14 May 2006

Damning horses is always dangerous, damning winners is doubly so. The favourites Linda’s Lad and Sindirana duly won the Derby and Oaks trials at Lingfield but it still takes a major leap of faith to imagine either of them being led in triumphant at Epsom.

Afterwards French champion Christophe Soumillon was impressively positive about his first Lingfield double and a sheaf of bookies prices had Linda’s Lad as short as 12-1 for the Derby and Sindirana a scarcely credible 8-1 for the Oaks. For in racing in general, and with respect to Classic trials in particular, it’s usually a lot better to believe what you see in front of you rather than what you are told.

The best place to watch nowadays at Lingfield is right in front of the big screen 50 yards short of the winning post. This gives you a detailed TV picture of the early exchanges on the far side of the course and a clear- eyed focus of the final punch. However commendable Soumillon’s diplomacy, his winning margins of a head on Linda’s Lad and a neck on the filly never looked that convincing close up.

The pony-sized Baan had made the running from Hazeymm, Before You Go and Botteen with Soumillon holding Linda’s Lad up at the back of the five-runner field. Martin Dwyer pushed Baan so hard up the hill that everything bar the favourite was off the bridle. But while Linda’s Lad bowled down the slope easily enough to ease any fears of not handling Epsom’s undulations, he began to make hard work of it afterwards.

True the eye was temporarily and dramatically distracted when Botteen’s near-fore snapped at full gallop at the two furlong marker. It is the most horrific of racing accidents leaving the jockey prone on the ground and the horse a cripple for whom the vet’s final coup cannot come soon enough. But as the leaders drew clear in battle it was clear this was to be no show-boating Soumillon success. His stick cracked in urgency as they came past us. Linda’s Lad answered, but there was only a head in it at the line.

In defense of Linda’s Lad it has to be admitted that his Group One victory last year meant that he was having to concede seven pounds to the second Hazeymm and beating that colt may well turn out to be a better performance than it looked at the time. “I love him,” said the runner-up’s trainer Mick Channon. “He is waking up all the time. We’ll have a crack at Epsom.”

The winning connections are equally set on the Derby target. “We wanted to give him some experience of a course like Epsom,” said Herve Barjot, racing manager to owner Sean Mulryan. “The plan has worked and we are now looking forward to coming over next month.”

Things are not quite so clear-cut for Christophe Soumillon, because Andre Fabre, trainer of Linda’s Lad, also has Derby favourite Visindar under his care and every questioner was asking him to compare the two. “They are two very different horses,” he said with predictable tact. “This horse is keener and in a finish likes to battle. Visindar has done everything so easily in his races that I will want to make him learn something when he runs on Monday.”

If that goes well and Visindar does join Linda’s Lad on the Epsom coach in an effort to give French ace Andre Fabre the one missing jewel in his training credits, Soumillon’s green silks will be attempting to win a fifth Derby for his retaining owner the Aga Khan. It was those colours that the jockey carried on Sindirana in Lingfield’s Oaks Trial. Like Linda’s Lad she had to battle. Like him you were left feeling that there has to be something better in her generation next month.

Her winning time was actually a second quicker than the colt and she had a full neck to spare over the second Fusili. But unlike Linda’s Lad, Sindirana was actually being pushed to keep her place and balance on the hill and when she finally got alongside the second a potential Classic winner would surely have put the hard-working Fusili in her place.

For this, incredibly, was the 20th race of Fusili’s career and her three victories have included two handicaps on the all-weather here at Lingfield and a claiming race at Wolverhampton. The £10,000 she got for yesterday’s second is her biggest pay day and good reward for turning out three days earlier at Chester. But if Fusili is within a neck of Classic class, I am a galloping banana.

Sir Michael Stoute also has Riyalma in the Oaks under the Aga’s ownership and is far too experienced to be giving any important hostages to fortune yesterday. “They are two nice fillies,” he said in his best helpful but non-committal manner, “but one will go for Ascot’s Ribblesdale and one for the Oaks. We’ll have to wait and see.” It may not pay to hold one’s breath.

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