FOOTSTEPS MAKES GREAT STRIDES

1 May 2005

Alas poor Dubawi, cut down in the last quarter-mile as so many would-be wonder horses before him. The little flag carrier from Dubai hung badly left under Frankie Dettori pressure and it was Kieren Fallon on the Aidan O’Brien No 1 hope Footstepsinthesand who swept through to land this Ultimatepoker.com 2,000 Guineas in front of the 100-1 outsiders Rebel Rebel and Kandidate.

Racing lives on hope but the headlong rush that backed Dubawi down to 15-8 favourite was one of those occasions when hope gave way to hype. Sure, he had won all three races as a two-year-old, but the best of them was on soft ground, very different from yesterday’s almost hoof-rattling surface. And to be honest, the first sight of him in the flesh was quite a disappointment.

For Dubawi is a little chunky thing. Magnificently muscled but quite short striding. Walking around the paddock he looked more of a sprinter than a middle-distance horse. The seeds of doubt developed further when he cantered down with a quite tight, choppy action very different from the floating movement which you like to see on this surface and which Footstepsinthesand had shown when Fallon took him first to the start.

The two most taking horses in the preliminaries were the Irish horse Democratic Deficit and his Craven Stakes victim Rob Roy, who was nonetheless backed down to second-favourite with his conqueror at 20-1. Such thoughts became academic when the stalls whacked open and the 19 runners came winging back up the straight Rowley Mile as they have for two full centuries now. The pace set by the Clive Brittain trio Party Boss, Kandidate and Tony James was rapid. Diktatorial followed them closely, Footstepsinthesand was right up there on the far side and after half-a-mile Dubawi appeared to be moving with plenty of power in behind the leaders.

Not 60 seconds run of this first Classic of the season, so many hopes still running high, what an unravelling the next 60 seconds would bring. The first was Rob Roy, who quickly lost his place to finish tailed off, the Classic dreams already dead in the dustbin. Dubawi lasted longer but as they began the descent into the final quarter-mile the Dettori elbows were beginning to pump. Then the little horse’s head came up as he hung sharply to the left taking Democratic Deficit with him. Dubawi was battling but no Classic winner he.

Instead there were some wonderful moments when we contemplated a Guineas 1-2-3 for that greatest of windmill-tilters, Clive Brittain. “I wanted to stop the race two furlongs out,” Brittain said afterwards, “but I am very proud of them and Kandidate goes straight to Epsom.” Kandidate is as big as 25-1 for the Derby, for which Footstepsinthesand is now 5-1 favourite with some bookmakers and deservedly so.

For although he only had a length-and-a-quarter to spare over the strong-finishing Royal Rebel with Kandidate just three-quarters of a length away in third, Footstepsinthesand had a decisive winning thrust which could be even more effective when Fallon calls for it at Epsom.

This ride was a classic justification of the fortune that the Ballydoyle camp must have shelled out to tempt Fallon away from his long-standing association with Michael Stoute. It was only in late February that the brilliant but controversial rider admitted the shock news of his change of stables, but his input to the daily routine down at Ballydoyle and in particular to the high-mettled Footstepsinthesand, drew high praise from O’Brien.

“Everyone has worked hard on this horse,” the trainer said afterwards, “and he has been the one that Kieren has wanted to ride every morning.” Epsom has always been the ultimate showcase for the Fallon skills but whether Footstepsinthesand will be his partner there this year will depend on how the rest of the O’Brien hand get through their trials. Ladbrokes have Albert Hall at 14-1 and the highly regarded Gyspy King at 10-1. The last named, as a son of Sadler’s Wells, is more certain to stay the Derby mile-and-a-half than the Giant’s Causeway-sired Footstepsinthesand.

O’Brien is a serious conditioner of horses whose basic work routine ensures a high level of fitness. There was nothing wrong with Footsteps-inthesand yesterday and this afternoon the filly Virginia Waters is as long as 14-1 for the 1,000 Guineas. Rather than going for the major fancies, Karen’s Caper and Shanghai Lily, Virginia Waters and the talented Elsworth filly Simply Sunshine can give us a run for our money.

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