Racing: Authorized fights to uphold Derby prestige

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The Independent Online

Historically, the Knaves-mire has been the scene of retribution rather than redemption, notably when Dick Turpin met his grisly end on the York Tyburn in 1739. Nowadays horses, not the highwayman's victims, must deliver, though – obviously – not while standing. This afternoon is such an occasion; for Authorized, it is D-day.

In the £525,000 International, the Derby winner could be perceived as running not only to redeem himself after odds-on defeat in the Eclipse Stakes last month, but for the honour of the premier Classic itself. For the last Epsom hero to win again was High Chaparral five years ago, and hand-wringing over the great race's standing, as evinced by the quality of its victors, is rife.

But consider further. Not every Derby winner can be a superhorse; the thoroughbred breed has long reached its evolutionary limits and at the top level there must necessarily be bad vintages as well as good. And if the Derby is broken down into decades, it can be seen that the present "noughties" are so far holding their own.

The last century yielded just 36 Derby winners who could be rated better than average among their kind. Some decades were more blessed than others with genuinely great horses: the Thirties, for instance, which produced Hyperion, Windsor Lad, Bahram and Blue Peter, and the Seventies, with Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Grundy and Troy.

By contrast the Twenties had only Captain Cuttle and Coronach rising above the mean, the Forties only Dante and the Nineties only Generous and Lammtarra.

This century, the racing public has already enjoyed three superior Derby winners in Sinndar, Galileo and High Chaparral. But none of that trio, though undoubtedly very, very good, were among the brilliant best of the bests; that takes a rating of 137 or more. The one without peers, Sea-Bird, had a mark of 145.

Despite his reverse at the hands of Notnowcato last time out, Authorized, so visually impressive as he quickened and lengthened at Epsom, is still considered a very good Derby winner. He may well yet prove he is but his current rating puts him at barely average in that premiership league.

Only a decisive victory today will lift Authorized towards greatness, but it must be said the odds seem stacked against him. Only two Derby winners have won today's 10-furlong feature: Roberto, who caused one of the sport's all-time upsets when he became the only horse to ever beat Brigadier Gerard in the inaugural 1972 running, and Troy, who had previously taken the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1979.

Just three others have run in their Classic year, Snow Knight (third), Dr Devious (fourth) and Benny The Dip, third 10 years ago. The last three-year-old to win was Giant's Causeway in 2000.

Statistics apart, Authorized must overcome the most talented batch of opponents he has ever faced, including runaway "King George" winner Dylan Thomas, South African globetrotter Asiatic Boy, and a rematch with Notnowcato, last year's winner.

The colt's trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam is not daunted. "Yes, it is a seriously tough race," he said yesterday. "but it is great to be involved. This is what racing is all about."

After rain at the weekend and a dry day yesterday, the ground for the first day of the last of the summer festivals will be on the easy side of good, which should suit Authorized (3.10) ideally on his road to atonement, and more.

Win or lose, the son of Montjeu, currently fav-ourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, already has his place at stud booked, acquired after the Derby for duty at Sheikh Moham-med's flagship Dalham Hall Stud. He will be joined there next year by high-class German-bred Manduro, revealed yesterday as the Sheikh's latest potential stallion recruit in a spending spree that has, in Europe, also enlisted Teofilo and a decent chunk of Irish-based Invincible Spirit.

The St Leger winner may well be on parade this afternoon in the Great Volt-igeur Stakes. Twelve horses have completed the York-Doncaster double, most recently Rule of Law three years ago, and four other St Leger winners, Brian Boru, Bollin Eric, Mutafaweq and Silver Patriarch, have been placed in the trial in the past 10 years. Derby fourth Lucarno (2.35) can stake his claim for the longest and oldest Classic.