Vermeer redraws Derby picture

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The Independent Online

This is just getting silly. It is one thing for punters to get cold feet about St Nicholas Abbey, but the prices suddenly being quoted about his stablemate Jan Vermeer imply that a nervous tremor in the Investec Derby betting has quickly developed into an outright fit of hysteria. Jan Vermeer is now as short as 13-8 favourite, while the odds available against St Nicholas Abbey suggest that his backers should be relieved even to get a run for their money on Saturday.

Aidan O'Brien, the pair's trainer, expects to put backers out of their misery either today or tomorrow, when the four colts who have dominated the ante-post market complete their preparations. Hot favourite since his stunning performance in the Racing Post Trophy last autumn, St Nicholas Abbey has become so leprous in the betting since disappointing in his work last Friday that his very participation would now seem to hang in the balance. He was being offered at 11-1 on Betfair last night, having touched 20-1.

Even when he retained that air of invincibility, however, St Nicholas Abbey was never any shorter in the betting than Jan Vermeer is now. With his impressive resumption at the Curragh the previous weekend fresh in their minds, punters hastened to back Jan Vermeer after Johnny Murtagh, the Ballydoyle stable jockey, professed alarm over St Nicholas Abbey's gallop upsides Midas Touch last Friday.

Renewed cash for Jan Vermeer yesterday – typically down to 7-4 from 5-2 with Totesport – suggested unanimity among punters that Murtagh will ride him at Epsom, rather than St Nicholas Abbey or Midas Touch.

O'Brien is understandably concerned with St Nicholas Abbey, who had always taken his breath away on the gallops. Should he decide over the next day or so that something is amiss, and scratch the colt altogether, he will almost certainly restore Cape Blanco – at present looking doomed to run at Chantilly on Sunday instead – to his Epsom team.

Regardless of his line-up's equine composition, his next big question is whether he can find a place for his former stable jockey Kieren Fallon. O'Brien's personal inclination may well be to reward Seamus Heffernan and Colm O'Donoghue for their dependable day-to-day contribution at Ballydoyle, but if his patrons at Coolmore Stud have been paying the remotest attention over the past week they will surely insist that Fallon – undisputed as the modern master of Epsom, prior to his serial suspensions – be given precedence.

In the opening weeks of the season, Fallon struggled so obviously for rhythm that the notion he might retrieve "his" title from Ryan Moore began to seem poignantly fanciful. Over recent days, however, something has palpably clicked. A change of agent has no doubt contributed, though perhaps the critical aspect of that decision (after 22 years) was in persuading Fallon himself that he really did mean business. He rode a four-timer at Ayr last Wednesday, and has mustered at least a winner a day since, including the Italian Oaks by a short head on Sunday. Watching him ride another treble at Goodwood yesterday, it seemed he had rolled back 10 years in 10 days.

Moore still has a handy early advantage, riding his 50th and 51st winners of the campaign on the same card, but Fallon is now up to 38 and radiating the belief that has always been essential to his most indomitable momentum. In the circumstances, it would seem ludicrous to leave the author of three Derby wins in six years – in the days before ill luck and judgement together restricted his opportunities – watching the race on a monitor in the changing room.

Fallon was asked to ride an outsider for Ballydoyle in the Guineas, but surely warrants one of the stable's big guns this time. Including a couple of potential pacemakers, O'Brien accounted for six of the 15 colts still in the equation after the five-day stage. Godolphin paid a £75,000 supplementary fee not only for Rewilding, as expected, but also Buzzword, whose staying-on fourth in the French 2,000 Guineas showed him ready for a turn at middle distances.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Battle Of Britain (4.45 Leicester)

Trainer Mahmood Al Zahrani has made an excellent start and his juveniles are beginning to fire now, too, so significant progress is expected for this one's debut at Yarmouth, green and keeping on late off a steady gallop.

Next best

Anne Of Kiev (8.25 Yarmouth)

Finally got the breaks at Windsor last time, having been thwarted by traffic in consecutive starts, and confirmed herself way ahead of her mark. Can shrug off a penalty in this form.

One to watch

Sweet Lightning (M Dods) bumped into a well treated one in the big handicap at Redcar yesterday but confirmed himself much improved for his new trainer, perhaps capable of better again ridden with a bit more restraint.

Where the money's going

Odds-on defeat at Leopardstown on Sunday did not discourage Ascot Gold Cup support for Age Of Aquarius yesterday, now 5-1 from 6-1 with Ladbrokes.