Two of the season's potential four-year-old superstars are set to give racegoers a treat tomorrow at Sandown at the domestic year's most prestigious evening meeting. Conduit, the ante-post favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, makes his seasonal debut in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes, backed up by Patkai, who will aim to consolidate his place at the head of the Ascot Gold Cup market in the Henry II Stakes.
The two chestnuts not only have the same trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, and carry the same colours, those of their breeder, Ballymacoll Stud, but were childhood companions, born eight days apart and brought up together in the same paddocks in Co Meath. But their shared experiences go beyond even that. For without Patkai, it is arguable that Conduit – hero last season of the St Leger and Breeders' Cup Turf – would not be the horse he is today. The power and determination he showed at Doncaster and Santa Anita belied his rocky start in life, when he had to survive the physical trauma of a difficult birth that killed his dam, and then the potential psychological scars of being hounded and bullied by his nursery companions.
Conduit was reared by a pony foster-mother after his dam Well Head haemorrhaged during confinement and died soon after producing her little son. He bonded well with his new mum, but out grazing he was hazed by his contemporaries; those picking on him included the subsequent Derby runner-up Tartan Bearer. It was only when he was moved among gentler playmates, including Patkai, with whom he became firm friends, that his confidence returned and blossomed.
As a top-level winner, Conduit must give weight to all his 12 rivals, headed by the upwardly mobile five-year-old Pipedreamer, in tomorrow's Group Three contest. The colt is dropping back in trip to 10 furlongs for the first time since he first gave notice that he might be special by winning a valuable handicap by six lengths on Derby Day last year.
Three weeks ago Patkai announced himself as the horse most likely to dethrone the triple champion Yeats next month at Royal Ascot with a runaway victory at the Berkshire course, his second third-tier two-mile success. Tomorrow evening he steps up a level to Group Two.
Before that, three of Britain's Derby outsiders will familiarise themselves with Epsom to try to get an edge on the Irish raiders who dominate the betting. Debussy, from John Gosden's yard, Montaff (Mick Channon) and South Easter (William Haggas) will have a practice gallop round Tattenham Corner, as will Debussy's Oaks-bound stablemate Rainbow View, second favourite for the fillies' Classic.
At around the same time the home side's most prominent representative in the betting, 20-1 shot Crowded House, will have a crucial spin at home at Manton. Last season's champion two-year-old was found to have an infection after disappointing in the Dante Stakes at York two weeks ago and his Derby participation has been in the balance since. "He's made progress," said his trainer Brian Meehan yesterday, "and we're happy enough, but we're not there yet."
From Ireland yesterday came the news of the death of Commanche Court, whose 12 wins included a Triumph Hurdle and Irish Grand National. The 16-year-old, put down after a colic attack, also beat all bar Best Mate in the 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup. "Of all the horses I've had anything to do with," said his trainer Ted Walsh, "he was far and away my favourite."
Nap: Mount Hadley (Lingfield 5.15)
NB: Soul Heaven (Lingfield 3.00)