied berth on the outside of the field. Always on the back hoof from such a draw, he was last into the straight, but scythed diagonally through the field under Richard Quinn and was on the rail when he failed by a nose to take second.
Cole was matter of fact about the turn of events. "If you look at the speed he showed," he said, "and imagine if he'd done that from closer up, who knows what might have been? But you have to behave in the stalls and he hasn't."
There were no shocks or serious problems in the French 1,000 Guineas. Yes, the runner-up Goldikova, in the same Wertheimer Brothers' colours as Falco, threw a tantrum as she went into the stalls and dumped Peslier, and almost put him on the ground again as she stumbled coming out. But under no circumstances would she have beaten the Christophe Soumillon-ridden 4-9 favourite, Zarkava, who maintained her unbeaten record in the smoothest possible style by two lengths, with the Ballydoyle outsider Halfway To Heaven taking third place.
Nap: Brenin Taran (Yarmouth 2.30)
NB: Metropolitan Man (Windsor 6.55)