O'Brien's Jan Vermeer in frame for Derby after masterly show

French win puts Ballydoyle colt second to stablemate in betting for the Epsom Classic
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The Independent Online

Another day, another Ballydoyle colt gallops into a Classic market. Yesterday was the turn of Jan Vermeer, who gave Aidan O'Brien his third juvenile Group One prize in as many weekends with a comprehensive four-length success in the Critérium International at Saint-Cloud. The colt is now second-favourite for the Derby, behind stablemate St Nicholas Abbey, winner of the Racing Post Trophy.

There was marked contrast in the style of the victories by the two sons of Montjeu. St Nicholas Abbey burst from last to first; Jan Vermeer, with Colm O'Donoghue in the saddle, set off in front and drew further away.

The substance of the races, though, may not have been so different. St Nicholas Abbey beat Elusive Pimpernel three and three-quarter lengths; Jan Vermeer's nearest pursuer was Emerald Commander, running for Godolphin for the first time. On an earlier outing there was a head between those two runners-up, in favour of Elusive Pimpernel, when first and second at York in August.

Like O'Brien's Dewhurst Stakes winner Beethoven, yesterday's hero was not, according to the jockey arrangements – Johnny Murtagh was on Midas Touch – his stable's first string. But 10-1 shot Jan Vermeer was by no means a pacemaker; he had beaten Midas Touch when winning a minor contest at Gowran in September, form that was subsequently franked by a seven-length success by his comrade-in-arms.

Jan Vermeer took the step up in class from maiden to the highest level in his powerful stride and was never threatened as he coped best on the day with the murky, soggy conditions. "We were quite worried about the ground," O'Brien said, "because it was almost firm when he won the last day. But Colm said he was always going well."

Emerald Commander stayed on well under Frankie Dettori for second, clear of Rosanara.

At this stage O'Brien has a firm grip on the Derby market, with St Nicholas Abbey as short as 2-1, Jan Vermeer around 10-1 and another likely type, Cape Blanco, is likely to show his credentials in the season's final European juvenile Group One back at Saint-Cloud in two weeks, a contest won last year by Ballydoyle with Fame And Glory.

Jan Vermeer's pedigree gives him solid Epsom claims. His dark coat is an echo of that of his grand-dam Evening Air, who produced May Hill Stakes winner Midnight Air, subsequently dam of the Oaks-placed Midnight Line. Sheikh Mohammed. who headhunted Emerald Commander after he won at Haydock in September, bred and raced Jan Vermeer's dam Shadow Song, but sold her as a three-year-old.

It was a good day for raiders in France; in the Group Three supporting contest Zafisio, trained in Lambourn by Roger Curtis, led home Roger Charlton's Border Patrol for a British one-two.

The international net will be cast in the direction of much more valuable prizes this week, though with less conviction at tomorrow morning's Melbourne Cup, worth £1.6m to the winner, than the £25.5m Breeders' Cup extravaganza starting in Friday in California. Although plenty of the horses due to line up in Australia are expats – like Warringah, Changingoftheguard and Mourilyan – only three can claim to be still trained in these parts, Luca Cumani's Basaltico, Saeed bin Suroor's Crime Scene and Ian Williams' Munsef.

Victory for Basaltico would be justice for Cumani who has prepared the last two, very narrow, runners-up in the world's most famous two-mile handicap. Balsaltico, last seen in Britain when touched off at Salisbury in September, warmed up Down Under with an unplaced, though eyecatching, effort over 12 furlongs in last month's Geelong Cup.

He, Crime Scene, one place in front when sixth in the same race, and Munsef, second in Stockholm in September, will be long shots tomorrow at Flemington. The favourites are last year's winner Viewed, third two days ago in the 10-furlong Mackinnon Stakes, and Alcopop, on a five-timer.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Excellent Thought (4.20 Wolverhampton)

Well-bred filly who has been keeping better company than this on turf and after some near misses should be able to get off the mark on fifth try.


Bouggler (2.30 Kempton)

One of the best British-trained staying novices last term and a winner over today's course and distance.


Michael Flips (A Turnell) did enough when third at Ascot on Saturday to indicate that he will pay his way in handicap company.


The 2007 winner Denman was cut a point to 7-1 by Paddy Power for the Hennessy Gold Cup.


Supernoverre (4.50 Wolverhampton)