29 May 2005

With so many doubts over the Derby contenders it is hard to bypass Michael Bell’s Dante winner

Let’s start with a much too often ignored set of statistics. The French and Irish Derbies are like our original, run over a mile and a half. The record time at Chantilly is two minutes 24.1 seconds, at The Curragh 2-25.6, yet the fastest ever clocking at Epsom, by Lammtarra in 1995, took a full 2-32.3 seconds. Our Derby demands a stayer.

By that we don’t just mean a horse who will somehow get home over a mile and a half, but one whose very best performances are over that distance. Look back over the last 30 years and what you don’t find is an Epsom winner who by the end of the season is accepted as better over shorter trips. But by November we might well be saying that about Dubawi and Motivator. If it’s true, they won’t win.

Dubawi is the simplest case. For if he is as good over 12 furlongs as he was over The Curragh mile last Saturday he will win by a street, Motivator or no Motivator. To me his pedigree and, more importantly, his build make an ability to win a Derby at Epsom unlikely. He is by Dubai Millennium, who was much more a horse of speed rather than stamina and in appearance Dubawi has the short coupled, short striding look of a sprinter. From the way he destroyed last Saturday’s field at six furlongs, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being best at even shorter than a mile. Prepare yourself for a massive amount of Frankie Dettori hype this week and, in the race, racing’s favourite pizza maker should be absolutely coasting at Tattenham Corner. After that I fear he may find his partner short of filling.

Motivator’s problems will start even before the race is run. For this is a highly-strung colt for whom all the Derby razzmatazz will provide a major ordeal. He handled his race at York well enough but he will find the crowded and noisy Epsom paddock a claustrophobic place, and the long file out for the parade will be particularly difficult for the attendants he will have on either side. “Of course, it will be tricky,” said trainer Michael Bell at Newmarket on Thursday. “He is quite high-wired but he will be fine once he canters away. He is in great shape and, although it may sound a bit arrogant to say this, the truth is that our team here will be disappointed if he doesn’t win.”

Over the last six months I have had the extreme pleasure of riding out alongside Motivator every few weeks and, but for the switch from the 2,000 Guineas to the Dante as his opening race and what is hopefully a temporary hiatus over Johnny Murtagh’s suspension, everything has gone impressively according to plan. Running a hand over Motivator in his box on Thursday was to feel an athlete honed down to glorious condition.

Yet, like Dubawi, Motivator has shown an unwelcome tendency to hang to the right, but unlike Dettori on Dubawi, his rider (and if commonsense is used it will be Murtagh) should have enough stamina beneath him to avoid having to ask for a final effort until the very closing stages. But I believe it is only a ‘should’. Motivator may be by the Arc de Triomphe winner Montjeu but his dam is by Gone West, who is all about hotted-up speed, as in Guineas winner Zafonic his favourite son. In his gallops Motivator showed so much class and acceleration that a 2,000 Guineas tilt was his original option. Michael Bell won’t hear of him not staying but those final 100 yards might prove pretty tough.

Yet what is going to beat him? The Geezer has plenty of ability as well as a smashing name but Motivator picked him up very easily at York. Aidan O’Brien, with Oratorio, Gypsy King, Grand Central and Scorpion has third, fourth, sixth and seventh in the betting and is still asking for time to decide which one is the best. “I usually find,” that wise owl John Oxx said of his now withdrawn hopes Ehsan and Shalapour earlier in the month, “that if you are trying to decide which is your Derby horse, you haven’t really got one.” The same may prove to be true for Aidan. Nonetheless, his quartet are all handsome horses who are likely to be much more aggressively ridden than in their trials. But each of them seems to have lacked tactical speed in their races. Epsom is a bad place to lack that asset.

Walking the course on Wednesday morning re-minded you just how difficult a track this can be when the field bunches on the inside rail after that dramatic early climb. With stamina queries on the two favourites there is likely to be an end-to-end gallop which means that spent runners come drifting back like flotsam to trap the slow reactors.

Of the others, John Dunlop has two nice colts in Kong and Unfurled but they are rather condemned by Richard Quinn’s preference for The Geezer and their own trainer’s assessment of the latter being “more a Derby runner than a true Derby horse”. Walk In The Park is a magnificent- looking brute but has lost quite a lot and can’t beat Kong on Lingfield form. And while Hattan would be a terrifically popular winner for trainer Clive Brittain, he hasn’t shown the class usually associated with a Derby winner. The same can be said for Fracas, but I have been so impressed with this Irish colt’s attitude and progressive form that I can see him going really close, maybe even taking second place from The Geezer.

The winner? Despite worries about the preliminaries and concern about the stamina, it is not blind affection that binds me to Motivator, it is class. It’s a quality that all the others bar Dubawi seem to lack. It should give Motivator the space and time, to take his place in history. Motivator, Fracas, and The Geezer; you read it here first.

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