Volta surges in Derby Trial

O'Brien further strengthens his powerful Epsom hand but Murtagh faces a tough choice

Another piece of the Derby jigsaw, the one with Alessandro Volta on it, was turned face up on the table here yesterday. Where it fits in the final picture remains to be seen, but the performance of the son ofMontjeu emphasised the growing strength of trainer Aidan O'Brien's Epsom hand.

Alessandro Volta led home his stablemate King Of Rome; this afternoon a horse perceived his master at Ballydoyle, Washington Irving, struts his stuff at Leopardstown, and on Thursday Kingdom Of Naples will show his colours at York. And, of course, the Co Tipperary oper- ation also has the 2,000 Guineas hero, Henrythenavigator.

Johnny Murtagh took the initiative on Alessandro Volta on the switchback track that bears a close resemblance to Epsom's idiosyncratic contours. The colt, a tall, powerful individual, swung wide into the straight but came down it true as an arrow. "He's a big, strong horse, and there was no point in holding him back," said the rider. "He was able to use his stride and quickened well down the hill. He didn't turn that well – the bend seemed extra-sharp today – but he found his balance again quickly and battled really well."

The winning margin was three-quarters of a length, with the Godolphin candidate Campanologist a neck third. Alessandro Volta finished fourth on his seasonal debut when inconvenienced by a slipped saddle but, like so many from his stable this term, improved markedly for a run under his girth. "He stayed every yard of the trip and loved the fast ground," added Murtagh.

The Irishman, in his first season as the Ballydoyle No 1, may have a vexed choice to make in early June. "This one would be right in the mix," he said. "You can ignore his last run, the slipping saddle made it a non-event. But it's a big day tomorrow. And there's the Dante Stakes in the week. Luckily, I don't have to decide just yet."

Several bookmaking firms trimmed Alessandro Volta's Derby odds yesterday but, perhaps significantly, Ladbrokes, popularly supposed to have the hottest line to the Ballydoyle ops room, kept him at 20-1. The 4-1 favourite, Twice Over, is due to run at York.

Whether it is an omen or not, the last two winners of the Lingfield Trial who went on to glory in the real thing came when there was an eight in the year, Kahyasi in 1988 and High-Rise 10 years later. Both were trained by Luca Cumani, who pulled the Derby second favourite Curtain Call out of yesterday's race after judging the ground too fast.

The Sadler's Wells colt, who won by six lengths at Nottingham on his seasonal debut, is likely to go to the blue riband without another public dress rehearsal. "He worked this morning instead of having a race, and worked well," said Cumani yesterday. "We'll just have to find a Plan B to get him to Epsom, but I should think it will be to go straight there."

Red Rocks, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf two years ago and third last year, started his campaign with a competent half-length victory under Jamie Spencer in the 10-furlong openerhere, and now heads back to top-level company in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh later this month.

Though Murtagh considered the ground perfect, Spencer, Curtain Call's rider, had a different perspective. "Red Rocks found it firm enough," he said, "but he's a five-year-old and knows how to look after himself. Three-year-olds are a bit less streetwise, and give more sometimes than they should. I'm glad they didn't bring Curtain Call."

A dream became reality for Lambourn trainer Clive Cox and owner Dominic Burke when Miracle Seeker, a Rainbow Quest half-sister to the Champion Hurdle winner Katchit, made all the running to take the Oaks Trial. The filly now heads for Epsom as a 33-1 outsider. "She'll be my first Classic runner," said Cox, "and she's earned her place."

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