It is safe to assume his owners did not name him with Brighton or Bellewstown in mind, and yesterday Fame And Glory produced a performance that made them seem quite prescient. For while it is still only April, it would be most surprising should this colt fail to make his presence felt at Epsom on the first Saturday in June.
Both the Derby winners so far saddled by Aidan O'Brien, Galileo and High Chaparral, started their Classic campaigns in the race he won so well at Leopardstown yesterday. Expectations seemed fairly muted, however, before the P W McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes. As usual, O'Brien had started the season in a low key, with just one winner from 26 runners, while Fame And Glory himself had to carry a 5lb penalty for winning a Group One race at Saint-Cloud last autumn.
But that success, just three weeks after his debut in a Navan maiden, had identified this son of Montjeu as an unusual talent even among the cavalry of Classic prospects at Ballydoyle. Admittedly the principal asset he disclosed in France, over 10 furlongs in heavy ground, was grit. In much better conditions yesterday, however, he looked a pretty brilliant colt.
Always going smoothly off a strong gallop, he shadowed Fergus McIver into the straight and permitted that rival only a brief taste of the lead before surging past 100 yards from home. Johnny Murtagh, who has shown sensible restraint on all the stable's ring-rusty three-year-olds, did not have to give his mount a hard time to get him home a length in front. Significant improvement seems guaranteed, in tandem with the string in general, and as this imposing animal is bred to relish a mile and a half, and has obviously matured into a horse that can hold his position with comfort, he looks a very eligible Derby candidate.
O'Brien promised that "he should improve a good deal from this run, as all of mine do". Unsurprisingly, the trainer indicated that the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, over the same course and distance on 10 May, was among the options for his next start.
In fairness, another couple of furlongs will palpably suit Mourayan too. The favourite came off the bridle even before his pacemaker, and looked like dropping right out on the home turn, but rallied powerfully in the straight and just failed to catch Fergus McIver for second. Mourayan's trainer, John Oxx, will not be downhearted, having seen Sinndar, whom he trained to win the 2000 Derby, beaten for the only time in his career in this same race. But Sinndar's big excuse that day was a Group One penalty, so a general Epsom quote of 8-1 against Fame And Glory seems in no way conservative. Only Crowded House is now shorter in the betting, and O'Brien will presumably measure that colt with another of his own in the Totesport Dante Stakes at York next month.
A decided sense that the Ballydoyle lions are stirring from their den was confirmed in the very next race, a maiden, in which another son of Montjeu, Stately Home, made a most arresting debut. He, in turn, is offered at 25-1 for the Derby. O'Brien also had his first juvenile runners of the season over the weekend, both finishing second, and the impression persists that Rip Van Winkle will be the colt to beat in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas on Saturday week.
O'Brien's mentor, Jim Bolger, has in contrast had his horses ready to run through brick walls since the first day of the season and kept up the momentum when Vocalised won his own Classic trial at Newbury on Saturday. He goes to Longchamp, not Newmarket, but Bolger reiterated his satisfaction with Cuis Ghaire's preparations for the 1,000 Guineas.
Lahaleeb remains an outsider for the fillies' race after her own, rather less decisive success at Newbury, but a more intriguing marker was laid down in fourth by Sariska. After missing the break badly and then meeting traffic, this inexperienced filly came storming through late to leave her trainer, Michael Bell, in something of a quandary. "My gut feeling is a mile and a quarter-plus will prove her optimum trip," he said. "It's just a question of whether it's right or wrong to swerve the Guineas."
The Derby (Epsom, 6 June): Coral: 6-1 Crowded House, 8-1 Fame And Glory, 10-1 Sea The Stars, 12-1 Age Of Aquarius, Black Bear Island, 14-1 Rip Van Winkle, 16-1 others.
Nap: Sounds Of Jupiter (2.40 Pontefract)
NB: Strong Storm (7.50 Windsor)