Cumani seeks Derby encore with Curtain Call

Not even Derby colts can read newspapers, so he was hardly going to succumb to stage fright. And it was hard to imagine what else might prevent Curtain Call beating the only two rivals prepared to stand in his way at Nottingham yesterday. Sure enough, he took his cue readily, without remotely disclosing whether he can justify odds now as short as 6-1 for Epsom.

It was a fresh start, at any rate – his first of the season, and his first since entering the care of Luca Cumani in December. Nobody familiar with the skills of Jessica Harrington would consider him disadvantaged in having begun his career in a predominately jumping yard, but the fact remains that Cumani has already won the Derby twice.

And the Italian will stick to the formula that worked for both Kahyasi (1988) and High-Rise (1998) as he seeks to maintain a 10-year cycle. Like both his predecessors, Curtain Call will warm up for Epsom in the Lingfield Derby Trial – an unfashionable rehearsal nowadays, perhaps, but still the only one that answers both the key questions asked of every Derby colt. The Lingfield winner will typically be the only runner who has already won over a mile and a half on an undulating track.

The race Cumani chose for Curtain Call yesterday had itself been transferred from Epsom, with the builders still trying to get the place presentable for June. As such it had such relevance as it might have had, but at least Curtain Call avoided any negatives in easing past his rivals – both maiden winners this spring – halfway up the straight and drawing six lengths clear under Jamie Spencer.

"He's a very relaxed horse," Cumani observed. "He was in behind the two horses like in a decent bit of work. The moment Jamie brought him out and showed him daylight, the turbo kicked in and there he was on the bridle doing a passable impersonation of a Nijinsky."

Cumani is a master at playing the long game – with few earnest runners to date, this was his first success of the year – and promised plenty of improvement from the Sadler's Wells colt.

It was barely 10 minutes later that Harrington consoled herself by winning a valuable novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, but the highlight there was yet another Grade One success for Paul Nicholls.

With the championship sewn up at home, Nicholls has been reminding the Irish of the shift he has achieved in jump racing's balance of power. By retaining the Guinness Gold Cup, in the process routing some of the best steeplechasers in Ireland, Neptune Collonges emphasised his stable's daunting strength in depth.

At Cheltenham last month the grey had not only made a helpful tactical contribution in the Gold Cup, making the running for a circuit, but had been rewarded with third place behind his two more illustrious stablemates, Denman and Kauto Star. The authority of his performance here, prominent throughout under Ruby Walsh before stretching clear from three out, encouraged Nicholls that Neptune Collonges is getting better all the time. "He's improved no end from last year to this year," Walsh confirmed. "Paul now has the three best three-mile chasers in England and Ireland."

The years have finally caught up with Beef Or Salmon, who ended his career in a distant sixth, but Snowy Morning remains a horse on the upgrade, finishing a long way clear of the rest in second. Third in the Grand National just 18 days previously, his trainer fears that he may never be so well treated at Aintree again.

But Willie Mullins has an even better prospect in Cousin Vinny, who romped home in the Paddy Power Champion Bumper after winning the equivalent prize at Cheltenham last month. Ridden once again by the trainer's son, Patrick, he slipped through the inside on the home turn and hurtled clear of another unbeaten horse, Endless Intrigue. If he can jump as well as he can gallop, stardom awaits.

The big race today is the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, for which Blazing Bailey is morning favourite after responding well to blinkers at Aintree last time. Even then he tended to run in fits and starts, however, and he seems unlikely to give backers much chance to relax. Whatever happens today, next season fences will probably reveal Venalmar as the most talented horse in the field.

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