French Oaks heroine dies on beach break


The loss of any horse to an accident is a matter of regret, but when the animal concerned is a high-profile performer who gives pleasure beyond its immediate connections, the more so. The unbeaten Prix de Diane heroine Valyra, much fancied for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, broke a hind leg yesterday morning at exercise on the beach at Deauville and could not be saved.

The filly, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget for her owner-breeder, the Aga Khan, had started her racing career only in April and most recently accounted for another top-class runner, Beauty Parlour, in the French equivalent of the Oaks in June. That performance put her straight into the Arc reckoning and she had been on her summer break at the Normandy seaside resort ahead of a run in one of next month's trials, the Prix Vermeille.

The Aga Khan's racing manager, Georges Rimaud, said: "She was on the beach where they go for a walk in the early morning and she sustained a fracture to her off-hind femur. We looked at all ways to try to find a surgical solution but it was a bad break and we had to let her go. Fillies enjoy playing on the beach but it could have happened anywhere at any time. It's a huge blow."

The daughter of Azamour had been as short as 10-1 fourth favourite for the Arc. Her death is a reminder of the fragility of even the fittest thoroughbred and, though all the equine gods forbid such a fate befall a horse like Camelot, tweaking a muscle or bruising a foot is an occupational hazard for a racehorse, however cosseted.

And perhaps with that realistic thought in mind, the 2,000 Guineas and Derby hero's presence in next month's St Leger has not put off potential rivals, at least not yet. After yesterday's scratchings stage for the final Classic 16 remained in contention, including five of the star's own Ballydoyle stablemates.

Camelot is 1-3 favourite with St Leger sponsors Ladbrokes to become the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970, but his trainer Aidan O'Brien has a unique statistic in his sights. Having also won the 1,000 Guineas (with Homecoming Queen) and the Oaks (Was), a victory at Doncaster would make him the first to saddle the winners of all five English Classics in the same year.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Tiger Cliff (7.50 Kempton) Probably unlucky to fail as favourite on his belated debut, when he finished strongly after being thwarted by traffic problems, and the step up in distance should suit well.

Next best

Le Chat D'Or (3.40 Hamilton) Copes with heavy ground and would have been closer last time on his step up to today's trip but for being hampered.

One to watch

Willie Wag Tail (Ed Walker) Has suffered traffic problems in his last two races but can surely win off his current mark with more luck in running.