Kentucky Derby wide open after favourite injured

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The Independent Online

if the Classic scene rumblings and tremors came at Longchamp yesterday, the full-scale eruption was on the other side of the Atlantic. Eskendereya, red-hot ante-post favourite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby after effortless wide-margin victories in his two races this year, was announced a non-runner during the morning by trainer Todd Pletcher. The colt, as short as 13-8 in some betting lists, has sustained an injury to his left foreleg and his enforced absence now throws America's most famous race wide open.

Though Pletcher has six other entries for the 136th Run For The Roses in his barn, Eskendereya, winner of the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial Stakes by an aggregate 18 1/4 lengths, was considered by far his best chance of ending an 0-for-24 sequence in the Churchill Downs showpiece. Though the son of Giant's Causeway exercised at the Louisville track on Saturday, he missed an early session of strong work with his stablemates yesterday, after which Pletcher confirmed his worst fears.

"I'd thought he was a bit off on Saturday," he said, "and noticed a bit of filling in the leg. We were kind of hoping for a miracle overnight but we didn't get it."

Eskendereya's problem is not thought to be career-threatening but is a blow not only to his trainer but to financially-troubled owner Ahmed Zayat. "It's the worst kind of timing," added Pletcher, "and it's a tough one all round. He's not lame, not in discomfort but he's too special a horse to take any chances with. The phone call to the owner was not one I wanted to make but he took it better than I would have."

Pletcher still has the colts Mission Impazible, Rule, Discreetly Mine, Super Saver and Interactif and the filly Devil May Care in the $2m race. Santa Anita Derby, Sidney's Candy and Lookin At Lucky are now jostling for favouritism.

Sheikh Mohammed has not this year mustered a candidate for the one Derby he covets most for his global Godolphin empire's honours board, but things are moving on the European front; two days after Newmarket-based Chabal established himself as a credible contender for the original at Epsom by winning a trial at Sandown, Simon de Montfort followed suit at Longchamp with the Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly in view.

The son of King's Best, in the charge of Andre Fabre, pounced late and decisively in the Prix La Force, confirming his recent superiority over Pain Perdu by a neck, with Paul Cole-trained Circumvent, the day's sole British raider, three-quarters of a length third in a typical French sprint blanket finish.

Half an hour earlier, in the Prix de la Grotte, the colt's stablemate Anna Salai instigated a double in the Godolphin team's all-gold strip, quickening impressively from last to first to put clear air between herself and Gotlandia, with last year's best French juvenile filly Rosanara only third. It was a first success for the daughter of Dubawi, who will now head for the 1,000 Guineas over the same course and distance next month.

The equivalent prep for colts, the Prix de Fontainbleau, resulted, as expected, in a victory for trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre and owner the Aga Khan, but not exactly the one predicted as odds-on Siyouni was turned over by his own pacemaker Rajsaman, a 25-1 shot.

Thierry Jarnet, on Rajsaman, did his job well, turning into the straight with a clear lead. It was hardly his fault that Siyouni, with Gerald Mosse on board, had run a little fresh, became trapped behind horses and then caught slightly flat-footed as the pace quickened.

The favourite flew once he hit his stride and did his French 2,000 Guineas prospects no harm at all, but this time failed by half a length to catch his hare. Local punters, though, would not be discomfited as horses in the same ownership are considered one in pari-mutuel betting.

Turf account

*Sue Montgomery's Nap

Our Boy Barrington (7.40)

Off the mark when stepped up to a mile nine days ago. His in-form stable's first string today on jockey bookings.

Next best

Dancing Dude (3.40 Newcastle)

Big backward type but the penny should drop today, albeit at a pros-only price.

*One to watch

Swilly Ferry (BW Hills) ran into a traffic jam when fifth on seasonal debut at HQ.

*Where the money's going

Hamdan al Maktoum's Habaayib cut to 20-1 for 1,000 Guineas by Paddy Power.

*Chris McGrath's Nap

Nimue (3.10 Newcastle)